[Video] As Plutocrats Greedily Eye Public Spaces, NYC Demands Affordable Housing and Good Jobs

Moyers & Company recently aired a fantastic show titled “The Long, Dark Shadows of Plutocracy.” The show featured many clips from a rally and march I attended and photographed which drew hundreds of people to the streets of Harlem this past August.

Selected quotes

[A]mong our largest, richest 20 metro areas, less than 50 percent of the homes are affordable. Less than 50 percent. Bill Moyers

We Deserve Equal Respect!

The real estate industry here in New York City is like the oil industry in Texas. They outspend everybody. They often have a much better relationship with elected officials than everyday New Yorkers do. While there was affordable housing built in the last 12 years under Mayor Bloomberg, that affordable housing was not built for certain [regular working] people. Jaron Benjamin, Metropolitan Council on Housing

I think Central Park is the thing that Frederick Law Olmsted hoped it would be. It is a great democratic meeting place, where people from every walk of life are welcome, where they mingle together, where people relax, where people get exercise, where people play sports together, where people read books and paint and wander and think and unwind. Warren St. John, park user

The super-rich who buy those opulent apartments and live in New York City less than half the year will pay no city income tax at all. Which means the fabulously rich, high above the city, will be contributing no income taxes to support the public servants who make it work far below: transit workers and teachers, or the firemen and police who rushed to One57 when Hurricane Sandy tipped its construction crane and set it dangling dangerously over Midtown — shutting down one of the busiest streets in the city for a week.

The owners of One57’s apartments will not be paying their full share of property taxes, either — thanks to a dodgy deal slipped into a housing bill by State Senator Martin Golden and other legislators in Albany. Bill Moyers

[A] $90 million, 13,554 square foot penthouse and with 421a exemption allowed in this bill, their taxes per year would be $20,000. If they were not rolled into this legislation their taxes would be $230,000. New York State Senator Liz Krueger

Bill Moyers pointed out that this $210,000 tax break is per year and is four times NYC’s median income!

The internationalization of New York once meant something actually kind of exotic and exciting and enhanced our diversity. Today, internationalization at least on West 57th Street and East 57th Street, and all around Midtown Manhattan seems to symbolize not diversity but a kind of exclusivity.

And an end to the sense that we’re all in it together, which is the key urban idea. We all meet each other on the sidewalk, we all meet each other in public places, and the urban environment is the common ground that we all share. Paul Goldberger, architectural critic

I believe that the key urban idea raised by Mr. Goldberger is the same one that allows us to live in a functioning democracy and a decent society.

In contrast, I have noticed that the conservative mantra is never about we’re all in together, but rather, every man for himself. Worse yet, conservatives frequently disguise the pursuit of extreme selfishness by dressing it up as liberty – as in liberty to not pay taxes, to create unsafe workplaces or products free from regulation (caveat emptor), or the so-called liberty to build luxury apartment towers that grab as much Commons as possible, while undermining it for everyone else – from those who visit Central Park, to the communities that are displaced by lack of affordable housing, to the entirety of state and city residents who have to make up the budget shortfall when the rich are given a $200,000 per year per penthouse tax break.

It is up to all of us to remind lawmakers and plutocrats that selfishness-as-a-virtue, in the form of laissez faire economics, discredited itself over a 100 years ago, somewhere between the robber barons of the 1880s, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and the Great Depression. Conservatives from Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan to Phil Gramm and George W. Bush tried to bring it back in fashion in the form of neo-liberal economics, but the Financial Crisis of 2008-??? discredited it all over again. It is up to us to ensure the vampire stays in its coffin.

We should never let greedy business interests eclipse everyday people’s access to the essentials – like affordable housing or good jobs. The environment in which our housing and businesses operate is not an accident or a creation of nature, it is created by all of us over many generations – hopefully to serve us and see to our needs, not the other way around.

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