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The Next Big Housing Market: Rikers Island?

Phil Hall
Nov 10, 2016
New York City’s crowded housing market may receive a much-needed expansion thanks to an effort to replace the infamous city jail on Rikers Island with residential and commercial property developments

New York City’s crowded housing market may receive a much-needed expansion thanks to an effort to replace the infamous city jail on Rikers Island with residential and commercial property developments.

According to a Politico report, several prominent New York developers are formulating plans that would transform the 413-acre island from a correctional facility into new real estate projects that would bring revenue to the City while offering new housing opportunities—and one estimate suggests that 65,000 new housing units could be created there.

“Closing Rikers will also open up the island to development,” said Durst Organization spokesman and lobbyist Jordan Barowitz. “It would be foolish not to engage the expertise and resources of the real estate industry in the disposition of this valuable asset.”

A major stumbling block, however, is the fate of the correctional facility, which several local politicians have advocated, most notably Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, but is opposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Look, I get why anyone in a perfect world wants to close Rikers Island,” said de Blasio last month in a news conference, adding he would prefer to change “the fundamental culture and the approach to corrections” rather than tear down the jail and relocate its inmates elsewhere.

Another proposal for Rikers Island has been floated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who suggested using the Island as part of an expansion for nearby LaGuardia Airport.

“LaGuardia is fundamentally limited by runway space,” said Cuomo at a recent luncheon hosted by the Association for a Better New York. “That’s why I was very intrigued by the idea of the city selling Rikers Island … and using Rikers to build another runway for LaGuardia.”

At the moment, there is no timeline for deciding on Rikers Island’s fate—and the plan might be placed on hold next year, when de Blasio and the city’s elected officials are up for re-election. But former New York State chief judge Jonathan Lippman, who is in charge of the city’s criminal justice reform commission, welcomed the chance to explore new ideas for the property.

“The political center of this will be about how we make the system more humane and just,” he said. “And at the same time recognize that you do have a very strategically placed and valuable piece of real estate there that could have a multitude of public policy purposes to develop it.”

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