We must see the irony in barring from SoHo the same people that created the legendary neighborhood we know today.

Hard as it is to believe for a young person or newcomer struggling to make it in New York City, SoHo was once an affordable neighborhood. Decades ago, it became a haven for low-income residents who created a thriving community among its spacious yet dirt-cheap lofts.

Today the neighborhood is unrecognizable. SoHo is no longer a hotbed of artistic expression but one of the most expensive districts in the country, the home of high fashion and luxury.

The people who catalyzed this transformation moved in because they needed low-rent spaces to work and live. New York is increasingly a city without any such options for residents who can’t afford astronomically high living costs. That’s why the communities looking for their own SoHo-like haven today pop up in the outer boroughs.

Especially in these times New Yorkers like to think of ourselves as an island of progressivism in a country that is increasingly narrow-minded. But we don’t have to look to the suburbs or to faraway states to find that exclusion and tribalism is alive and well right here. SoHo is twice as wealthy, and twice as white, as New York City. Limiting growth in this neighborhood limits access to opportunity and creates market pressures that ripple throughout the city.

Current zoning excludes all but a tiny segment of New Yorkers from centrally located, transit rich SoHo that would be an ideal location for more affordable housing. This is not hyperbole. To live in SoHo one must receive legal approval from the Department of Cultural Affairs confirming that one is indeed a legitimate artist, which has resulted in it being effectively protected for white, wealthy New Yorkers.

We must see the irony in barring from SoHo the same people that created the legendary neighborhood we know today: the low-income, marginalized New Yorkers looking for a break in one of the world’s toughest real estate markets. Because that is exactly what the community’s long standing, exclusionary zoning is doing.

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