Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Luxury Developers Use a Loophole to Build Soaring Towers for Ultrarich in NY (nytimes.com)
46 points by koolba 57 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments



What's the major complaint(s) of people who oppose large towers? Shade? Skyline (which you aren't going to be seeing anyway unless you live out in Brooklyn or Queens)? Otherwise, I'm not sure what the big deal is here. If a billionaire wants to live up in the clouds, great, more vacant spaces in the rest of Manhattan for everyone else.


The vacancy is a key factor here. It’s reasonable to upset that some are squandering a resource which you can barely get enough of to live.

Take the classic “dictator having his lunch flown in by private plane.” The issue here is not the engine noise, or even the misallocation of jet fuel/seat space. It’s the symbolic obscenity.


vacancy is good. They pay property tax but not getting something back, which is means better service for locals.


From the article: "Many of these towers stay vacant most of the year, so their owners are not subject to local and state income taxes because they are not city residents."

So while they may pay property tax, they don't contribute as much as a local would.


Vacancies where someone owns it and is probably wealthy but doesn't live there is very bad. This is because they don't help the businesses in that neighborhood stay economically viable. There's no bodega there, restaurants might not have enough money.


Depends on if the space could be occupied with others that also reside there and so pay income and other taxes as well. The property tax factor won’t be as high I guess, but maybe the income and sales tax from their living in the city would make up for it?


The others who reside there also won’t be as invested in improving the local area as an owner-occupier would be, as most of the benefits of the area becoming nicer would accrue to the landlord through the rental market.


At the point where only international oligarchs can afford to live there, the neighborhood has been improved way too much.


Well quite - but that won't bother owner unoccupiers until it starts to have an effect on the value of their property.

Municipal authorities that have to deal with completely hollowed out areas of town on the other hand..


Could have middle class owner occupiers rather than ultra wealthy owner-unoccupiers?



You don’t have to agree with it, but if you actually read the article its mentioned.

>But the proliferation of these buildings is provoking a backlash amid a broader debate about affordable housing, megaprojects for the ultrarich and the city’s identity. Now, officials are seeking to rein in developers by proposing rules that would apply unusually large mechanical spaces toward a building’s height limit.


That's insane, because height limits are the only reason there's a shortage of housing in the first place.


Height limits are definitely not the "only reason" there's a shortage of housing in the first place. Housing shortages often have many causes and contributing factors, especially in NYC. Building height limits are not the reason for housing shortages in NYC! From the wiki on the topic,

> [NYC's housing shortage] is caused by the erosion of the New Yorkers' purchasing power due to stagnant wages and the increase in average rent in the city despite robust tenant protection.[1][2]

The article lists a half dozen other contributing factors, none of which are building height restrictions. Yes the wiki article is incomplete, but I think my point is demonstrated.


Increasing the supply of housing (this may also mean taxing vacant housing) will lower rent.

It sounds like part of the problem is that the space in these buildings isn’t allowed to be rented out.


If every building were twice as tall, there would be twice as much housing. If there were twice as much housing, there wouldn't be a shortage. Height limits are the main reason they aren't twice as tall.

It's really quite straightforward. Which part of the argument do you think is incorrect, and why?


Your argument implicitly rests on the claim that most of NYC buildings are built right up against height restrictions. I can find no evidence for this, and frankly it doesn't make much sense - have you seen the NYC skyline? Nearly every building would have to have an individual height restriction for this to be true. There isn't nearly enough monotony to support it.


1. Most of the buildings in NYC are already illegal according to modern zoning laws

2. It's not always profitable or practical to tear down a building. Tearing down a 3-flat and replacing it with a 4-flat, for example, would not be economically feasible even if it were allowed. Replacing a 3-flat with a 12-story building, on the other hand, would result in a much more productive use of the land, but it's typically not possible to upzone a parcel to that extent.


Based on the source I think you're referring to (mentioned in a sibling comment), it is 40%, not "most". Further, it is clear that height restrictions are a minority of that.

