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Real estate greed caused the deadly Bronx fire


De Blasio was lying. The truth is that New York City and the real estate interests that run it decided long ago that Karen, Kiley, Kelly and Shawntay's lives were worth gambling with--and that it is perfectly acceptable for working-class Bronx residents to ...


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The fatal fires almost never affect wealthy New YorkersTime after time, it is poor and working-class New Yorkers who die in firesLandlords are literally getting away with murder. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - FIRES ARE one particularly horrifying symptom of a larger problem in New York: As real estate developers continually remake the city in their interests, the working-class majority finds itself increasingly squeezed to the margins, concentrated in old, run-down and unsafe apartments. More than half of New York City renters pay more than they can afford in rent, and 44 percent of New Yorkers live at or near the poverty line--disproportionately women and people of colorHomelessness in the city is at its highest levels since the Great Depression, with almost 130,000 people sleeping in shelters in 2017 and thousands more living on the streets. De Blasio has made affordable housing a central part of his administration's identity since taking office in 2014. In his State of the City address last February, the mayor said, "This affordability crisis threatens who we are, threatens the very soul of this cityWe have to right some wrongsWe have to fight an inequality that has grownI'm very proud to say we have the biggest affordable housing plan in the history of the city." The de Blasio administration's Housing New York plan promises to build 80,000 units and preserve 120,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years, at a cost of $41 billionThe city now claims that it created 62,500 units in its first three yearsThe mayor recently doubled down on this promise, pledging $1.9 billion to create an additional 10,000 units for those making less than $40 thousand per year. Yet de Blasio's housing plan, which relies on rezoning a dozen working-class neighborhoods to incentivize developers to create more affordable units, follows a neoliberal script that will actually worsen the problem. De Blasio has initiated the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program (MIH) as a central part of his plan for affordability. MIH allows developers to build large, mostly market-rate buildings in newly rezoned neighborhoods, with a certain percentage of the units set aside as "affordable." This plan relies on real estate developer profit-making as a precondition for the creation of any new affordable units. Any plan set up this way is destined to fail from an affordability perspective for multiple reasonsFor one thing, the set-aside units are not nearly affordable enough, nor are there enough of them being built. Then there's the broader impact of allowing a large amount of mostly market-rate development, which will be a general loss of affordability throughout the neighborhoods being targetedThough each new development may include some affordable apartments, at least as many units that already exist with low rents will be lost, as nearby landlords raise rents in anticipation of a rising market. Finally, most of the new "affordable" units being built will be allowed to return to market rate in 30 yearsSo while the plan is made to sound good for advocates of affordability, its real intended audience is the developers and landlords who will be allowed to continue their profit-making at the expense of ordinary New Yorkers. This is not at all surprising, as developer money is central to all New York City politics, including the de Blasio administration. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - AS POLITICIANS cry crocodile tears over the lives lost in Thursday's fire, it is up to us to demand changes that can prevent these tragedies from happening again and again. New Yorkers should not be paying an arm and a leg to live in death trapsThe city's powerful landlord and developer class must be held accountable to ensure that all New Yorkers live in safe, affordable housing. Specifically, landlords should be required to retrofit all buildings with safety measures such as sprinkler systems and fireproofing, and the city must actively enforce all safety requirements. Moreover, everyone, regardless of their documentation status, deserves help paying for heatThe fights against gentrification in many neighborhoods are encouragingBut the next step is a citywide movement to sink de Blasio's crooked rezoning and development plans and to demand safe housing for all and justice for the fire survivors. After the Grenfell Towers fire in London killed almost 100 people this past June, thousands took to the streets in anger, and they won free housing for the survivors. As this article was being written, survivors of the fire in Belmont are sleeping in a local high school, mourning their loved ones and wondering where they will go next--in a city where half of Midtown's luxury apartments, including more than half of the apartments in Trump Tower, sit empty, owned as investment properties by the global ruling class. Zach Zill contributed to this article. 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