By Meredith C. Kurz
City planners explained their proposals to change zoning and affordable housing rules at a standing-room-only Community Board 7 meeting Wednesday night, with several attendees skeptical that the new rules would create enough affordable housing and protect community character.
The city officials detailed the Mandatory Housing Initiative, which protects affordable housing in perpetuity, and the Zoning for Quality and Affordability, which modifies current zoning regulations as an incentive to builders. The room was packed with a wide array of locals, including professional architects, builders, community activists, affordable housing advocates, and historic landmark preservationists. (We previewed the meeting here.)
The proposed zoning changes and the short review process for the community (60 days) were a major focus of concerns. Several audience members with architectural or building backgrounds questioned the incentivizing modification of zoning, allowing developers spot zoning, tax benefits and other opportunities currently held in check.
Audience members also questioned whether there would be enough oversight of the programs, given the city’s troubling record — in February, 16 city employees were among the 50 people arrested in a widespread case of housing fraud and bribery in three boroughs.
The proposed Mandatory Housing Initiative elicited a variety of responses; some questioned the 80/20 rule, where at least 20 percent of housing units are set aside for very low-income residents. Others asked why 20% should be the maximum, and suggested reaching for a more ambitious 50/50 rule. While some expressed surprise in learning that once a tenant earned the affordable housing designation, regardless of their future salary, they’d be allowed to keep that locked in rent rate, others in the audience that work closely with those in need explained that it’s statistically rare that these tenants’ incomes would change that drastically.
Joseph Bolanos, alocal community activist said he was pleased that many CB7 community board members were interested in the details and cautious about this plan. While “affordable housing” sounds wonderful because there’s such a shortage, he felt the community is entitled to know as much about this plan as possible, including specifics on the guidelines and limitations. Bolanos also felt that, while part of the rental information was provided, he wasn’t satisfied with the answer from the HPD (Housing Preservation and Development) representative as it pertained to specific rent rules in the affordable housing plan.
While the Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposal appears to improve the aesthetic components of zoning, the increase of 1st floor ceiling height for retail use brought sneers from the audience, who have seen the consistent increase of empty stores due to the combination of rewarding a landlord’s decision to command unattainable leases to earn a depreciation tax benefit and the prevalence of online shopping.
Board member Mel Wymore concluded that zoning is a conveyance of value, and the “F.A.R. allowance reigns.” “We’re going to release those constraints which creates a market rather than offer City Planning,” he explained.
The press secretary for the Department of City Planning sent one page summaries of the two proposals here and here and answered a few questions:
· When asked about how the city plans to staff housing that matches the timeline ‘into perpetuity’ they replied, “Since the beginning of the new administration, DCP staff increased by approximately 30 members, primarily to develop and implement the Mayor’s Housing Plan. Other agencies are also working closely with us on this priority for the city.”
· There were no case studies, because none exist for an initiative of this size.
· When asked about what the impact was on other districts, and would the affordable housing be distributed, equally, across all of Manhattan, I received the following response (please note: I provided some underlining for clarity):
- NOTE: What’s interesting here is that the presentation mentioned an 80/20 rule, while the response calls for 25-30%. “The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program would require (through zoning) that when City Planning Commission actions create significant new housing capacity in medium and high-density areas either 25 or 30 percent of new housing would be permanently affordable. MIH is intended to promote economic diversity in neighborhoods where the City plans for growth by ensuring that new housing meets the needs of a wider range of New Yorkers. It is the most ambitious such program of any major U.S. city. Production of affordable housing would be a condition of residential development when developers build in an area zoned for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, whether rezoned as part of a City neighborhood plan or a private rezoning application. As “enabling legislation,” the proposed text amendment would establish a framework that would then be applied as neighborhoods are rezoned throughout the City.”
- NOTE: If you read through this you’ll see that there are no maps, no specifics. “The program would be applied to neighborhood rezonings where housing capacity significantly increases. In Manhattan, there are two neighborhood studies: Speaker Mark-Viverito is leading the initial community process for East Harlem and NYCEDC is leading a planning process for Inwood. Scroll down on our housing page at https://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/housing/housing-main.shtml for more details on the neighborhood studies. MIH would also apply to individual applications, private or public, to the City Planning Commission where a significant amount of new housing capacity is created. Each would go through its own land use review process.”
