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NYC real estate and architecture experts reflect on 2017's biggest moments

The year that was, and what to look forward to in 2018

A view of Downtown Brooklyn, home to many rentals offering concessions for tenants—a running theme in 2017.
| Max Touhey

The past year was certainly interesting—politics, of course, dominated the news, but the world of New York City real estate saw no shortage of its own action.

Questions that loomed large across the country—wealth inequality, gender discrimination, corruption—also played out in New York, whether it was taking a hard look at the city’s homelessness crisis or analyzing how, exactly, the MTA let the subway system get so bad. Conversations continued—and in some cases, reached a fever pitch—about housing, public transit and politics.

As we take a look at the year that was, we asked more than a dozen in real estate, urban planning, architecture, design, and transit not only to reflect on their year, but offer a few predictions for what 2018 may have in store.

On this year as a breaking point for the MTA, according to John Raskin, executive director of Riders Alliance

"The subway has been on the decline for years, but 2017 is when things really jumped the shark—and most importantly, it's the year that riders started to demand change from our elected leaders. After so many years of our state lawmakers underinvesting in transit, it was inevitable that the system was going to give way. What was not inevitable was the political activism of the transit-riding public: with hashtags #CuomosMTA and #FixTheSubway, ordinary riders were able to corner the Governor, who runs the MTA, so that he could no longer succeed at pushing blame and accountability elsewhere.”

“There is a great deal of work still to do before we will really have better transit service, but I think the days when the Governor can get away with ignoring public transit are over. That alone is a significant step forward."

Power Outage Affects MTA Subway Service Citywide Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

…and how to improve the system in 2018:

"There are a million small things that have to happen to fix the MTA, but everything starts from one place: Governor Andrew Cuomo needs to put forward a comprehensive vision to modernize our public transit system, and to pass a sustainable source of funding that will make it possible.… If the MTA leadership needs to make changes to management or maintenance policies in order to make that happen, then riders will have to be open to new ideas and to allow the agency to experiment until they get it right.”

“[Mayor Bill de Blasio] doesn't run the subways, but he can help public transit work better by reinventing city streets to prioritize bus service, by getting on board with congestion pricing and helping to win its passage, and by funding Fair Fares for low-income transit riders so every New Yorker can afford to access our subways and buses. 2017 was a challenging year for subway and bus riders, but if our elected leaders step up to their responsibility, 2018 can be the year that public transit turns a corner."

2017 as a “breakout” year for public transit accessibility, by Chris Pangilinan, program director for TransitCenter:

“This was the year that people with disabilities decided that they had enough and that they would no longer tolerate being treated like second class citizens by the MTA and the Governor. A conversation that was generally relegated to disability advocates broke into the mainstream conversation. Lawsuits played a big part in elevating the discourse, but I think that the efforts of advocacy groups such as TransitCenter alongside the many thousands of people being discriminated against took the conversation to a new level….accessibility is now a part of the conversation and can no longer be ignored by those responsible for the subway.”

How the GOP tax bill might affect NYC homeowners in 2018, according to Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel:

“It’s going to have more impact on market like New York City, especially Manhattan and Brooklyn, than it would in a large part of the United States. We’re anticipating—though it’s subject to change—the loss of the ability to deduct state and local taxes. New York state has some of the highest local taxes in the country. On top of it, we can lose the ability to write off real estate taxes. All those things could reduce the footprint of the payment that covers principled interest. The higher you go in the market, the more vulnerable you are to what’s coming up in whatever form the tax bill takes.”

The Bronx.
Max Touhey

Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. on managing gentrification in the Bronx:

“This year, we were able to pass ‘Right to Counsel’ legislation that will guarantee tenants access to an attorney in housing court. This will help level the playing field and prevent eviction and displacement.”

“We’ve also set the tone for tenant advocacy in our negotiations with the City on the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning. We were able to secure agreements from the city on several strong tenant protection programs, including a ‘Certificate of No Harassment’ pilot program, a guarantee that the City will preserve 1,500 units of affordable housing over a two-year period in the areas that the proposed rezoning will affect, and the creation of a Southwest Bronx Housing Task Force, in partnership with the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, that will help identify and protect buildings of concern and keep units affordable.”

