Why Not NYCHA?

An exploration on why Public housing buildings are not historically preserved.

Throughout the semester I have been grappling with what the importance of historic preservation is. Essentially historic preservation is no more important than the history itself. What exactly is historic preservation?

Historic preservation is a government practice that registers and preserves places that they deem of “Historic Importance.” Having a place be preserved means that it gets registered in a database of other places that were also preserved. Essentially the places that go through and are approved in the highly intricate and selective application process are recognized and gain additional benefits. Benefits such as tax breaks an additional money to renovate and keep the building looking as if it is new.

An example of things that are historically preserved are things like,museums,churches, and even residential districts.

These pictures just visualize these examples

St. Cecilia’s church 106 st NY (photo from blogspot)
Museum of The City of New York (photo from here)
Queen Anne Tenements on East 7th st
Rowhouses on East 5th street (photo from here)

There seems to be a trend with all of these places. This trend is they all have stunning or objectively “beautiful” architecture. Which is one of the main requirements in order to be considered for historic preservation in the first place.

Overtime historic preservation became an elitist practice as only preservationist “experts” can determine if a building is of historic significance or not. Aesthetics play a huge part in preservation there was a court case called Berman vs Parker that was the first instance where this importance was demonstrated. It was the first time a preservation case was decided based on aesthetics and redefined what a building that is for the “Public good” meant. One that has objectively beautiful architecture is for the public good while, one that is ugly is not for the public good.

This brings us to my current dilema why can’t a place like a NYCHA building (more commonly known as a project house) also be historically preserved?

Carver Houses NY (photo from here)

It might be due to the objectively “ugly” not appealing architecture of the buildings. The brown bricks might be considered an eyesore to some but despite that this style is iconic. Once you see this style building you know it is public housing.

The NYCHA or public housing system was created in 1935 to serve low income New Yorkers and give them affordable housing. 1 in 14 New Yorkers live in public housing and it makes up 8.1 percent of New York’s rental apartments. This makes it integral to New York’s history. So why hasn’t it been considered for preservation?

NYCHA apartments (photo found here)

There are a few reasons why it is not considered for preservation.

One is these buildings are in disrepair. Having a 77 million dollar budget deficit. Along with 18 billion dollars needed to repair all of the NYCHA buildings might be one reason as to why.

Another might be the stigma attached to affordable housing. First off it is seen as housing for poor people so that alone makes it seem not important enough to be preserved. The examples I provided earlier specifically the historic district in the East village used to be a low income neighborhood. But as it became a more desirable and affluent neighborhood is when it got considered and then eventually approved to be historically preserved.

I feel as though NYCHA could benefit from being historically preserved for instance it would get the money it desperately needs to renovate itself. However, they wouldn’t get a return on investment since there is no way to profit off of affordable housing.

This piece was mainly food for thought piece as to why there aren’t a diverse set of places that are considered to be preserved. If historic preservation was more accessible and less elitist than a thing such as this might be possible. For now at least we have things such as place matters where the average person can submit a place on this site. Where all the places are held on this database and remain on the site for the world to see. We still have a long way to go in terms of preservation.