New York After Rent (II of III)

Our series continues with a journey from Avenue B to Bushwick: Kathy Kirkpatrick tells us about the final days of her Life Cafe in the East Village and essayist Tim Kreider tells us about his exile in Bushwick. Plus your host tries to make sense of the first time he got a glimpse of the new New York at a party in late September 2008.

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20 thoughts on “New York After Rent (II of III)

  1. Andy Utech

    Very thought-provoking as always. Some thoughts less generous than others. It’ll take me a while to decide how I come down on this one, but this is the first time I’m moved to send a first reaction. Take it as half-baked…

    So you had a fling with a city and the city was marvelous and you loved it. Made the mistake of falling in love. But the city – you forgot – the city didn’t love you back. The Big Apple held you and supported your dreams and was ego-stokingly wondrous in praising your talent and your taste and your keeping it real. NYC is a heck of a lover. But fickle. So the city is doing the fadeaway now. Giving you a chance to take the hint. And you won’t take it. By god you’ll make that city love you!

    But the city won’t. Can’t. Isn’t even interested in trying.

    The city has found new lovers and likes them better and is supporting their hopes and dreams now and if there’s not a place in NYC for you and yours well . . . that’s natural.

    Look on the bright side. There are plenty of other fish in the sea. You’ll find one that loves you like you deserve to be love. And maybe next time you won’t be so jealous and possessive. Maybe you’ll give the city its freedom and its space and show a little real trust. And then maybe – just maybe – you’ll get over NYC and stop being all weird stalkery all over it.

    Reply
  2. Coldpole

    Utech,

    Once again a guy that turns up in the city based on some dry start up idea that perhaps no body needs but is forced to, kills the scene and the heart of the city with his bollocks and dry ideologies. Displacing culture and identity…. Toolbags like you killed San Fran, killed NY with your false ideologies based on bio shops and yuppified life style and surprisingly now killing Berlin… Twit somewhere else and talk about your latest penis extension… Go and line up for your next Apple product…

    Reply
  3. David

    “Sharing economy” is right at the top of my “Information Age disappointments” list.

    But it sure sounds nice on paper…

    Reply
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  5. Isac

    You’re flipping killing it. Thank you.
    I live in seattle. Amazon will be 5% of seattle’s employment soon. its getting harder and harder to exist in a major metropolis. I’m a little blue collar. Sky-blue collar, & it’s hard to exist here. Thanks for pushing the conversation.

    Reply
  6. Jeremy Mercer

    A dear friend of mine was posting AirBnB coupons so I suggested he listen to your show. Thought you might be curious about his feedback :

    Quinn Comendant Hey, thanks for the link—I hadn’t heard of Walker’s TOE. I listened to parts 1 and 2 of the Rent series (part 3 doesn’t seem to be up yet). It’s nicely done. Here’s my thoughts:

    The general theme seems to be the undesirable affect of gentrification and culture change in NYC (and similar places). Airbnb is pegged as a contributor to shortages/rising costs in housing (apartments being repurposed for the more profitable Airbnb guests) and community erosion (from the negative aspects of microtenancy).

    At its essence I believe this is the ages-old struggle against landlordism. Except in this case, the anger is directed less at the property owners themselves, and more at the meta-landlord, Airbnb. Abuse from traditional landlords has been curbed by regulation and tenants rights, but can populist campaigns bring about the regulation that Airbnb has until now be free from? Airbnb has $billions with which to lobby, which may make that fight somewhat unfair.

    It is a struggle that clearly needs to occur, and is being debated now. It will be tough though. Technology always has the advantage of working in a regulatory vacuum because of the relative difference in the speed of development between regulation and technology. TBD.

