Right now, zoning and land use are being hotly debated in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood. On September 21, the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) announced two changes to the city’s zoning regulations that will have major long term impact on land use and affordable housing. That same day, the DCP released the highly anticipated East New York Community Plan (ENYCP), a comprehensive rezoning of residential areas in East New York, Ocean Hill, and Cypress Hills, as well as the commercial corridors that run through the neighborhood. Chosen for its proximity to rail, subway, and bus lines, East New York is one of the first places where these new zoning changes will be put into action.
The first change, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, would affect large-scale residential development in medium- to high-density areas. New zoning would require 25 or 30 percent of floor space in buildings with ten or more units developed in these areas to remain permanently affordable, as defined by the Area Median Income (AMI). In New York City, the AMI is $86,300 for a family of four. The second change, Zoning for Quality and Affordability, is intended to encourage high-quality construction and promote affordable housing in these same neighborhoods.
Residents of East New York are concerned that despite the stricter affordable housing requirements, the ENYCP will precipitate gentrification and residential displacement in the mostly low- to moderate-income area.
Though the ENYCP does not offer an exact breakdown of housing distribution by income, Housing New York, the city’s housing policy framework released in 2014, gives insight into potential numbers. That document outlines the city’s intention to preserve or create 20 percent of 200,000 units of affordable housing for very low to extremely low-income households (households earning 50 to 30 percent of AMI, respectively).
Policy analysts at Real Affordability for All (RAFA), a division of ALIGN, and an umbrella group of 50 organizations that advocate for low-income New Yorkers, claim that the new provisions will not provide enough affordable options for East New York residents or the city at large. Using Census data, RAFA contends that, citywide, there’s a lack of affordable housing for households making less than 50 percent of the AMI ($43,150 for a household of four in 2015). Excluding households that receive housing vouchers, there’s a shortage of 403,932 units for the 710,649 households in this income range.
The city’s percentages of affordable housing under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing are derived from averages. To attract a range of incomes, for example, apartments could be available at the 30, 80, 40, and 90 percent affordability thresholds for an average of 60 percent affordability. In East New York, there is more overall demand for apartments in the 40 percent or lower range. Incentives like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, however, incentivize the creation of units in the 60 percent range.
Maritza Silva-Farrell, campaign director at ALIGN, stated that the plan is not addressing the needs of low-income individuals, and will lead to “more displacement [of residents] and gentrification of East New York.”
Finding affordable housing in New York is a struggle for many. Housing New York cites an “affordability crisis”: almost 55 percent of households spend more than one third of their income on rent.
Rachaele Raynoff, press secretary for the DCP, emphasized that the East New York Community Plan goes beyond the proposed requirements, requiring 50 percent of new units in the rezoning area to be affordable to area residents. Raynoff stressed that “to get affordable housing as a zoning regulation, the rates [we] have proposed are the best ones.” Moreover, the ENYCP, according to Raynoff, is part of a “jigsaw” of legislation and policy between the NYC Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development, and state and federal entities to promote sustainable growth in select neighborhoods.
If the ENYCP is adopted, 1,200 units will be built by both nonprofit and for-profit developers over the next two years, though there are no developers selected as of yet. First, the plan must undergo a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (which includes a public comment period) and gain approval from all 59 Community Boards, five borough presidents, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council.