Thursday, February 08, 2007

Columbia's Spin City

In the current issue of the Columbia Spectator the paper reports about a letter that the university sent to the West Harlem Local Development Corporation that deals with the proposed outline of a potential community benefits agreement.. According to a university spokesman, the letter is an indication that "Columbia University is committed to undertaking its expansion in ways that benefit the surrounding communities..."

But apparently not in ways that benefit the tenants and property owners whose apartments and land will be taken for the university's use. In any event, the Columbia correspondence is vague on details and fails to indicate the level of financial commitment the university will be making to achieve the affordable housing as well as other goals that it says it supports.

When the Spectator takes a careful look at the letter's content it is clear that, "It makes no reference to the direct creation of affordable housing." Columbia proposes creating some kind of housing fund that would help to acquire property (where?) and defray the "soft costs" of construction- "...costs not directly related to construction of new housing, and the preservation of existing housing stock."

All of this is quite a display of legerdemain. Put simply, it appears that Columbia wants no affordable housing anywhere in and around its new expansion footprint. It will create a fund to assist in the removal of existing residents and the (possible) construction of new units somewhere else. Where? Well, as Tom Lehrer said about Wernher von Braun: "Once the rockets go up, who cares vere they come down, that's not my department, says Wernher von Braun."