Condo Growth Imperils Schools

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The Gotham Gazette reports on an unforeseen downside to the condo boom: too many students suddenly flooding a fragile system. “The influx of students threatens to undermine the quality of nearby schools — often the very thing that helped attract young families in the first place,” they write. Schools are overcrowded, and the more attractive an area becomes, the more its land values increase, creating even more of a school-building quagmire. Brooklyn neighborhoods where population growth is expected to exceed school growth include DUMBO, Downtown Brooklyn and Sunset Park. They write, “Some 3,000 new apartments are being planned for an area around one school in DUMBO — PS 287 — but the department has no plans for any new schools in the area, according to the comptroller.”
The Three C’s: Condos, Classrooms and Crowding [Gotham Gazette]
school bus lot. Photo by limonada.

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  • An “unforeseen downside” are you kidding? Anyone with half a brain saw this coming.

  • According to a news story several months ago, all of the places for kindergarten were taken up in a school district in or around TriBeCa. Imagine that, showing up to enroll your child in kindergarten and being told that there were no more seats available in the classroom? What a shame for everyone. :^(

  • Cobblehook is right. This is a perfectly obvious side effect. Just for example, anyone buying into new condos on 4th Ave with the expectation that their kids will go to PS 321 is delusional. The condo flips on 2nd Street between 4th and 5th are also risky in my view. Just look at the school, look a the number of kids coming through the pipeline, look at the number of new units, and do some math. It’s no mystery that people are going to get cut out of 321, and I guarantee it’s going to start with new condos on 4th Ave.

  • Screw the kids… luckily the Apocalypse is coming and the 4 horsemen will take care of it all. Who needs school?

    (It would be interesting to find out if school capacity even entered the murky little brains of the bureaucrats that approve building permits in this city. These permits aren’t to build a deck or convert a 1-family into a duplex… these are 10, 20, 50 unit buildings!!)

  • While overcrowding may occur – in established neighborhoods like PS – you have to recognize that the 1st and 2nd wave of gentrifies often have kids that are PAST school age – while many people resell to youngish couples (plenty of older parents in PS) – the vast majority of houses north of 5th were ‘gentrified’ decades ago and are often owned by people whose kids are in HS or older.

    Additionally while 3,000 units sounds like a lot, in terms of school age kids…it may not amount to nearly as many as you think….studios and 1brs (majority) generally have zero or only infant children, and even in the larger apts are not all bought by families. Additionally all the kids will not be the exact same age (thereby dividing up the kids into different classes and sometimes schools), plus some will go to private school and others will move to the suburbs (still a popular choice.)

    All I am saying is that the potential problem is way overblown, and really a good one to have.

  • I have 2 children at PS 29 People say the school is “not overcrowded” and still has “room to grow” but to me the numbers are almost at the limit- they just took the teachers break room and turned it into a classroom.

    Why does Mayor Mike & Co. believe in pushing everything to the limit?
    The break things and then spend years trying to fix them.
    I am pro much needed affordable housing ,but against reckless, not needed luxury condos- there is simply not a luxury condo shortage crisis in this city. A majority of folks buying these condos figure on sending their kids to public schools because they are carrying such high mortgage payments.

  • cobblehook – with condos selling north of $600 a sq ft, in vast tracts of this city how can you say that there is not a shortage of such housing?

    Additionally just because you have 2 children in PS 29 and (you think) it is crowded doesnt mean that a larger school is needed or that new development will push it over capacity. People are not dogs – I do not expect that you will be having another litter of children during you next cycle….so unless you are moving immediately after your kids graduate PS 29 that will be 2 spots available within 5yrs – and you are not alone – Cobble Hill is mostly older housing stock.

    I think Mayor Mike & Co (as you derisively call him) – should be quite proud that the PROBLEM you are complaining about is that too many successful upper middle class people are choosing to send their kids to public schools. [Even if it will not be nearly the problem you predict]

    I say that much of this is (another) attempt by people (short sighted morons IMHO) to attack development – i.e. the majority of these people could give a $hit about crowding in public schools – they just will say and do anything to prevent new construction.

