Residential housing in New York City is not so different from that found in other large cities. New York City’s housing policies, however, are truly distinctive and the city has long been a pioneer in housing policy. We decided to take a look at several NYC Mayors who, for better or worse, influenced the nature of real estate and housing in the city.
As mayor, Clinton had a vision of NYC as a great commercial center, and by means of commercial success he hoped to raise the city to cultural eminence as well. During his eleven years as mayor, Clinton pioneered free, universal education in New York and instituted the rationalization of the city plan by implementing the “grid” system of numbered streets and avenues. He reformed public markets, started a city orphan asylum, and set out to complete the most ambitious public works project in U.S. history to that point: the building of the Erie Canal.
Although Van Wyck’s tenure as mayor was marked by administrative failures and political scandals, his greatest accomplishment was securing the city’s first subway contract, valued at $35,000,000.
LaGuardia is remembered for putting the interests of the city and its residents first and foremost. He worked closely with FDR’s New Deal administration to secure funding for large public works projects in NYC. These federal subsidies enabled the city to build new parks, low-income housing, bridges, schools, and hospitals. He also unified the city’s rapid transit system, a goal that eluded his predecessors, and presided over the construction of New York City’s first municipal airport (later named in his honor).
Impellitteri’s tenure as Mayor lasted only one term, during which the city saw scores of public works projects completed. Engineered by Robert Moses, Impellitteri oversaw the construction of 88 miles of highway and a handful of housing projects.
As Mayor, Koch oversaw a significant amount of gentrification. During his tenure, the rental vacancy rate dropped 30 percent between 1978 and 1981 and the median rent in that time jumped 26 percent. His administration launched a housing program that continued long after the end of his administration; the program converted 10,000 abandoned or city-seized properties into thousands of completed apartment buildings by the time he left office.
One of the major challenges to Giuliani’s legacy is that he failed to address the problem of affordable housing. During his tenure there was virtually no building of low-income housing, and much of the rent-controlled property was released to the market. One of Giuliani’s last – and vividly symbolic – measures was to order the arrests of homeless New Yorkers sleeping on the steps of city churches. And despite Giuliani’s efforts to receive credit, the revitalization of Times Square came from a massive state-city development effort that was started by Governor Mario Cuomo and Mayor Ed Koch, and seen to completion by the Dinkins administration (Dinkins persuaded the Walt Disney Corporation to make a financial commitment to develop midtown before Giuliani even took office).
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s twelve years in office left a huge impression on the physical landscape of the city. Under Bloomberg, New York City’s skyline got taller, and the city became more attractive, and in turn, more expensive. Bloomberg’s ambitious rezoning projects had a mixed impact, producing a popular public park and luxury condos, but failing to deliver on the affordable housing units he had promised to build.