    Conversely, regulating Airbnb and other “sharing economy” ventures might border on a kind of protectionism. Uber has been declared illegal here in Colombia but the company is still promoting its service and enticing drivers to join. The company exists outside of Colombia’s legal jurisdiction, and the drivers are also not being prosecuted. Instead, yellow taxis are hunting Uber drivers, blocking their cars and beating them or at least breaking windshields and headlights (I think they can locate the drivers by their location indicated in the Uber app). There has also been protesting yellow taxis blocking highways. Uber says they will continue to operate, as “an invitation to choice for the citizen.” There are three taxi-hailing apps in use in Colombia which the yellow taxis use, and which function almost identically to Uber, except for the difference that you must be in the “taxi club” to be a driver. I don’t know if taxis here function within a union or other political body, but they’ve definitely got their way for now, and that doesn’t entirely seem fair. They’re blocking competition from entering the market on what basis?

    And so it is with Airbnb, perhaps it will be very hard to identify a punishable abuse on their part. Is gentrification stoppable on the grounds of the artlessness of cupcakes?

    Here’s a thought experiment: let’s say we’d like to create a NYC of our own design, a little simulation. One of our variables is to control how many housing units are put to use for various purposes: apartments, hotel rooms, etc. We don’t know what demand will be, but we can say based on certain ratios how we might try to satisfy as many population groups as possible, including locals and visitors. We might say something like 40% low-income housing, 40% middle-upper housing, 5% luxury, 10% hotel rooms, and lastly, housing that is available to those undesirable visitors who want to book a place to stay on their smartphone a couple hours before they arrive and don’t want to stay in a hotel—let’s squeeze them into 1% of the available units. Well, that’s what’s actually happening. The other numbers are fiction, but the units dedicated to Airbnb comprise 1.2% (10,203) of the 852,642 housing units in Manhattan (2013 census). I think 1% is itty-bitty considering that NYC receives six times its population (8.4m) in visitors (54.3m) each year. I’d even give the Airbnb group 5-10% say balance could be maintained, but I’m biased since I’m one of those who benefits from them. Of course in reality it would be a disaster to decide these numbers top-down, so instead we let the market decide, and apparently it wants 1% of living units to be commodified. Is there a better way?

    An important difference between this simulation and reality is that the latter includes existing families and communities who are now being separated by change. However there are also individuals (and thus families and communities) who are able to supplement their income from Airbnb. In fact I would classify it as part of the informal economy that helps rise people out of poverty, who might otherwise turn to worse means of earning income (doubling down as a wage-slave or engaging in something more illegal than subleasing) or be forced out of town. Airbnb has also been a boon for property owners at risk of foreclosure. There are examples of both: people who can stay thanks to an ability to leverage their property, and those who are forced out because their property was leveraged away from them.

    It’s not worth going into the propaganda that Airbnb themselves push around (e.g., “$768 million in economic activity in New York in 2014”, la la la). It’s really hard to say where this is all going—who are the winners, who are the losers, which freedoms and which restrictions should be expressed, how to deal with the hipsters and cupcakes, etc. For the moment Airbnb seems just like a tool people can use rather than a tool which uses people. I can see that changing, however, as it always seems to do whenever power concentrates.

    Reply
  7. Quinn Comendant

    I listened to parts 1 and 2 of the Rent series (part 3 doesn’t seem to be up yet). It’s nicely done. Here’s my thoughts:

    The general theme seems to be the undesirable effect of gentrification and culture change in NYC (and similar places). Airbnb is pegged as a contributor to shortages/rising costs in housing (apartments being repurposed for the more profitable Airbnb guests) and community erosion (from the negative aspects of microtenancy).

    At its essence I believe this is the ages-old struggle against landlordism. Except in this case, the anger is directed less at the property owners themselves, and more at the meta-landlord, Airbnb. Abuse from traditional landlords has been curbed by regulation and tenants rights, but can populist campaigns bring about the regulation that Airbnb has until now be free from? Airbnb has $billions with which to lobby, which may make that fight somewhat unfair.

    It is a struggle that clearly needs to occur, and is being debated now. It will be tough though. Technology always has the advantage of working in a regulatory vacuum because of the relative difference in the speed of development between regulation and technology. TBD.

