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Hilarity (Presumably Unintentional) at the New York Times

Here, in its entirety, is an editorial that appeared in Sunday's NY Times [unavailable online except to NY Times Select members, otherwise I'd just give you the link):

"A Dorm Grows in Harlem

Graduating from college used to mean leaving your campus dorm and moving into your first grown-up apartment. Unfortunately, overpriced real estate in places like New York, San Francisco and Washington have raised the bar for making that transition to new heights.

Some graduates go back home; others put the touch on better-off parents for handouts. Perhaps it was only a matter of time, but economic circumstances have provided yet another alternative: dorms for adults. As Janny Scott reported last week in The Times, a woman named Karen Falcon has provided group living for nearly 150 young people in three Harlem buildings. She has assembled a varied mix — men and women, graduate students and bartenders — to minimize potential conflicts.

It's an idea that could spread. Recent graduates working long hours and filling their free time with dates and parties require little more than places to sleep and communal stoves to boil the occasional pot of noodles. Dormitory living also carries a whiff of nostalgia. It almost sounds like fun until you stop and remind yourself that these dorms for adults arise from the rigors of the housing market and not from any desire to live in close quarters with strangers. There is a nobler alternative — to make affordable housing a higher priority for a city that caters more and more to its richest residents. Families with small children that are living off dishwashers' and even teachers' pay are also adrift in this cutthroat market. For the working poor, and increasingly for middle-class families, dorms are not an option, but neither is the going rate on a comfortable home."

The italics are mine -- that's the hilarious part. These dorms arise "from the rigors of the housing market." Man, that really sucks, huh? These "rigors of the housing market" mean that some people might end up living "in close quarters with strangers" even though they don't want to. Ooooh, how terrible is that?! It would be better -- not just better, but actually "nobler" -- if we were to "make affordable housing a higher priority."

Come on! A "higher priority" how, exactly? Karen Falcon actually made it a high priority -- it was such a high priority, for her, that she actually went out and built something. Unlike, say, the Times -- which owns a good deal of real estate in NY, and, last time I looked, had converted none of it into "affordable housing." This idea that it can't be "noble" when it's just the market supplying people with something they want at a price they can afford really gets my goat.

Robert Lyman (mail):
How is "dorm" living different than the less "ignoble" practice of finding roomates, many of whom may be strangers?
7.19.2006 4:28pm
Mark Rose:
Don't they still have rent controls in New York city?
7.19.2006 4:34pm
josh:
This is a rather childish post. "Presumably," when the Times wrote, "There is a nobler alternative — to make affordable housing a higher priority for a city that caters more and more to its richest residents" it was referring to such non-libertarian, non-free market government policies as tax benefits to wealth real estate holders. All it was arguing for was for similar government intervention, except for those who need it instead.
7.19.2006 5:40pm
PGofHSM (mail) (www):
I think Post may be misunderstanding what the Times editorial meant to express, which is that the city/ private sector should do something about the housing situation for people not like Falcon's tenants, i.e. "Families with small children that are living off dishwashers' and even teachers' pay are also adrift in this cutthroat market. For the working poor, and increasingly for middle-class families, dorms are not an option, but neither is the going rate on a comfortable home." The Times doesn't seem to be expressing a negative attitude toward Falcon's dormitory -- indeed, it says, "Recent graduates working long hours and filling their free time with dates and parties require little more than places to sleep and communal stoves to boil the occasional pot of noodles." This is *contrasted* with the families for whom this lifestyle of "free time with dates and parties" and Ramen is not appropriate and Falcon's dorms not a good option.