  • benson

    Cobblehook;

    I cannot understand what you mean by this statement:

    “I am pro much needed affordable housing ,but against reckless, not needed luxury condos- there is simply not a luxury condo shortage crisis in this city.”

    What are you suggesting – that the city not allow private housing development that individuals are willing to buy with their own money? The city has removed the tax abatements for new development in this area, so that is no longer an issue. Who has the right to tell any private owner not to develop their property in accordance with the zoning laws?

    What do you mean by “not needed”? As far as I can see (I live right in the middle of all these new condo developments around 2nd St. and 4th Ave.) all of these newly-built units are occupied, be they owned or rented. What is the basis of your judgment? Are you advocating that we go knock on the doors of these new units, and tell these folks that they really don’t need to live there?

    All of the folks (myself included) who bought these new units paid a hefty amount of tax to the city at the closing. If there is a lack of school facilities in the area, you can’t blame these developments. The city took quite a bite out of their wallet when they moved in, and now they should upgrade the surrounding infrastructure.

    I just don’t get the point of your post at all.

  • New York City doubled in population from 1900 to 1950. From 1900 to 1910, the population increased by 39% (!). In those days, public schools did their job remarkably well.

    The US Census Bureau estimates the population of the city increased by 3.6% since 2000. That is a growth rate far below the national average.

    The only thing this proves is the government of New York City is completely incapable of dynamic leadership. The city only limps along because a century ago, devoted citizens and civil servants built almost everything we need for a functional city.

    Lechacal:

    PS 321 has room to grow. Put another floor on that 2-story building and your problem is solved.

  • it wasn’t unpredictable at all – the DOE won’t build more schools because other schools in some of the areas not just because of shortsightedness but because of an explicit plan that the overflow from popular, overcrowded schools (e.g., 321) will have no choice but to send their kids to less popular (or outright unpopular) schools in the same district. didn’t klein say as much in the interview b’stoner posted a while back?

  • Cobblehook:

    There is nothing luxurious about these condos. The only thing that is luxurious about them is they are newly constructed in a city where the vast majority of the people live in apartments built a long time ago.

    Shortages result in higher prices. If and when we have massive crop failures and the price of food increases ten-fold, are you going to start calling basic staples luxury goods simply because they are expensive? What if the price of gasoline jumps to $10 a gallon after Bush decides to bomb Iran? Will gasoline become a luxury good?

  • Folks, this is an EXCELLENT problem to have. Heres’ the thing — a school becomes excellent because people with resources (e.g. money to donate, time to work within the school, the ability to write a grant and negotiate paperwork, the ability to organize fundraising, talent to plant a garden pr paint a wall, connections to others with resources who can widen the circle of interest about the school, etc) send their ids to that school and then get involved in it. I know PS 321 is supposed to be the Holy Grail of public school, and I mean no disrespect to that school, but there are other schools that are excellent, and more importantly, there are schools that need help that you can make a difference in. Then, not only do YOUR kids get a great education that you were instrumental in creating, but other kids whose families have fewer resources also benefit. This is an opportunity of riches! I just finished reading Sandra Tsing-Loh’s book “Mother On Fire” which recounts her experience with the LA Public School system (and private schools in LA) and I really recommend it. It lit a fire under me for sure.

  • Biff Champion

    Pole, do you really think you can slap another floor or two on an existing school? It would be nice if it was that simple, but there’s the inconvenient matter of having to obtain funds from the DOE (who do you think pays for this?), working around building codes/standards, dealing with the fact the DOE likely won’t approve expansion when there are other schools in the zone that are under capacity (as i disagree noted), administrative delays (you think these things get built overnight? The recently approved PS8 annex in BH will be done by 2011, at the earliest) etc.

    fsrg, I also disagree with your statement that the problem is overblown and a good one to have. In Brooklyn Heights, there has been an incredible turnaround at PS8, which has gone from being undercapacity at the lower grades to bursting at the seams in a matter of a mere few years.

  • 2 Toilets you repeat a common beleif that has ZERO empirical evidence:

    “a school becomes excellent because people with resources (e.g. money to donate, time to work within the school, the ability to write a grant and negotiate paperwork, the ability to organize fundraising, talent to plant a garden pr paint a wall, connections to others with resources who can widen the circle of interest about the school, etc) send their ids to that school and then get involved in it.”