    Conversely, regulating Airbnb and other “sharing economy” ventures might border on a kind of protectionism. Uber has been declared illegal here in Colombia but the company is still promoting its service and enticing drivers to join. The company exists outside of Colombia’s legal jurisdiction, and the drivers are also not being prosecuted. Instead, yellow taxis are hunting Uber drivers, blocking their cars and beating them or at least breaking windshields and headlights (I think they can locate the drivers by their location indicated in the Uber app). There has also been protesting yellow taxis blocking highways. Uber says they will continue to operate, as “an invitation to choice for the citizen.” There are three taxi-hailing apps in use in Colombia which the yellow taxis use, and which function almost identically to Uber, except for the difference that you must be in the “taxi club” to be a driver. I don’t know if taxis here function within a union or other political body, but they’ve definitely got their way for now, and that doesn’t entirely seem fair. They’re blocking competition from entering the market on what basis?

    And so it is with Airbnb, perhaps it will be very hard to identify a punishable abuse on their part. Is gentrification stoppable on the grounds of the artlessness of cupcakes?

    Here’s a thought experiment: let’s say we’d like to create a NYC of our own design, a little simulation. One of our variables is to control how many housing units are put to use for various purposes: apartments, hotel rooms, etc. We don’t know what demand will be, but we can say based on certain ratios how we might try to satisfy as many population groups as possible, including locals and visitors. We might say something like 40% low-income housing, 40% middle-upper housing, 5% luxury, 10% hotel rooms, and lastly, housing that is available to those undesirable visitors who want to book a place to stay on their smartphone a couple hours before they arrive and don’t want to stay in a hotel—let’s squeeze them into 1% of the available units. Well, that’s what’s actually happening. The other numbers are fiction, but the units dedicated to Airbnb comprise 1.2% (10,203) of the 852,642 housing units in Manhattan (2013 census). I think 1% is itty-bitty considering that NYC receives six times its population (8.4m) in visitors (54.3m) each year. I’d even give the Airbnb group 5-10% say balance could be maintained, but I’m biased since I’m one of those who benefits from them. Of course in reality it would be a disaster to decide these numbers top-down, so instead we let the market decide, and apparently it wants 1% of living units to be commodified. Is there a better way?

    An important difference between this simulation and reality is that the latter includes existing families and communities who are now being separated by change. However there are also individuals (and thus families and communities) who are able to supplement their income from Airbnb. In fact I would classify it as part of the informal economy that helps rise people out of poverty, who might otherwise turn to worse means of earning income (doubling down as a wage-slave or engaging in something more illegal than subleasing) or be forced out of town. Airbnb has also been a boon for property owners at risk of foreclosure. There are examples of both: people who can stay thanks to an ability to leverage their property, and those who are forced out because their property was leveraged away from them.

    It’s not worth going into the propaganda that Airbnb themselves push around (e.g., “$768 million in economic activity in New York in 2014”, la la la). It’s really hard to say where this is all going—who are the winners, who are the losers, which freedoms and which restrictions should be expressed, how to deal with the hipsters and cupcakes, etc. For the moment Airbnb seems just like a tool people can use rather than a tool which uses people. I can see that changing, however, as it always seems to do whenever power concentrates.

    Reply
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  9. Quinn Comendant

    The general theme seems to be the undesirable affect of gentrification and culture change in NYC (and similar places). Airbnb is pegged as a contributor to shortages/rising costs in housing (apartments being repurposed for the more profitable Airbnb guests) and community erosion (from the negative aspects of microtenancy).

    At its essence I believe this is the ages-old struggle against landlordism. Except in this case, the anger is directed less at the property owners themselves, and more at the meta-landlord, Airbnb. Abuse from traditional landlords has been curbed by regulation and tenants rights, but can populist campaigns bring about the regulation that Airbnb has until now be free from? Airbnb has $billions with which to lobby, which may make that fight somewhat unfair.