Also, what is all the real estate that the New York Times owns? I wasn't aware of its being a major real propertyholder in NYC (as opposed to Columbia University, Catholic Church, etc.).
7.19.2006 5:54pm
anon252 (mail):
If NYC would get rid of its various "landmarking" laws, and ignore "neighborhood" pressure, hundreds of thousands of new high-rise units could be built in a matter of a few years, pushing prices down across the board.
7.19.2006 6:21pm
PaulV (mail):
rent control reduces the available units on the market. There is no need to downsize, it is cheaper to stay in large unit than to find smaller one. It is subsidy for the well to do who have plently of money. That subsidy is why it is politically popular even though it causes suffering
7.19.2006 7:24pm
James Dillon (mail):
This is a rather childish post.
I agree wholeheartedly. Whatever one's view of the position taken by the Times, I generally expect a higher level of discourse on this site than a mocking "Ooooh" at the "hilarity" of an opinion with which a poster disagrees. The generally level-headed, respectful, and intelligent writing of most of the posts here is the one reason I keep reading this blog, despite generally disagreeing with the conservative/libertarian position it takes on most issues. I'd hate to see that level of quality decline as the Volokh Conspiracy brings in more new bloggers.
7.19.2006 7:31pm
FXKLM:
There are plenty of dishwashing and teaching jobs in areas with a low cost of living. If you can't afford to live in NYC, move. Or at least commute. Even plenty of people with high incomes are forced to do that. What is it about Manhattan that makes people think that everyone has a right to live there regardless of income? If we were talking about the high cost of living in Beverly Hills, no one would would have any sympathy for these people. We'd just tell them to move somewhere cheaper. Manhattan real estate is no different from Beverly Hills real estate. It's a terribly scarce commodity. It should go to those who can afford it.
7.19.2006 8:42pm
Houston Lawyer:
If there is anything childish here, it it the original editorial. Apparently, they are outsourcing their editorials to a local junior college. I've been house hunting lately as well. Real estate is expensive. I am not aware of any policy endorsed by the Times that would make it less so.
7.19.2006 9:34pm
Alaska Jack (mail):
James Dillon -

As a VC reader from the early days, I too value the relatively high tone of discussion here. But jeesh, aren't you overreacting a bit? Does every single post have to be drained of personality? EV himself has talked of the need to add a little "verve" to writing every now and then.

I guess I just don't find that a mildly caustic comment here or there ruins the whole experience for me. I understand YMMV, but aren't your expectations a little unrealistic for a group blog?

- AJ
7.19.2006 11:33pm
Ming the Merciless Siamese Cat (mail):
Given how the Times' has handled the the rigors of the newspaper market and the stock market, I am dubious regarding its expertise on the housing market.
7.20.2006 10:47am
Avner (mail):
I am a resident of the Upper West Side and near me they are constructing two large towers that have the neighborhood up in arms. Now the community is all sensitized to and opposed to a zoning change that would allow average building heights on Broadway to go from 12 stories (it has been thus for decades) to 17 stories. They want a reduction to 9 stories (which would halt any future development).

At the same time and in the same meetings they protest how all the development goes to high-rent apartments instead of "providing" more affordable housing. And all in a city that has such high construction costs (and a buildings department famous for its corruption and opacity) that affordable housing in these communities is not possible.

I think micro-economics should become a requirement in high school so people can understand supply and demand. Sigh. All you ever hear is how more cheap stuff should be available but the neighborhoods shouldn't change.
7.20.2006 12:05pm
Aultimer:
Maybe the Times would approve of a variant of Sam Kinison's UHaul Aid to Africa?

Dillon - David Post has been around a long time (since he was at GULC IIRC, but your comment suggests he's part of the more recent expansions at VC.
7.20.2006 1:12pm
James Dillon (mail):
As a VC reader from the early days, I too value the relatively high tone of discussion here. But jeesh, aren't you overreacting a bit?

Maybe; if I overreacted, I apologize. But this post sounds more like redstate.com than Volokh to me. Generally, this blog does a great job of setting out rational arguments without sinking to the name-calling that's far too common in blogs on both sides of the political divide. This is the first of Professor Post's... er, posts, that I recall reading, and I just hope it isn't a sign of things to come.

But, hey, I freely admit that I'm far to the left of most (likely all) of the bloggers on here, so maybe that influences my opinion. I can't say that I have a particularly strong feeling about NYC housing regulations, though (despite the fact that I live in NYC), so I doubt that my political persuasion has much to do with my reaction to this post.

Dillon - David Post has been around a long time (since he was at GULC IIRC, but your comment suggests he's part of the more recent expansions at VC.
That's because I thought he was. As I said, this is the first of his posts that I've come across. I read Volokh maybe two or three times a week, but not every day. Or maybe I have read one of his items in the past but didn't make note of the name.

