The Times reports that the 2,820 households at the Penn South co-op building are doing some “soul-searching.” Their complex needs $80 million for repairs — and the city is dangling aid, but with an expensive string attached: the co-op owners will have to keep the units “affordable” for another eight years, meaning that current owners won’t be able to “cash in and sell their apartments at the market rate.”
These perennial dilemmas expose the hypocrisy of many self-styled “affordable Manhattan” advocates.
The first problem is with the city itself. Why on earth is New York offering any taxpayer resources — in addition to tax breaks, $22 million in this case, including a $5 million outright gift — to a building filled with people whose paper wealth — cheap real estate in Manhattan — is immense?
If this collection of co-op owners would rather see their apartments fall to the ground rather than pony up $30,000 a unit to fix them, that’s their right. The city’s only role is to step in when Penn South eventually presents a danger to health and habitation, and condemn it under public-safety laws.
The second problem is with Penn South residents who pretend — including to themselves — that they are sticking up for some sort of social-justice cause rather than just for their own good deals. Take the statement of one Penn South resident, “retired acting State Supreme Court justice” Karen Smith: “Our co-op is very unusual. We have rejected greed in our history.”
Well, no. If Penn South’s residents truly “rejected greed,” they would decide collectively to move to, say, Pakistan, and let far more deserving people have their “affordable” apartments … for free. Of course, this move would cause problems in Pakistan. By throwing Western money around, Penn South exiles would then raise the cost of housing for people there. (Being completely selfless is so complicated.)
By staying in place, Penn South residents are keeping other New Yorkers from “affordable” apartments. The Times notes that “some 6,000 people are on the [complex’s] now-closed waiting list, and … many will die before getting in.”
If Judge Smith is worried about greed, at the very least, she would leave now, and offer one of these long-suffering New Yorkers her pad.
The former Soviets learned long ago: you can allocate resources either by price, or by waiting.