How to address the homelessness crisis next year, according to Brenda Rosen, president of Breaking Ground:

“The cost and availability of land in New York City is among the biggest challenges we face. We are constantly on the hunt for new development sites, but there is a scarcity of large lots that are zoned residential. We find we are increasingly considering properties that are further from good public transportation links than we would like—a very important consideration for our low and extremely low-income tenants.”

“Financing supportive and affordable housing is a complex puzzle. We were relieved to see that Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and Private Activity Bonds—the two most important financing tools for the creation of affordable housing—were untouched in the final version of the tax bill before Congress. However, much remains uncertain about the effects that tax reform and the cut in the corporate tax rate will have on investments in new affordable housing.”

Apartment buildings in New York.
Max Touhey

How to address New York’s affordable housing crisis in 2018, according to Public Advocate Letitia James:

“We are currently experiencing a crisis in affordable housing and homelessness that I hear about from New Yorkers in every corner of the city. People can no longer afford to live in the communities they have resided in for decades and so many others are struggling with rising housing costs.”

“When we look at creating more affordable housing throughout the city, one thing we have noticed is that New York is home to thousands of vacant lots and buildings, sites that could potentially be used for housing. I am a co-sponsor of the Housing Not Warehousing Act that seeks to convert these vacant lots and unused or underused buildings into affordable housing.”

Aaron Carr, founder of Housing Rights Initiative, on the biggest threat posed to affordable housing in the city this year:

"A rent fraud epidemic is threatening to dismantle the largest affordable housing program in New York City. Rent stabilization impacts a whopping 2.5 million tenants and sets limits on how much a landlord can raise in rent each year. Yet the entire program is based on an honor system.”

“For instance, when a landlord performs improvements to an apartment, they are allowed to permanently increase the rent by roughly two percent of the total cost of those improvements. Inexplicably, however, landlords are not required to submit receipts for these improvements to the government; the government simply takes them at their word. Does this sound like a good idea in a real estate market that’s valued at over $1 trillion, where almost 30 percent of tenants are paying 50 percent or more of their income in rent, and where over 70,000 people are homeless? I think not.”

Yen Ha, founding principal of Front Studio Architects, on the growing discussion of gender equity in New York’s architecture world:

“Gender discrimination, unfortunately, has long been a topic in the architecture world. What this year has brought is an increased scrutiny to the relationship of women to the field of architecture. When Bjarke Ingels posted a picture of BIG’s 12 principals and only one was a woman, it provoked a lot of outrage. And it might very well be that his firm is super friendly to women, but the question had to be asked and he had to answer for it. When the AIA released its keynote speaker list for their annual convention and there wasn’t a single woman on the list, they were called to task for it.”

Cup & Saucer on the Lower East Side, which was shuttered due to a rent hike in 2017.

The saddest closings of 2017, by Jeremiah Moss, author of Vanishing New York

“The closure of the Cup & Saucer luncheonette on Canal Street was especially painful. It was a place I liked for the feeling of it—the old signage along the front and side, the orange swivel stools, the short-order cook who would sing to himself in Greek while he fried eggs. I always felt good just seeing it there, looking like the survivor that it was. And then the rent nearly doubled and they were gone.”

…and the growing conversation concerning small business protections:

“In the past year, more than I've ever seen, New York politicians have gotten the message that the people of this city want their small businesses protected. However, there is one solution that would do the trick: commercial rent control. No one in power has come out in support of it, even though New York had commercial rent control for many years after World War II and it has benefited other cities around the world. If we want to protect our small businesses and maintain the city as an open place where most anyone can get a foot in the door, then we're going to have to get big real estate out of politics and that means campaign finance reform. That's where we have to make a change.”

Larry Silverstein, president of Silverstein Properties, on the year in commercial real estate:

“2017 was a robust year in terms of commercial activity, for both new buildings and older buildings, and I think 2018 is going to see more of the same. But we’ve seen major changes of technology in our lives, and it will continue to affect us in a significant way. Technology, in many cases, is reducing the space required by many tenants; in other instances, technology itself presents a huge need for new office space. So it’s a combination of things—but I believe this change is going to become greater, and faster in 2018. But frankly, that’s the wonderful thing about being in the New York marketplace.”

David Walker, co-founder of Triplemint, on the growing role of tech in real estate…

“In 2017, we saw an influx of venture capital going into NYC real estate tech. We saw established companies like Streeteasy and Zillow make significant changes, we saw the Hightower and VTS merger come to fruition, and we saw consumers start to see ‘real estate tech’ as the standard versus the exception for the first time. I think traditional real estate players started to really feel pressure at scale from the new batch of real estate technology companies for the first time in 2017.”

