Financial Gerrymandering in New York

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NYC Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams spoke today outside 20 Hudson Yards (Photo Credit: Kevin Fagan)

Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams held a press conference today in front of Hudson Yards to denounce the development’s wealthy-focused business practices, which includes many cashless businesses and the unsavory use of the EB-5 program to claim funds intended for economically distressed areas. Following the press conference, Williams sent a letter to the management of the project discussing his objections and requesting they be addressed. 

Hudson Yards was partially financed through the EB-5 visa program, which allows for the acquisition of visas in exchange for large investment in developing what is deemed an “economically distressed area,” as determined by “targeted employment areas,” or TEAs, with 150% the national rate of unemployment. Hudson Yards was drawn into a map by Empire State Development, which places the neighborhood in the same TEA as several public housing developments in northern Manhattan. This allowed for $1.2 billion in funding to be invested in a luxury location.

 
Map developed by Mark Byrnes and CityLab.

“By drawing this map, the state let Hudson Yards call itself an ‘economically distressed area’ and collect $1.2 billion off the struggles of people in NYCHA housing. This is financial gerrymandering,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “What’s more, the same NYCHA residents likely can’t even afford to shop at Hudson Yards, and some can’t even buy lunch there because it’s gone cashless. The state is using low-income people in order to fund a playground for the wealthy. The Council needs to pass Council member Torres’ bill to guarantee all businesses in New York City accept cash.”

The Public Advocate highlighted that many businesses inside the development, including the grocery store, do not accept cash payments, which creates a barrier for the 12% of New Yorkers who are unbanked and the 25% who are underbanked. These are like the same people, he suggested, whose neighborhoods were being used to allow financing for Hudson Yards but who would not be able to shop or dine there. VISA recently announced a partnership with Hudson Yards, calling itself a “driving force behind the dream of a cashless future for everyone, everywhere.”