    A School becomes excellent because the people who send their kids to that school prepare their children from the earliest age to learn and then continue to value education and demand (from their children) that they dedicate themselves to learning.

    At one time NYC public schools were the envy of the world (pre-60′s) – and parents were rarely involved in “volunteering”, raising money or what-have-you. And the schools were even more poorly funded then.

  • Biff:

    I do think you can put another floor on that particular school. Certainly, this can’t be done with all schools – but PS 321 is perfect for such an expansion. If that can’t be done, bulldoze it and replace it with a larger school. It really is an inefficient design.

    Also, I do agree that such an expansion or replacement would take years. Having worked for the New York School Construction Authority, I can say their incompetence and complacency makes any response to a growing student population slow.

  • “If there is a lack of school facilities in the area, you can’t blame these developments. The city took quite a bite out of their wallet when they moved in, and now they should upgrade the surrounding infrastructure.”

    I have a headache as I write this, but I agree with benson. It’s not the people buying the coops and condos who are the problem. It’s the City that hasn’t kept pace.

    Not only by neglecting existing infrastructure, but also by poor pre planning.

  • Don’t forget to consider the people who move into these areas at the time their kid is ready for school to establish residency and get their kid in the school. Then after a year they move away to somewhere where they can afford a bigger space but keep their kid at the school. Add to that the sibling preference policy and you can easily have more kids enrolled in a school than the number of kids that actually live within its zone.

  • “At one time NYC public schools were the envy of the world (pre-60′s) – and parents were rarely involved in “volunteering”, raising money or what-have-you. And the schools were even more poorly funded then.”

    Not so- public schools had very active PTAs and parents did volunteer for many activities to support the local schools. My mother was only one of many.

  • twototos: i’ve looked a little bit into this “improve your school” theory, and the level of success at middling or poorly performing schools seems to be dependent on the school’s administration and willingness to bring in new teachers. even setting aside the obvious budgetary issues this brings up, the DOE controls the appointments of principals, and the DOE allows principals to control what the parents can and cannot do. as i understand it, the progress at PS8 can be linked, in part, to the fact that they inherited ps321′s old principal, and the parents’ groups had near unanimity of purpose (which some attribute to the economic demographics in brooklyn heights – not sure about that but unanimous strength has got to be relatively rare to achieve in such a short time period).

  • benson

    Biff;

    It seems to me that you are justifying the incompetence of the DOE bureauacracy, which is the root of this problem, not the new development. As I mentioned in my previous post, folks pay hefty local taxes when these new units are closed (specifically, a real property transfer tax, and a mortgage recording tax). The fact that the local authorities cannot quickly utilize this money to upgrade the infrastructure is an indictment of the bureacracy. Why should it take so long for the DOE to add on capacity? Let’s benchmark their capabilities against other entities both private and public.

    Polemecist is correct: at one time this City had the ability to accommodate huge increases in population, and it no longer has it. I might add that that past upsurge in population was primarily driven by immigration, not a middle-class influx. As FSRQ pointed out, funding was even more of an issue back then.

  • And Biff – Brooklyn Heights has had virtually no new condo construction….

    The “problem” at PS 8 is that it went from horrible to good(to people who value education) overnight. This is totally different from what is being discussed her (new construction), it is also unfortunately rare – and it is also a “problem” that hardly should result in criticism for the Mayor or DOE.

    The point is that while overcrowding in certain localities can be an issue – the city should be thrilled (and paraised) that the “problem” is that upper middle class (and even some rich) people are moving to/stayin in NYC and want to send their kids to NYC public schools – rather than critiqing the mayor or calling for less development – (if people actually cared about schools) they’d be calling for an intelligent study of the issue and more schools IF and where necessary.

  • Biff Champion

    I should have been clearer with respect to my reference to the “problem” not being a good one. I would rather have an overcrowded, high performing school than an underutilized, low performing school. And I feel having many young families migrate to a particular area in a short time is a very positive thing for a community. I simply meant to point out that the overcrowding issue is hardly overblown and the unfortunate reality is that there is no fast, easy fix.

