NYC Closing Public Schools to Build High-Rises That Are Frequently Vacant Second Residences for the Wealthy

Closing Public Schools to Build Luxury Housing

There is a 13 year waiting list for public housing in New York City. That’s right, 13 years. That's why I am speaking at a rally and march — this coming Friday, June 7, at PS 191 near Lincoln Center — to protest the closing of three schools to construct luxury housing.

Given the budget cuts in the New York City Housing Authority and the generally bad reputation of “the projects” in mass media, a 13 year waiting list is a sobering comment on the kind of options poor and working class families have in New York City. Many are living doubled and tripled up. Some are in rented rooms. Some are boarders in other peoples homes, sleeping on couches in living rooms.

Now let me give you another statistic. Approximately one-sixth of all apartments in Manhattan are used as “pied at terres” (part time residences) for wealthy people from other countries. When you see a new luxury high-rise going up in Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn — yes, Brooklyn has them too — you can bet that a good portion of those apartments are going to be vacant much of the year.

I am protesting the city’s plan to knock down three public schools in the area near Lincoln Center in order to build luxury high-rises while relocating the students to other area schools. A more potent symbol of misplaced policy priorities in New York City could hardly be found. Here, children of poor, working class and middle class families are being displaced to build apartments for extremely wealthy people, many of whom don’t even plan to live in them full time.

All of the effected children will be profoundly inconvenienced by being placed in a new school out of walking distance, as well as being separated from longtime teachers with whom they have developed strong relationships. And it's especially tragic for special needs children who get specific services in these schools.

What we have here is a toxic combination of two philosophies that have achieved dominance in cities throughout the country. First, that the private real estate market should drive urban planning, and given the concentration of wealth among global elites, this insures that luxury housing will be seen as the primary engine of growth. And second, that public schools should be treated as service providers to consumers, rather than vital community institutions, and can be closed at will, either because they fail to provide quality service or if they stand in the way of economic development.

The result of these policies, which we have seen play out in Chicago and Washington as well as New York, is that public school children become chess pieces in high stakes reform and development strategies created by and for the rich and powerful. The students' interests and needs, and those of their families, are erased, allegedly for the “greater good.”

But the question must be asked — for the greater good of whom?

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