Last night GIRLS creator Lena Dunham appeared at a Meatpacking District fundraiser for NYC comptroller candidate Scott Stringer (who currently holds the office of Manhattan borough president). In a speech explaining her endorsement of Stringer, Dunham cast the election in broad terms, as a choice between two different New Yorks: one where only the wealthy are welcome, and one where it's possible for a young, creative class to survive.
Recent college graduates, she said, are "struggling to find jobs and pay the rent and if they struggle for too long, they're leaving New York" for other cities, "even Tampa." (SHUDDER) Capital New York reports:
At one point, Dunham spoke about growing up with her family in a Soho loft, where the rent was "$350 a month, if they just hid their stove from Con Edison. Now, the building that I was born in houses a Victoria's Secret and is next door to a Sephora. Anyway, we can't have our generation's Patti Smith moving to Tampa. That's going to seriously fuck our shit up."
During the event, Capital New York's Azi Paybarah tweeted:
— Azi Paybarah (@Azi) August 7, 2013
A healthy debate ensued. And while this blog post would have been a lot more fun with the headline "Lena Dunham Is Worried About Gentrification," that may be a bit reductive. Dunham, like many of us, seems more concerned about the insane and obscene real estate market driving everyone but the upper crust to the city's fringes. Gentrification, in broad terms, is part of this cancer, but there are larger forces at play than Ma and Pa Dunham buying a fixer-upper in SoHo or modern-day Bedwick.
NYC's dearth of truly affordable housing is a systematic problem, one which the government could address, if elected officials were able to stand up to the real estate lobby ha ha *sob*. Here's how journalist Steven Wishnia recently described the current housing crisis in a great article about rent stabilization:
If you want to see what would happen if rent control and rent stabilization were eliminated, look at what has happened in the city since 1997. The combination of inflation, the housing shortage, and fraud has led to the deregulation of almost every vacant apartment in the lower half of Manhattan, and pushed up rents all over the city. Apartments over the current deregulation threshold of $2,500 are advertised in Bay Ridge, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and East New York; in Astoria, Harlem, and Washington Heights; and in Kingsbridge and on the Grand Concourse.
In the New York City of today, the two best ways to make housing more affordable would be to strengthen rent controls and build much more genuinely affordable housing. Both of these remedies face major political obstacles.
What can an NYC comptroller do about all this? On a broad scale, not much. But Dunham's support for Stringer appears to have other origins. For one thing, Stringer's spokesperson is Audrey Gelman, a frequent guest star on GIRLS. (Dunham admitted last night she had to Google "comptrolling" before throwing her support behind Stringer—she's not alone.) And more than housing issues, Dunham seems particularly repelled by Stringer's formidable opponent, disgraced ex-governor Eliot Spitzer.
"We need a candidate with a record of respecting women and the issues that matter to them," Dunham said last night, adding, "Stringer is 'reform-minded.' Just in case you’re worried, nobody fed me the term ‘reform-minded.’ I know that term, and I use it all the time in lovemaking situations and more.” Comptroller compedy: it's fresh and cool.