…and Susan Daimler, vice president of Streeteasy, on the role of tech in 2018:

“Consumers have come to expect on-demand services and seamless interactions. As an industry, we need to innovate around the consumer and find new ways to make the buying and renting experience frictionless, all while preserving data accuracy and integrity.”

“Now more than ever, we have a big opportunity to make the home shopping experience more personal. How can we collectively use our expertise and our data to help New Yorkers with home discovery? This is one area we’ll be thinking about a lot in the coming year: developing new tools to help buyers and renters broaden their horizons to new homes or areas of the city they might not have considered, and surfacing relevant information along the entire home shopping experience to help them make informed decisions.”

Flushing, Queens, one of Streeteasy’s top neighborhood searches of 2017.

The top neighborhood searches of 2017 on Streeteasy, according to senior economist Grant Long…

“Several Queens neighborhoods jumped out in terms of an increase in search interest in the past year. Search interest in Flushing was up 80 percent since last year, grew 60 percent in Elmhurst, and rose 65 percent in Woodside—demonstrating the extent to which New Yorkers are increasingly seeing these areas as more affordable alternatives to parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn.”

…and his predictions on renter concerns—and concessions—in 2018:

“Renters will have more bargaining power in 2018. As massive new high-end rental developments opened across the city last year, a seven-year surge in rents appeared to peak and growth in rents slowed to a crawl. While rents remain high, next year we expect heavy competition among landlords to give additional negotiating power to prospective tenants. Renters looking for an apartment in 2018 should ask prospective landlords for a month or two free. Even those planning to renew leases in 2018 would be wise to check listings for the pulse of the market in their neighborhood.”

Millennials started buying in 2017, according to Douglas Elliman president Scott Durkin:

“In 2017, millennials overcame stagnant wages, lower inventory, rising prices, buyer competition, and stricter lending requirements to be the year’s largest generation to purchase a home. Two-thirds of these millennials were first time home buyers. Their courage inspired renewed activity in the real estate market, stimulated new construction and allowed existing homeowners to upgrade. This positive activity coupled with the improving economy and continued job growth should bode well for home sales in 2018.”

An island with a park and buildings. There is a bridge spanning over the body of water and island. In the distance are many city buildings.
The House at Cornell Tech, far right, is a 26-story passive house residence designed by Handel Architects.
Max Touhey

Dan Kaplan, senior partner at FXFOWLE, on sustainable design in 2017…

“I am thrilled to see that the ‘Passivhaus’ design philosophy is being applied to high-rise, high-density housing in our city. With the opening of the dorm at Cornell Tech and the award of several large housing projects that are targeting Passivhaus, New York is becoming a world leader. Fetner Properties’s Holmes Tower (currently in design by FXFOWLE) will be a global model of how to create a mixed-income, architecturally significant residential tower utilizing Passivhaus.”

…and his predictions for the 2018 skyline:

“‘All-glass is the new white brick.’ Paul Goldberger presciently said this about a decade ago. When applied inventively and thoughtfully, glazing can be a marvel. However, the current default of the generic, sheer glass curtain wall has become the unfortunate—and irresponsible—high-rise vernacular of our times. My prediction—and hope—for 2018 is a crop of more textured, crafted and more solid towers that enriches the skyline.”

Architect Michael K. Chen on interior design trends he anticipates for 2018:

“We always get asked to maximize the usefulness of every space in a project, but we’re really finding that our New York clients are increasingly interested in design that is playful and deeply personal. I think the liberal use of color in the home is something that clients will continue to be interested in, as are multiple spaces for gathering. Our clients frequently want bars, gigantic sofas, and family spaces like arts and craft zones, exercise and play space, and home office space for everyone in the family to use together. Call it what you will—delightful nesting, perhaps—but it feels like everyone just wants to be having a great time at home.”

Social issues Vishaan Chakrabarti would like to see architects engage with in 2018:

“The current actions of the Federal government will likely choke funding to urban America, particularly in terms of affordable housing, infrastructure, social services, and aid to the poor. Architects should work on behalf of those in need in our society as opposed to only catering to the one percent. There are enormous spatial ramifications to what is being done to the nation’s social fabric, and we must respond by designing places and policies that bring social mobility, climate resilience, and humane new urban technologies for all.”


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