I think it is clear that zoning is a primary cause of NYC's housing problems, but I just don't see any evidence that height restrictions make up much of the problem (remember, the upthread claim I took issue with is "height limits are the only reason there's a shortage of housing").

Anecdotally, a lot of buildings for sale (in Brooklyn, at least) list both the number of apartments and the max it is zoned for. This is relevant because it isn't actually that expensive the reno a 3-apartment into a 4-apartment (no need to tear it down), so zoning ends up being the primary roadblock for people who want to do that.



I don't think it's straightforward at all. The premise of the article gives a lot of counterarguments. The developers are bypassing these laws to build luxury apartments for the rich, and so even if height limits are the only reason buildings are twice as tall (which is probably not true), and there was twice as much housing, it could very easily be housing that's built for the mega-rich (think a high-wealth overseas person who will purchase it and then rent to a high-income local professional worker). That living space would be anything but "affordable". Not all housing is created equal.


Price comes from the market, not from physical characteristics of the unit. This is incredibly easy to check: identical luxury apartments that are $4000 in SF and NY go for more like $1200 in Chicago.


> If every building were twice as tall, there would be twice as much housing

This is definitely not true. I don't understand where this assumption came from and I cannot logically follow it through. Certainly 1) not 100% of building heights are livable space, and certainly 2) you cannot just extend one dimension of life (building height) and then assume that you will have created some economically usable housing.

> If there were twice as much housing, there wouldn't be a shortage

Again I don't understand this at all. The shortage isn't about the amount of available housing at all, it's about people's ability to live there too. And if you're just doubling the building heights, you haven't talked about wages or ability to live there etc.

> It's really quite straightforward

What? None of this is straightforward! This stuff is super complicated! There's no need to be so condescending and rude about it.

> Which part of the argument do you think is incorrect, and why?

All of it. I've explained above.


> The shortage isn't about the amount of available housing at all, it's about people's ability to live there too. And if you're just doubling the building heights, you haven't talked about wages or ability to live there etc.

How is the housing shortage not about the amount of available housing? Wages don’t need to increase if housing prices fall as a result of an increase in supply. If the problem isn’t a shortage in housing, it wouldn’t be a housing shortage.

I also don’t agree with the commenter you were replying to; it’s a naive assumption that height limits are responsible for less construction. More likely, it’s hard to purchase properties, tear them down, and rebuild higher. This would be solved at least partially by what we call a “land value tax,” which incentivizes economically efficient use of the land [1].

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax


> How is the housing shortage not about the amount of available housing?

The name of the problem itself oversimplifies the problem space. There are lots of scenarios playing out today where there is ample housing and still a housing shortage. A major problem is that often the houses available do not match the ability of the renters to pay. So you can have lots of expensive houses being vacant, and lots of renters with nowhere to live, and have a housing shortage.

> Wages don’t need to increase if housing prices fall as a result of an increase in supply.

What? Yes they do! Wages are already too low to support a normal housing market, due to long-term wage suppression of the middle over many decades. Wages definitely need to rise for this problem to fix.


> So you can have lots of expensive houses being vacant, and lots of renters with nowhere to live, and have a housing shortage.

Do you have a source for this? Sounds far-fetched. I can't imagine many landlords wanting to rent but unwilling to lower their price.


The assumption comes from simple math. If you have a 10 story building and make it twice as high by duplicating the bottom 10 stories, you've just doubled the number of living units. Considering that some buildings have large lobbies or retail in the bottom few stories you might actually be able to get o more livable units. It isn't like we are building pyramids. Yes, not 100% of the building isn't livable, and I don't think anyone implied that. But if you double the height, you should be able to double the living space. You don't need a ton more infrastructure to support the extra floors. Of course the double comment assumes you essentially copy the lower floors, and not make the upper floors into larger living spaces.

fbonetti 57 days ago [flagged]

> The shortage isn't about the amount of available housing at all

Yes it is. That's literally all there is to it. A housing shortage by definition means that there's not enough housing to satisfy the demand.