- “Zoning for Quality and Affordability will facilitate affordable housing in medium and high density areas of Manhattan where zoning is already in place to incentivize it, and where the bulk envelopes may have previously constrained it. It would encourage the quality of new buildings by changing rules that lead to flat, dull apartment buildings, in order to accommodate and encourage façade articulation, courtyards, bay windows and other elements that provide visual variety and create a better pedestrian experience. By allowing these articulations in the building design, new developments will more closely reflect the character of older buildings that are well-regarded in neighborhoods throughout the City.”
Committee Co-Chair Richard Asche decided, in light of the presentation length and ensuing community response, to allow for more time at the next full board meeting which is on Wednesday, November 4 at 6:30 PM, Mount Sinai Roosevelt Hospital, 1000 Tenth Avenue (West 59th Street). Acknowledging that some community members may not be able to attend this meeting, he provided an extension of time to allow the public to express their feedback to the city.
Photo by Joseph Bolanos.
“Zoning for Quality and Affordability” is deceptive from their first words. The zoning is for Tall Buildings and Neighborhood Density. Did miss this in their description?
Re: “SKEPTICAL UPPER WEST SIDERS GRILL CITY PLANNERS”
No wonder some were skeptical!
Grilled City Planner does NOT sound like a very tasty dish…although…maybe with a nice Riesling…it would be palatable.
Of course this is NOT original, as the great Stephen Sondheim ‘deliciously’ dealt with the concept in “A Little Priest”, from his wonderful “Sweeney Todd”!
This is a joke and a scam.
I don’t understand what right people have to live in a brand new luxury building in an upscale area if they can’t afford it.
These developers make out like bandits. They get monster tax breaks for setting aside “affordable” apartments. This hurts all NYers as we can obviously use the money.
Meanwhile, DeBozo gets to brag that he built “affordable” housing.
If someone can’t afford to live on the UWS they should move to Staten Island or Queens.
If New York gets even more Affordable Housing, won’t this incent more people to move here and become New Yorkers? Won’t we then have to designate even more apartments for people who can’t afford market rates? Has anybody done any research to find out how many more low-income people it will incent to move to New York?
I believe that Rent Regulation Laws and Affordable Housing Laws help keep rents…affordable. And I also believe that they benefit current NYers predominantly.
Many NYers are displaced from their apartments; note the reduction in Rent Regulated Apartments.
Without Rent Regulated or Affordable Housing Programs there would be nowhere nearby for them to move.
I also believe that removal of Rent Regulated and Affordable Housing apartments is intentional to replace current NYers with people coming to NY. So, it’s just the opposite of your concern.
So support Rent Regulation and Affordable Housing Programs to help your current neighbors from being displaced by people outside taking these apartments.
It seems a bit narrow-minded to make a general assumption about the people needing affordable housing. We have kids and my husband works in a job that serves our neighborhood and community. Most civil-servant jobs don’t pay enough to keep up with the housing market. We moved here 4 years ago and our rent has gone from 3800 to 4600 making 120K a year. You could say we should move out of the neighborhood but this is where our kids schools are and our community is. We are being priced out. If not for the possibility of the middle income housing, we cannot stay. Do you really want average families to be pushed out of the neighborhood?
Who did you displace when you moved here?
The previous tenant in this apartment moved to the suburbs, nearer to work.
The ZQA and the related MIH is nothing more or less than a massive giveaway to developers using affordable housing as a smoke screen. One need look no further than the fact that the Board of Standards and Appeals can decide that the obligations under the MIH are just too much for a developer and modify the obligations, reduce them or one expects extinguish them all together. Add to that the fact that these new zoning bonuses will encourage and incentivize demolition of current affordable housing with The likelihood that only a small portion if any will be returned.
There are also serious legal questions as to whether this MIH would withstand an appeal by as disgruntled developer. We know what happens when the City gets sued by a developer…the public loses. This ZQA is another example about zoning for dollars rather than zoning as a result of cohesive and thoughtful planning for the City’s future.
Pedestrian, Agree completely. This is another example from our city government of how to align with the real estate industry against the interests of the people. It is indeed a gigantic give away to developers, and has very little to do with middle or low income housing. Because it will eliminate more by the demolition of low rise buildings than it will add, and people will be displaced. Really shocking that this comes from a “progressive” Mayor. It must be fought, fought, fought by New Yorkers of all stripes.