In any case, if I overstated my objection I do apologize, but I have a great deal of respect for the high level of quality of posts on this site and I still think that this post falls short of VC's usually high standards.
7.20.2006 2:25pm
Crunchy Frog:
James Dillon:

The very fact that your original comment was not met with immediate threats of expulsion from the blog powers-that-be proves that this is not Redstate.
7.20.2006 3:15pm
James Dillon (mail):
The very fact that your original comment was not met with immediate threats of expulsion from the blog powers-that-be proves that this is not Redstate.
I didn't suggest that it is; I said only that this particular post sounds more like something I would read there.
7.20.2006 4:21pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
There are plenty of dishwashing and teaching jobs in areas with a low cost of living. If you can't afford to live in NYC, move. Or at least commute.

Ahh, there is the brilliant free market solution. If you can't afford to live there, find a job somewhere else or commute. Of course in a free market we wouldn't have public transportation either since that is nothing but government subsidized transportation. People who can't afford to drive should just walk.

I'm sure that all the people who can afford to live in Manhattan will be perfectly willing to wash their own dishes, dry clean their own suits, answer their own phones, fight fires and provide their own police protection and transport themselves to the hospital where they will clean their own rooms, administer their own medicines, change their own sheets, bedpans, and IVs (thank God the doctors will still be able to afford to work there).
7.20.2006 5:04pm
Chimaxx (mail):
It does strike me as curious that the poster's dismay at the NYT's apparent disdain for free market forces seems to him to be sufficient justification for undercutting their attempt at using the free market to charge for their content by freely republishing the entirety of an article from behind the Times' for-pay TimesSelect firewall.

When the Times moved a significant part of their content behind the for-pay firewall, nytimes.com simply stopped becoming a daily destination for me. I didn't think of searching out those who saw their TimesSelect subscriptions as a license to republish for free all of the Times' for-pay content.

[I disagree. The fact that the only way that I can comment intelligently (or not) on this editorial is to reprint it IS very relevant to fair use. Not to go off on a tangent, I'm very comfortable (as a copyright lawyer, to boot) with my position that I am indeed making fair use of the editorial when copying it here. And it would indeed be a very different story if I were to use my TimesSelect subscription "as a license to republish for free all of the Times' for-pay content." That's not what I did, and the difference matters -- I republished a single editorial, in order to comment on it -- classic fair use. If I republished all of the Times's stuff, my fair use claim would, and should, fail.
David P]
7.20.2006 8:15pm
randal (mail):
I agree with the prevailing view that David Post's knee jerked a bit to far when writing this post. The NYT editorial appears to be a straightforward call for additional subsidized housing. Subsidized housing is hardly a "hilarious" concept.
7.20.2006 8:24pm
David Post (mail) (www):
Well, thanks to you all for the discussion -- I decided that rather than responding here, in the comments, I'd do so in a separate posting -- here
DavidP
7.21.2006 10:29am
Chimaxx (mail):
I'm still bothered by the poster's comment that he would have simply provided a link (and perhaps quoted a couple of the most relevant sentences), except that the article lived behind the TimesSelect firewall, so he was therefore justified in posting the entire text here in order to comment on it.

In fact, I would think the opposite is true, and that his republishing of this for-pay content here on a freely accessible site undercuts his disdain for the Times' stance. The fact that the Times has made some minimal attempt at restricting access to the full text of this article to those who pay for access rather than providing it for free to anyone with a web browser means that it becomes even LESS possilble to construe quoting the text in full as fair use under any reasonable understanding of that term.

The fact that the poster feels free to violate the implied contract of being a subscriber to Times Select (and perhaps explicit contract--what DID that TimesSelect usage agreement that you clicked through say about publicly posting content from behind the firewall?) by posting the full text of the article here seems to directly undercut his outrage over the Times' assertion that something should be done to make someone else's product more generally affordable. His quoting of the full text of the Times' editorial here suggests the answer: Just give it away, regardless of existing agreements, contracts and laws.

Perhaps some enterprising group should take his lead and set up an agency specializing in finding appropriate apartments on the upper east side for the working to become squatters in if we're all for giving away others' property to those who haven't paid for it. Then this whole free-market dorms debate would be irrelevant.
7.21.2006 4:56pm
Janet C (mail):
This development sounds like a modern version of boarding houses; which were not uncommon a couple of generations ago.

Everything old is new again.
7.21.2006 4:59pm
Seamus (mail):
Usually, discussions about "affordable housing" in urban areas turns sooner or later to a lament over the disappearance of single-room occupancies. So what's the difference between SROs (good) and these dorms (apparently not so good, according to the NYT)?
7.21.2006 11:26pm