> it's about people's ability to live there too

People can't afford to live there because the shortage of housing has caused the price of housing to go up.

> This stuff is super complicated!

It's not complicated at all. Onerous zoning and land use laws have made it impossible for developers to build to the level of density necessary to support NYC's rapidly growing population.


> Yes it is. That's literally all there is to it.

No, it isn't, and no, it isn't. This stuff is a lot more complicated that you think it is.

> A housing shortage by definition means that there's not enough housing to satisfy the demand

That's not true. You need to mention that there are different prices that people are able to pay, and with wage stagnation being such a big issue for the middle class, you need enough housing to satisfy the demand _at each economic level_.

You can't just make a bunch of rich people houses, have them sit empty while there are homeless outside, and say you've solved the shortage because there's "enough housing!!" to satisfy demand.

> It's not complicated at all.

Yes, it is. You are being condescending, rude, and you are also wrong to boot.

> Onerous zoning and land use laws have made it impossible for developers to build to the level of density necessary to support NYC's rapidly growing population.

I do not agree with this at all. My fingers are tired and I have debate this point endlessly here. I'll be short: Wages are too artificially low for this to make any sense.


> The shortage isn't about the amount of available housing at all, it's about people's ability to live there too. And if you're just doubling the building heights, you haven't talked about wages or ability to live there etc.

It's supply and demand. More available housing means lower prices.


> It's supply and demand. More available housing means lower prices.

Does it? I don't understand this, at all.

More available housing would also create more demand, no? More people online will see the lower prices and move to Manhattan, immediately increasing the price again, no? The situation is complicated. You can't just say "supply and demand" and think you've solved NYC's problems in housing.

ECON textbooks teaching students that every person is a financially rational actor and that supply + demand plays out real nice in the real world is supper dangerous. My econ textbook was wrong in a lot of ways and it's upsetting to see continuing oversimplification and massive condescension for these antiquated and not-real-world-tested perspectives on how to solve complicated urban problems.


> More available housing would also create more demand, no?

By that logic, I could build a massive apartment tower in the middle of nowhere and people would flock to live there. China tried that - it didn't work.

https://www.businessinsider.com/these-chinese-cities-are-gho...

Housing is a market just like anything else. In any market, if the price gets too high, competitors jump in to create more supply to meet the demand. If apples were $100 a piece, everyone would grow apple trees in their backyard and make a fortune until the prices came back down to a reasonable level.

So why aren't developers pumping out cheap apartment buildings left and right? Why aren't they buying empty parcels of land and putting up massive towers? Because they can't. Because local zoning laws won't allow them to.


There are N homes. The price will always find the level where only N households can afford homes. More purchasing power only inflated prices further, unless it is funding development.


> the only reason

This is an extraordinary claim.


So what would be the point in building affordable housing in the middle of Manhattan of all places? Could people who absolutely require cheap apartments actually live there and afford to use the amenities?


The city argues that the regulations exist largely to ensure that first responders are properly equipped to deal with disasters.

For example, if the city uses zoning regulation to determine how long the fire truck ladders need to be, and a developer uses a loophole to construct a building beyond the regulated height, then the fire department isn't equipped to respond to all potential cases.

[0]: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-03-22/new-york-...


I'm not sure about major complaint(s) of people, but I can see why city planners would be upset. City planners use height restrictions or FARs (floor area ratio) as a bargaining chip to get what they want: usually things like more affordable housing or plazas the public can use. Real estate developers going after bonus height or FARs is evidence that there is more demand to build upward than what zoning laws allow. Loopholes such as large vacant mechanical spaces, make bonus height restrictions or FARs less valuable, and hence city planners are less likely to get the things they want out of real estate developers.

