Photographing affordable housing in New York City

With the expense of Manhattan and a booming luxury market in NYC, one sociologist shows what affordable housing looks like:

Garbage-strewn common areas, ominous graffiti, the twitching fluorescent stairwell lighting — these are the images most often associated with public housing. Even privately owned affordable housing is often seen as something bland and tiny you settle for, not aspire to. But David Schalliol, a photographer and sociology professor in Minnesota, sees a shift toward something that goes beyond the cliché…

In New York, however, he found that there was much more to the story. “Affordable housing means so many different things in New York City,” he said, citing developments, like Co-op City in the Bronx, that helped give the city a reputation for finding innovative ways to provide decent housing to middle- and working-class families.

Mr. Schalliol surveys this landscape in a new anthology, “Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places and Policies That Transformed a City,” from Princeton University Press…

“One of the aims of this book, this project, is not only to demonstrate the wide variety of these developments, but also the common experience within them,” he said. “But it’s where people make their homes, where they meet their friends. They don’t just come home, they’re actively producing community.”

It would be interesting to see what sort of argument Schalliol makes in this book. The photos provided with the article suggest the people in New York City’s affordable housing are just trying to live a normal life. Yet, collections of photographs can counter stereotypes and help the broader public see what affordable housing really looks like. Perhaps the images could even help people see that having affordable housing nearby will not necessarily ruin their property values and lives.

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