    Pole, fair enough. We’re more on the same page here than I initially thought. I wasn’t saying expansion of PS 321 is impossible. But I am extremely skeptical that it would happen anytime soon. And bulldozing and rebuilding it would take forever and likely cause a riot involving all the PS parents who moved to the area primarily to send their kids there. We also agree on the incompetence and complacency of the New York School Construction Authority.

  • i don’t think sibling preference policies for gen ed (as opposed to G&T) exist any longer at overcrowded schools if you moved out of zone. or maybe it’s if you moved out of the district – either way, the DOE is trying to shut this down.

  • BxGrl – notwithstanding your Mother – I think your memory may be failing you somewhat (understandable since you are at least close to 70yrs old) but large scale ‘parental involvement’ was a non-factor in Public Schools until the mid-60s at the earliest.

  • benson

    Bxgrl;

    I’m floored. Yesterday I received an endorsement from Montrose, and today, from you. WOW!!!! Stop the presses again!! This deserves a two-part write up!

    Have a nice day (no more headaches)!

  • Biff Champion

    “It seems to me that you are justifying the incompetence of the DOE bureauacracy, which is the root of this problem, not the new development.”

    This is not at all the case. I absolutely lay most of the blame for the overcrowding issues on the incompetence of the DOE. I don’t blame developers for building and I don’t blame parents for moving their families into the areas. As I said, I think that’s a wonderful sign for a neighborhood. Once again, sorry if I am being unclear but my point is that the reality, BECAUSE of the DOE incompetency, is that these schools are overcrowded and I have an issue with suggesting that one particular point is up for debate.

    fsrg, certainly BH has had very little condo development, but PS8 is hugely impacted by the increasing population of families in DUMBO. Again, I don’t blame the developers or the new residents. I blame the DOE for not being able to react and accomodate these trends ever or until years after the fact.

  • fsrq- You’re completely wrong as to my age and my memory. I have a much much older brother and I was a late age “surprise” for my parents so your math is way off base (but really intelligent ageism comment on your part. You must be proud). and I stand by what I said. Just because it wasn’t huge, loud and have a web page don’t think it didn’t exist.

  • benson- we spread it out over 2 days so you wouldn’t go into cardiac arrest :-)

    Have a good one too!

  • BxGrl – if my math is “way off base” then you couldnt possibly have gone to school in the pre-60s era (which is as I suspected) and therefore your anecdote is even less relevant than it otherwise would be.

    FYI – only those approximately 67 or older could have gone to school pre-60′s (and even then only for a couple of years)

  • I can tell you didn’t major in math. And since my brother is still very much alive and I remember my mother and other parents even into “my era” being involved in the schools, your denial is simply that. Denial.

    FYI You could be in your mid/late 50′s and have been in school pre 1960′s. If you were born in 1952, you would have been in school (at 4 or 5) in 1957, and you would be 56 now. If you were born in 1948, you would have been in public school in the 50′s, and 60 years old now.

    How old are you? How’s that memory doing?

  • You’re right my math is way f’ed up. (I went to a NY school in the modern era)
    Although the idea that parental involvement was a driving factor in public schools in the 50′s and before is still largely a fantasy.

    Sorry about the math

  • well, since you went to school, as you admit far from that era and I have personal family experience, I still disagree.

    You wrote “A School becomes excellent because the people who send their kids to that school prepare their children from the earliest age to learn and then continue to value education and demand (from their children) that they dedicate themselves to learning.

    At one time NYC public schools were the envy of the world (pre-60′s) -”

    You don’t see that you just argued against yourself? How do you think pre-1960′s schools got that way? You already answered your own question.

    Their involvement certainly wasn’t as big or as flashy as it is today, but was solidly there.

  • In many major cities, developers are required to pay a development tax that will support the new population the development will bring by building schools and making public spaces.

    From what I’ve heard (and of course I can’t back this up with any actual findings—I’ve been looking—it’s just a discussion I was in on with some other parents), New York developers are not required to pay any sort of tax that would fund the development of new schools.

    If this is true, the DOE, developers, and city planners are ALL at fault.

  • superslav:

    Those communities probably don’t have an income tax that supports the schools. Seriously, this city has the highest tax burden in the country. You think MORE taxes are the solution?

  • how are developers at fault for failing to pay a non-existent tax?