That the city is willing to provide bonus height or FARs is also showing how these height restrictions aren't based on any pressing concrete objective; the only one I know of is by the FAA: "the Federal Aviation Administration sets a building height of 2,000 feet in most U.S. cities to make commercial flights safer"[0]. In addition, while extracting more affordable housing out of "greedy" real estate developers is politically popular, it is questionable whether this is the most cost effective way to provide more affordable housing.

[0] https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/2019/04/08/worlds-tal...


I personally don't care, but part of concern is for sunlight reaching the ground. Lots of planning goes into allowing sunlight to reach the ground for at least part of the day.


The article suggests these towers are being built in blocks of lower buildings. Each block has a "allowable total square footage of building" limit. The developers are buying lower buildings, or unused area rights for lower buildings, and conglomerating it into towers.

It seems this is an improvement for sunlight and space at street level. Rather than the sidewalk being against a massive wall of 10 story buildings looming over the streets you can have more human scale buildings and open space and a single spire reaching up out of sight. The narrow shadow of the spire will swing around like a sundial during they day, but its shade will move on.


I’d be all for them, but for 421a and other broken parts of the NYC property tax regime. If the guy that spent $240MM on an apartment was paying millions in property taxes, I’d say bring on the trophy apartments. But he isn’t, so I’m lukewarm at best on these projects.


There is a limit to the supporting infrastructure: water, gas, public transit, hospitals, schools, trash pickup... Residence entitles one to a host of public benefits and access to natural resources that have finite density that can be supported.


Residence also obligates one to pay taxes, and all of the infrastructure you mentioned can be improved with money.


Shade matters, especially in the cooler months. But this particular loophole is about waste. Creating fake or needlessly large “mechanical voids” that do not count toward your overall height so that you can make the building taller is just extraordinarily wasteful.

Every piece of space is at a premium in Manhattan because density is so critical. Wasting that space should be disincentivized in every possible way.


Building large buildings to fill with empty space and spending huge amounts of money catering to the ultrarich, while there are still massive housing problems in NYC, is definitely going to offend some people.

A society which enables the rich to produce extraneous waste - literally making multimillion dollar luxury home spaces just to fill with nothing, so that you can skirt the law for building codes, and not even allow a person to live there - yeah that's offensive.

The rich should be able to buy things they like, yes. But of course it's offensive when the country has a housing crises and the rich are building houses that nobody is allowed to live in, just so they can get a better view?

I mean yeah that's pretty obviously offensive and a strong, real reason that people are opposing these towers - it's described in the article.


If given the choice I think most of the ultra rich would prefer to fill useless space with living space to rent out. It would mean lots of money with little drawback. But they aren't given that choice. If they want their high towers building codes force them to leave that space empty.

If having a building that high isn't the main problem then the fault is clearly with the building code, but with the developers or the customers.


> But they aren't given that choice.

If your argument is framed that the ultrarich aren't given enough choices in how to live in luxury, I'm not sure I'll understand the rest of your post. Yes the building code has a problem that is contributing to this issue, but let's get real here: The ultrarich are given all the options in the world. Not every option they choose need be so offensive to regular people.


No, my point is that the ultrarich have the choice between building a small tower that's completely used, or a bigger one with unused space. While the ultrarich prefer the version with the higher building, both scenarios end with the same amount of used space. Any waste of space is not a decision of the ultrarich but a consequence of the building code.


The country doesn't have a housing crisis. Certain cities do. Certain states do. And the ones with the worst housing problems have the most restrictive real estate laws.


You don't make any sense. Cities are part of the country, and the policies of the country affect the cities. The nation has a part in figuring out how to deal with housing issues. For example, the deductability of interest and local taxes has a significant impact on the cost of housing in a city, especially in big cities.


Not when it comes to real estate. There are no Federal laws that restrict real estate usage and zoning. Those are local laws at the city, county, and state level. There are some states that don't have an income tax. And mortgage interest deductions are a nice perk but they're not a fundamental factor in supply dynamics. And supply is the primary reason there's an affordability problem in certain cities. Those cities have to end the NIMBY-ism.


