It’s Manhattan’s Last Affordable Neighborhood. But for How Long?


For decades, Inwood has been one of New York City’s untouched gems. Nestled among rivers and rolling forest at the northernmost tip of Manhattan, the 500-acre neighborhood has again and again batted away the forces of gentrification — until now.

As the city confronts an affordable housing crisis, it has finally opened up Inwood to developers, generating fear among longtime residents and business owners who take pride in a place unlike any other in Manhattan.

Leafy and hilly, and with no building over 17 stories, Inwood is the most affordable neighborhood in the city’s most expensive borough.

Last August, Inwood became the fifth neighborhood to be rezoned under Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat whose signature housing plan calls for major development in up to 15 areas citywide — a strategy that aims to preserve and create hundreds of thousands of below-market units.

Building restrictions have been eased in parts of Inwood to allow for much taller residential buildings, some that could stretch nearly twice the height of the current skyline.

So far, the largest and most noticeable changes, such as two towering developments near the Harlem River, exist only on paper.

Behind the scenes, though, the rezoning has already brought significant changes. After the rezoning plan was announced in 2013, years before it was enacted, real estate investors swooped into Inwood and bought more than $610 million in properties, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

They have taken over thousands of residential units, most of which are rent-stabilized and owned by families or smaller real estate groups. The influx has fueled suspicion among tenants that the new landlords will seek to displace residents, deplete the stock of regulated units and raise rents.

“Ninety percent of the people who come into my office are coming for a housing issue,” said Assemblywoman Carmen N. De La Rosa, a Democrat who represents Inwood and supported the rezoning plan when she was chief of staff for the area’s Council Member. “They are being asked to appear before court because the landlords say they owe money or they are fighting them for some other reason. Landlords are fishing for reasons to get people out.”

Even before the rezoning of Inwood was approved, the city had already considered tenants there so susceptible to harassment and displacement that officials extended help, including free legal services, to those with housing issues. Since 2015, more than 11,000 tenants in Inwood have taken up the city’s offer.

The city has pledged millions of dollars to build a performing arts center in Inwood and to upgrade parks and a library branch, and it has committed to conserving and constructing at least 4,100 affordable apartments.

Skyrocketing housing costs and the disappearance of reasonably priced homes have emerged as a singular threat to the long-term economy and the quality of life in major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, San Francisco and New York. Despite widespread prosperity, they have increasingly become cost prohibitive for lower- and middle-income families.

In New York City, the de Blasio administration’s efforts have picked up where former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg left off. Mr. Bloomberg rezoned about 40 percent of the city’s land, transforming neighborhoods, such as Williamsburg in Brooklyn, where luxury towers now soar.

The administration has targeted other neighborhoods, like East New York in Brooklyn, requiring that developers seeking to profit from new real estate markets also build lower-cost housing.

Vicki Been, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, said the city’s approach was necessary “to strengthen communities and create much-needed affordable housing.”