  • benson

    Superslav;

    You are incorrect in what you are saying. When a new condo is developed, the city receives increased revenues in three forms:

    -at the time of sale, there is a “real property transfer tax”. For property over $500,000 (which involves most NYC condos), the rate is 1.425%. The developer is supposed to pay this tax, but in the overheated NYC market, he usually makes the buyer pay this tax. In other words, this tax is added to the upfront purchase cost.

    -there is a “mortgage recording tax” on any mortgage that the buyer takes out, to the effect of 1.75% of the value of the loan in NYC.

    -there is the increase in the property tax. The city abates this tax for 15-20 years in certain areas where development is needed. With the recent revision in the law, upscale areas like Park Slope were removed from the list of places that receive this abatement.

    The city sees a sizable increase in revenue for every new condo unit that is built. As Polemecist asked: how much is enough? When can we expect to see some tangible results for the money we pay in?

  • Biff Champion

    It seems a bit absurd these days to continue to allow these tax abatements just about anywhere. Where can one argue that development is needed? At least, in addition to Park Slope, they should be nixed just about everywhere in Manhattan, DUMBO, BH (as limited as the development is there), Cobble Hill, etc.

  • Biff Champion

    Thanks fsrg. I thought the whole concept of allowing abatements for luxury condos in the first place didn’t make sense.

  • i was born in 1964 and my brother in 1968. neither of our parents ever:
    attended a PTA meeting
    did fund raising
    helped us with our homework
    ran a scouting meeting
    assisted our teachers
    or basically anything related to our going to school. my dad did drive me and a couple of the neighborhood kids to high school until i got a car. but, that’s it.

    and, this was totally normal. of course, both us went on to graduate from private universities and become successful professionals with families.

    however, that was the burbs, and this is the city. I do think a bunch of well educated parents can make a school great.

    when we moved last time, we looked for underutilized school (PS 17) with good stats, so that we could avoid the overcrowding thing.

    the current demographic is poor hispanic for PS 17, but that demographic is dwindling because those folks can’t afford to rent in the area anymore. from our building alone, 4 kids are going to pre-K there next year. add on all the other new families, and boom – new hot school. (insideschools gives it a 5 in math, it has a federally funded library, principal won an award as one of the country’s best principals and the DOE gave it a B+ last year – higher than 321 actually)..

    i advise people shopping to buy to really dig deeper to find out about schools. there are more options than people think.

  • “was born in 1964 and my brother in 1968. neither of our parents ever:
    attended a PTA meeting
    did fund raising
    helped us with our homework
    ran a scouting meeting
    assisted our teachers
    or basically anything related to our going to school. ”

    Whoa- that’s sad. And I’m surprised because I was always under the impression the schools in the burbs had more active parents than in NYC. Fundraising probably not though considering schools didn’t have the same financial problems they have today.

    Still, if as fsqr says, great schools depend on the parents involvement, and he also says pre 1960′s schools had great reputations, seems to me bxgrl is correct about parents being involved even back then.

  • denton

    ER, I was born in 1954 and went to some West Harlem ghetto schools, and even tho my parents were white and educated, they did none of those things except help with homework. Their attitude was leave teaching to the professionals and it would all work out.

  • Schools will catch up.

  • s’odd. Maybe different depending on where the school was. My schools were all in my neighborhood. In fact my elementary school was right down the block. One of the things my mother did was volunteer in the school library. Of course my father worked all the time but it seemed mothers in the neighborhood wee actively involved. Not agressively, the way I get the impression parents are now. But nonetheless.

  • New Dumbo condos are adding kids to the schools and the school most of them are zoned for is PS8.

    fsrg — PS8 overcrowding is due to BOTH it being a better school AND more new condos in the zone.

    And to the original post — “Some 3,000 new apartments are being planned for an area around one school in DUMBO — PS 287 — but the department has no plans for any new schools in the area” is somewhat misleading as the condos are generally not zoned for PS287.

    As far as I can tell PS287 is zone is mainly composed of the projects, which is an entirely separate issue and one the DOE should address. Who knows maybe they will rezone some of those “luxury” Dumbo condos away from PS8 and towards PS287 to help alleviate the overcrowding at PS8.