Play “Inside The Rent” and bring affordable housing to Brookyln

Pfft, that's what you think game. Screenshot via CHPCNY
Pfft, that’s what you think game. Screenshot via CHPCNY

Drop the XBOX One or PS4 controller you’re currently holding on a Friday morning and play a game about real estate. The Citizens Housing Planning Council just dropped the hottest game of the summer, called “Inside the Rent.” There are no head-shots, power ups or gold rings to collect , the object of the game is to educate you on the troubles and cost it takes to develop housing in NYC. It’s like Math Blaster for real estate nerds.

First, you choose your neighborhood, we choose Williamsburg. Then you are asked to set the rent for a two bedroom apartment, since everyone has to know someone paying too much to live in Williamsburg, you could ask, but it would be less fun that way. You then choose whether to make your building a mid-rise or high-rise (we choose high-rise, the bigger the better.) You’re then asked a series of questions relating to the construction: prevailing wages for construction, maintenance etc. When it’s all said and done, you can see whether your building’s rent is too high or too low. If it’s too low for example, you can ask for subsidies for the cost of construction and land. After all that if it’s still too low or too high, you can accept the higher rent and open the building anyway. The game will say that people may not want to pay that much to live there, but since when has that stopped people from buying up property in Williamsburg before?

Is the game fun? Is any educational game fun besides Where in the “World is Carmen Sandiego” or “Oregon Trail?” Probably not, but that’s not the point. The game’s webpage has much more detail into the thinking behind the game, such as apartment size, real estate taxes and more.

h/t to Curbed for originally reporting on the games launch.

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  1. Conal Darcy

    This is a calculator to pay off all loans and operating costs within the first year so the developer can break even. What kind of bank sets a one-year term for a commercial loan?

    But assume we’re in this fantasy land where banks want their money back in 12 months. Using their numbers for a mid-rise in Williamsburg, I determined the building costs were $620,000 and their yearly operating costs were $55,789. Based on the suggested rent of $4,649, breaking even the first year means the building has 145* two-bedroom units (which seems like a lot for what is probably a 10-story mid-rise**, but whatever).

    So the first year they break even at 145 units x $4,649, which is $674,105. But after that first year the construction costs and debt are paid off, so their operating costs are only $24,789. That means every subsequent year they’re making a $649,316 profit. They sure as hell aren’t going to lower the rents if they found enough suckers to fill the place at that price.

    *Incidentally, I looked up real estate prices for empty lots in Williamsburg and couldn’t find anything under a million, let alone the $300,000 this calculator predicts land costs to be. I did find a 0.09 acre lot in East New York for $300,000. Assuming real estate in Williamsburg is triple the cost of ENY, we could buy a 0.03 acre lot for $300,000, which (assuming ten stories and 145 units) gives us 90-square-foot two-bedroom apartments. That’s without pesky hallways and stairwells. Quite a squeeze, but one hell of a deal at nearly five grand a month.

    **Looking into the numbers behind the game, they assume the apartments are 800 square feet. On a 1000 square foot lot (based on their land costs), 145 units brings us to 116 floors. The Freedom Tower has 94.

    This, of course, is all total bullshit. All of their figures rely on numbers quoted by developers, which is dubious at best. It feels like soft propaganda to make us feel bad for the poor developers who are just tryin’ to help New Yorkers find housing, gosh.

    • Conal Darcy

      Forget what I said above. I downloaded their spreadsheet and figured out why my numbers are all off. It’s because these development costs are PER UNIT, which is not at all explicit, and also a bizarre way to approach this. They’re assuming the cost per unit for a ten-unit 8-story building is identical to a 20-unit 12-story building, which just isn’t the case.

      They also assign an arbitrary NOI rate (5%) which they admit they just made up and most likely doesn’t reflect most situations. This rate is a huge factor in the per-unit cost.

      As a learning tool this game fails. The casual player will walk away with a distorted view of how much it costs to develop residential housing.

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