    It is a struggle that clearly needs to occur, and is being debated now. It will be tough though. Technology always has the advantage of working in a regulatory vacuum because of the relative difference in the speed of development between regulation and technology. TBD.

    Conversely, regulating Airbnb and other “sharing economy” ventures might border on a kind of protectionism. Uber has been declared illegal here in Colombia but the company is still promoting its service and enticing drivers to join. The company exists outside of Colombia’s legal jurisdiction, and the drivers are also not being prosecuted. Instead, yellow taxis are hunting Uber drivers, blocking their cars and beating them or at least breaking windshields and headlights (I think they can locate the drivers by their location indicated in the Uber app). There has also been protesting yellow taxis blocking highways. Uber says they will continue to operate, as “an invitation to choice for the citizen.” There are three taxi-hailing apps in use in Colombia which the yellow taxis use, and which function almost identically to Uber, except for the difference that you must be in the “taxi club” to be a driver. I don’t know if taxis here function within a union or other political body, but they’ve definitely got their way for now, and that doesn’t entirely seem fair. They’re blocking competition from entering the market on what basis?

    And so it is with Airbnb, perhaps it will be very hard to identify a punishable abuse on their part. Is gentrification stoppable on the grounds of the artlessness of cupcakes?

    Here’s a thought experiment: let’s say we’d like to create a NYC of our own design, a little simulation. One of our variables is to control how many housing units are put to use for various purposes: apartments, hotel rooms, etc. We don’t know what demand will be, but we can say based on certain ratios how we might try to satisfy as many population groups as possible, including locals and visitors. We might say something like 40% low-income housing, 40% middle-upper housing, 5% luxury, 10% hotel rooms, and lastly, housing that is available to those undesirable visitors who want to book a place to stay on their smartphone a couple hours before they arrive and don’t want to stay in a hotel—let’s squeeze them into 1% of the available units. Well, that’s what’s actually happening. The other numbers are fiction, but the units dedicated to Airbnb comprise 1.2% (10,203) of the 852,642 housing units in Manhattan (2013 census). I think 1% is itty-bitty considering that NYC receives six times its population (8.4m) in visitors (54.3m) each year. I’d even give the Airbnb group 5-10% say balance could be maintained, but I’m biased since I’m one of those who benefits from them. Of course in reality it would be a disaster to decide these numbers top-down, so instead we let the market decide, and apparently it wants 1% of living units to be commodified. Is there a better way?

    An important difference between this simulation and reality is that the latter includes existing families and communities who are now being separated by change. However there are also individuals (and thus families and communities) who are able to supplement their income from Airbnb. In fact I would classify it as part of the informal economy that helps rise people out of poverty, who might otherwise turn to worse means of earning income (doubling down as a wage-slave or engaging in something more illegal than subleasing) or be forced out of town. Airbnb has also been a boon for property owners at risk of foreclosure. There are examples of both: people who can stay thanks to an ability to leverage their property, and those who are forced out because their property was leveraged away from them.

    It’s not worth going into the propaganda that Airbnb themselves push around (e.g., “$768 million in economic activity in New York in 2014”, la la la). It’s really hard to say where this is all going—who are the winners, who are the losers, which freedoms and which restrictions should be expressed, how to deal with the hipsters and cupcakes, etc. For the moment Airbnb seems just like a tool people can use rather than a tool which uses people. I can see that changing, however, as it always seems to do whenever power concentrates.

