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Sociologist studies affordable housing, community, and the lives of New York City’s middle class in new book

Rachael Woldoff

Between 14th and 23rd streets in New York City lies an 80-acre community along the East River called Stuyvesant Town.

 

Originally built to house veterans and their families after World War II, Stuyvesant Town has since become embroiled in a controversy over citizens’ access to affordable housing and their right to live in the city, inspiring Rachael A. Woldoff, Associate Professor of Sociology, and co-authors Lisa M. Morrison and Michael R. Glass, to write the new book, “Priced Out: Stuyvesant Town and the Loss of Middle-class Neighborhoods.”

 

The longtime rent-stabilized residents of Stuyvesant Town have become accustomed to landlord strategies to evict them in order to bring in “market-rate” tenants; replacing older tenants with younger people seeking luxurious housing, making unnecessary upgrades to justify rent increases, spying on tenants in search of lease violations, and even cramming college students into apartments intended to as affordable housing for families.

 

“We talk about the current moment in time that is about deregulation. There was a time when we believed in controlling the rent for people coming home from war to make housing affordable in New York City,” said Woldoff. “Now landlords have the mindset that if you can get more money for that apartment, long-term, rent-controlled tenants have no right to be there.”

 

Woldoff and her coauthors were initially drawn to this story when the 2006 sale of Stuy Town became one of largest real estate transactions in U.S. history. Attempting to replace longtime residents with younger, more affluent tenants, the new owners have disrupted native residents’ sense of place, community, and their perceived quality of life.

 

Through resident interviews, the authors offer an intimate view into the lives of different groups of tenants involved in this struggle for prime real estate in New York, from students experiencing the city for the first time to baby boomers hanging on to the vestiges of middle-class urban life.

 

The book examines changes in the demographics and culture of this community as market-rate residents moved in, clashing with original residents. It features interviews with residents, covers the history of the 11,250-apartment housing complex, as well as the subjects of housing insecurity, landlord interactions, neighbor relationships, and the tenants’ efforts to organize and advocate for themselves.

 

 

“Increasingly middle class people can’t live in New York City; they can’t afford it. Even the outer boroughs are expensive,” said Woldoff.

 

Priced Out is available March 15 from NYU Press. Her other publications include “White Flight/Black Flight: The Dynamics of Racial Change in an American Neighborhood,” winner of the 2012 Best Book in Urban Affairs Award given by the Urban Affairs Association and “High Stakes.”

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