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Does This Game Make Planning Affordable Housing Fun?

By Emilie Ruscoe | June 18, 2015 3:09pm

Inside the Rent

If you had a dime for every time you said to yourself "I wish I had a web-based game in which I could simulate planning affordable housing in NYC," would you be rich?

Citizens Housing Planning Council, a New York City nonprofit research and education organization, has made that very thing a reality with a game called Inside the Rent. Created with assistance from the cartography firm VanDam Media, Inside the Rent players are tasked with setting a sustainable first-year rent for two-bedroom apartments in a hypothetical building by adjusting expense variables.

It's not Grand Theft Auto, but the game would be interesting for anyone who has ever felt curious about the expense equation for planning affordable housing in NYC.

The numbers in the game are pulled from real housing scenarios in Morrisania, Stapleton, Jamaica, Mott Haven, East New York, Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, East Harlem, Harlem, Astoria, Long Island City, Downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg and the Lower East Side. 

After selecting a neighborhood, players select a target rent, adjust factors such as building size and the extent of amenities, and decide whether to pay prevailing wages (which are set by the government and are higher than market wages) for construction and maintenence labor.

If the resulting expenses are too high to sustain the rent goal, players have the option of seeking government subsidies for land and construction costs and a property tax abatement. There's also a sample development budget summary that breaks down the expenses of building a comparable building (which is cool because somehow this feature got left out of GTA 5).

One gets the sense from the beginning of the game that the deck is stacked against the player, which is arguably the major takeaway from the game: building affordable housing is not easy. This is maybe a little heavy-handed, though that effect is offset by the fact that the game is so illustrative, which makes it feel worthwhile.

Can you think of other aspects of housing policy that might be similarly playable? Maybe a choose-your-own-adventure type game about the affordable housing application process, or a quiz about tax abatement eligibility? The possibilities are limitless!