    Reply
  10. Dan

    Dear Mr. Walker, I am white, middle-class, of an age where I’m referred to as a millennial, and I have lived in Brooklyn since 2007, approximately the date where your podcast starts it’s narrative. Your podcast, like many articles, books, movies, and podcasts before it, bemoan the rise of just my demographic in central urban areas. I agree that it is often a problem that working class people are being pushed out and that affordable housing in New York is increasingly rare. However, what your podcast, like all other anti-gentrification media preceding it fails to answer, is a question I frequently think about and is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. I did not enjoy my upbringing in the suburbs. When I grew up, I made a conscious decision to move to a city, in fact the closest city to where I grew up. Most of my friends likewise came from the suburbs and moved to New York to escape their suburban upbringing where art, culture, and diversity were non-existent. Where do we move if not to a city??? If me and my demographic are so evil, what should we do? Should we retreat to the suburbs and accept a vapid life and long commutes? Should we only move to neighborhoods that have traditionally been filled with educated whites? My point is that you and everyone else complains of the plague of gentrification but no one dares to look at the gentrifiers point-of-view. We just want a place to live that we can call our own. We don’t want to destroy a neighborhood, in fact most of us want to keep the community in tact. We are not all investment bankers, we want rent to be cheap as well. So instead of doing a narrow-minded anti-gentrification piece that rehashes what countless people have said before, let’s start asking how we can retain character, diversity, and affordable housing as people decide that being white and middle class isn’t a prison sentence of bland suburban living.

    Reply
    1. Frank

      To Dan and all of the other “millennials”. Dan brings up some great points – where should he live? He want’s to live in the city, that’s the atmosphere, society, living style he enjoys.
      What I think Dan and in fact Benjamen Walker and his guests are missing is cities have always hated the latest wave of immigrants. It is perhaps as old as New York itself (older as I don’t think it’s unique to New York). Particularly ironic is in part I where Penny Arcade (the live performance towards the end) praises each earlier wave of immigrants as creating “the fabric that is unique to New York” which this “gentrification” by “millennials” is now destroying. She specifically praises “the German bakeries, the Irish beer halls, the Spanish bodegas, the Chinese restaurants, the Indian restaurants, the socialists bookstores, the hippie head shops, the black jazz and blues clubs” What she and everyone is missing is that each group on that list had a significant amount of hate directed at them when they were new — each one without exception.
      So Dan and all millennials – it is unfortunate (and not true) but you will be seen as the cause of the cities problems until a new wave of immigration takes your place when (also unfortunately) you will most likely join in on hating the newer immigrants. It’s the way it has always worked.

      Reply
  11. MIke

    There is a problem for working class housing costs in NYC. However you and your guests are trying to live or own businesses in the LES or Bushiwick two of the HOTTEST areas in the city. When all the artists whose lives you swoon over lived in NYC in the 60s, 70s, and 80s in the greatest city in the world they were living at the time what was the the fringes and not near gourmet coffee shops, farm to table bistros, and safety. If you want to emulate their lives so badly move to the fringes where real poor people live in certain areas in BK and Queens instead of trying to live in Bushwick.

    Reply
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  14. Jennifer

    This made me think of a short story I love, The Carnival Tradition (from the book Demonology by Rick Moody). A character describes how parties work, and it goes, “Parties, according to most celebrants, had to have a centermost emanation, a spot of perfect celebration, over and through and above the hang-ups and put-downs that always threatened a party.”

    Reply
  15. Cody

    Loved the episode. Really immersive. Just wondering what the song is that plays along in the background, with a few moments of it gearing up, is? I thought it worked incredibly well. I’d love to know the song if possible! Thanks.

    Reply
  16. Lindon

    Listening from London in March 2016 and noticing many similarities…replace the names and the story is virtually the same.

    I loved all of this – thank you x

    Reply
  17. Christine Makela

    “Connecting the dots . . .” I have that very phrase written all over my apartment. I’ve been a truth seeker and outsider since as long as I can remember. I am only moments new to your site, but I will be visiting often, I know. I am so happy to find other people who feel as passionately as I about this stuff.

    Have you read Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Living With a Wild God?” If not, please pick up a copy. I think you will relate.

    Hasta pronto, compa!

    Reply
    1. Christine Makela

      I am planning on writing a post about the billionaire-driven price hikes in rent in Seattle, where I’ve lived all my life. My once beautiful city has become ugly and uninhabitable for artists and anyone who isn’t working for Gates or Allen or Besos. I will reference your work and add a link. Those WITH homes need to understand what it is like for those of us WITHOUT.

      Reply

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