I really don't understand this position. The country has a housing crisis because many of the cities in this country do. Removing the connection to the rest of America is an incorrect way of looking at it because of cause and effect: this is such a big problem in America today that it is affecting people who weren't directly in the housing-short markets themselves.

A weakness in part of America is a weakness for all of America. It works this way with the outside world too - our housing shortages are part of a global problem. We are all in this together. Framing the issues that the world cities have internally as something that isn't a problem for people living elsewhere is just denying that we live in a connected society.

One groups problems affect the other groups.

> And the ones with the worst housing problems have the most restrictive real estate laws.

Do you have a citation for that? I don't believe it's true.


Ignore the citation. Come to Houston and see for your own eyes. We don’t have zoning, and laws are pretty lax. HOAs are another story, but that’s a different issue entirely.

New York has a problem - we don’t. And I’m not going to solve their problem because they created the set of choices that led to it.

What makes America great is all of these cities get to make their own unique set of mistakes. Over time, we figure out as a whole what works and what doesn’t. Some cities can choose to follow that path or ignore it, but either way, it’s that city’s problem, not everyone’s problem.


I don’t have sources on hand, but it’s pretty well established that restrictive zoning is one of the major reasons for the shortage of urban housing that doesn’t meet demand (and hence has helped prices to skyrocket).


Is the root of those housing crises those billionaires? How much of housing crises is attributable to corrupt zoning laws which prevent development? How much money spent by the NYC government is wasted, mismanaged, and poorly spent when that money should otherwise go to said housing crisis in NYC?

I don't know the answers to those questions but its much easier to point at the rich buying ultra condos in NYC than it is to get to root issues in NYC. NYC is a high tax city in a high tax state with high wage earners. And the rich in NYC are still 100% the villian?


The waste is generated as a means to get around the height regulation. The question is why have the regulation in the first place?


... it's offensive when the country has a housing crises and the rich are building houses...

Is it offensive to eat anything besides bread and water while there are so many hungry people in Africa?


No, it's obviously not, and I do not understand how you got there. I clearly don't think that because that would be insane.

Does my eating of an apple actively hurt people who are hungry in Africa? No, it doesn't. In fact, over the long run it will help them, because I would live longer to buy more to buy more of their goods and support them economically in the future with trade, etc.

You know what would actively hurt the poor in Africa? Me eating bread and water and dying and being unable to help the world in any future way ever because I'm dead. Me choosing to have apples and peanut butter and other vegetables and proteins is so that I can live longer and improve the world more, with either open source software, general economic contributions, studies of the weather and climate to reduce overall risk, etc.

Choosing to live on a diet that would kill me is not helpful to the poor in any part of the world.

But does this building's existence with enormous effort put into cheating the rules, skirting the system, and catering to the exclusively epicrich actively harm the middle-class and poor living nearby?

Yes it does.

The rich who live in this building are not doing so purely to help others, they are not there to improve society, they are there and are specifically wasting resources with no benefit but their own view of NYC.

It's obviously a very different situation.


> Does my eating of an apple actively hurt people who are hungry in Africa?

Apples aren't sold at cost.

You, through consumption, have created a market for apples to sell at a price that would never be had in Africa.


"A society which enables the rich to produce extraneous waste - literally making multimillion dollar luxury home spaces just to fill with nothing, so that you can skirt the law for building codes, and not even allow a person to live there - yeah that's offensive."

There's a simple solution for vacant property: tax it heavily.

For every year it remains vacant, raise the tax exponentially.


[flagged]


That's obviously not what I said, you are clearly reading my post incorrectly. Here is my opinion to make it clear: We should be building 10x more than we currently are - it should be done efficiently and with affordable housing attached as well.

> spite

> anything at all

> shouldn't

Please don't fake-quote me like this. I said nothing of the sort and it's offensive that you would reframe my words with an obviously false-attribution like that.


> “It offends me,” Mr. Macklowe said, “because we created a very nice building that fits into the skyline perfectly.”

Oh, please. 432 Park is one of the biggest eyesores in the city. I wonder if that's one of their selling points: "Come live at 432 Park, the one building without any views of 432 Park".


This article is weird journalism. It presents decent counter arguments to the problem, which is nice but also leaves the average skeptical reader confused about how much waste is actually occurring on these floors. Surely _some_ mechanical space is needed, and the wind-flow anti-sway idea doesn’t seem crazy, but it’s really hard to draw a real conclusion. The fire ladder height problem in another comment seems valid, but surely most skyscrapers just aren’t ladder accessible.

But my biggest gripe (at least on mobile, maybe it’s different on desktop?) is why aren’t there pictures off the so-called wasteful spaces? Putting aside the argument that more space is needed for future batteries, let us see an example of what this actually looks like. That would certainly go a long way toward clarifying the wastefulness. I know what the outside of buildings look like, but those are the only pictures I see. At least get the outside of the problematic barbell building, or diagrams, or something!


> The building and nearby towers are able to push high into the sky because of a loophole in the city’s labyrinthine zoning laws. Floors reserved for structural and mechanical equipment, no matter how much, do not count against a building’s maximum size under the laws, so developers explicitly use them to make buildings far higher than would otherwise be permitted.

Like most things in today’s society the reaction to this seems to be one of two: double-down on the zoning enforcement or eliminate it.


The headline is simply inflammatory and irresponsible journalism. There are legitimate arguments given by sources in the article as to why the buildings are constructed this way, arguments which may or may not be sound in the final analysis on the topic, but the reader is unfairly primed to side against them.


It’s also worth noting that the New York Times headquarters is the 8th tallest building in Manhattan:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_York_Times_Building

Why is filling a building with journalists and advertising industry people morally superior to filling it with equipment?

I actually quite like the way the nyt building looks but it’s definitely in the vein of excessive luxury. It didn’t need to be that nice, but hey it’s their money to spend! Too bad they don’t grant others the same courtesy.


Because thousands of people moving in and out of a building overflows into a robust neighborhood - food being sold on the streets, restraunts and theaters hosting new experiences every day...

The neighborhoods being built up into luxury towers no one lives provides no business to the would-be shops and galleries nearby, leaving them as empty as the streets around the High Line...

"Last March, beloved leather bar Rawhide at 212 Eighth Ave. closed after rent rose from $15,000 to $27,000 a month. Close to a year later, it remains vacant.", from 2014,

https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20140204/chelsea/vacant-sto...

There's other articles along the same lines if you google 'empty storefronts high line nyc'


Both the buildings we're talking about are in midtown. It's already at peak density of humans. Less would actually be better.


The argument is that the "equipment" is unnecessary, or at least made to take up more room than it should. I would say a workplace for anyone is likely more important than space that is deliberately wasted.


The argument is that people should be free to spend their money as they please. And if someone is going to criticize the height of a building, literally doing it from one of the tallest buildings in the city is ridiculous.


That building stands out so much in the sky line it's like a middle finger to the people watching it. You the type you can afford with "fuck you" money ;)


Upvoted. For some reason more recent skyscrapers (not just the ones mentioned in the article) lack the modesty of older constructions. They feel completely out of place when viewed from afar. Totally not like some of the pre-ww2 skyscrapers which are monumental or even flamboyant (think of Chrysler Building) yet work together to create a consistent and harmonious feeling.


And this one is just a boring monolithic block at least the Chrysler Building has something happening at the top architecture wise.


It took me a few moments to realize the headline wasn't referring to software developers. I don't know what a luxury SW developer is!


I don't see why it is a loophole, it actually sounds like the law is not so bad.

If technical space was counted then the building would be 1/4 shorter? Could be.

In the grand scheme of things you can certainly debate housing that sits empty, but that doesn't seem to be the main problem in lack of stock. Your neighborhood NIMBY that doesn't want affordable construction in affordable neighbourhoods seems to have a bigger impact than just tall towers for millionaires.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: