Search results for "Mandatory Inclusionary Housing"
In the Bloomberg years, developers were often presented with a choice: they could build a denser building if they agreed to make a certain portion of it affordable. The city program, known as voluntary inclusionary zoning, has received lots of media attention, but its actual impact on creating affordable housing was fairly limited because many developers decided not to take the deal. Now, with Mayor de Blasio at the city’s helm, that option is off the table. In New York City, voluntary inclusionary zoning has become mandatory inclusionary zoning.
Taken alone, this policy change is not surprising; the mayor has publically supported mandatory inclusionary zoning since his days on the campaign trail, and it is a central piece of his plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. In that plan, which was released in May, the administration pledges to require affordable development “in rezonings that substantially increase potential housing capacity.”
Speaking just four months after that report was unveiled, the city’s planning commissioner, Carl Weisbrod, took things one step further. He said that inclusionary zoning would not just be mandated at large-scale redevelopments, but at any individual building that requires a zoning change. “You can’t build one unit unless you build your percentage of affordable housing,” he said at a New York Law School breakfast. “You can’t just build market-rate housing. Period.”
What exactly that percentage will be for developers, though, has not yet been decided. But Weisbrod said the city would not simply mandate the across-the-board 80 percent market-rate/20 percent affordable ratio that was seen under Mayor Bloomberg. “What we think we can require in a super hot neighborhood in Manhattan is going to be a lot different from what we think we can require, or should require, in an emerging area,” said Weisbrod.
He added that any changes to inclusionary zoning would have to be decided carefully at the risk of supposedly scaring off developers. “With mandatory, if we get it wrong, we won’t get any housing because if it's too oppressive a developer won’t build anything,” he said.
The commissioner said the city is currently studying the issue and expects to have a proposal by the end of the year. The New York Times reported that the change could take effect as soon as next fall.
While a lot could change before then, Weisbrod emphasized the administration’s new direction on affordable housing: “It is the beginning of a new era,” he said.
“Is Landmarking Out of Control?” That was the question posed by Crain’s New York at a forum it hosted in mid-May. To answer that noticeably leading question, Crain’s invited some of the biggest names in the city’s preservation and development worlds to hash it over coffee and pastries at the New York Athletic Club in Midtown.
The debate played out along familiar lines: The pro-development side—Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) President Steven Spinola, Columbia University professor Kenneth Jackson, and Nikolai Fedak of the blog NY YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard)—said that landmarking has its place, but New York should focus more on its potential for growth than its picturesque past. Jackson made that case in more explicit terms, saying that “history is for losers,” “no one comes to New York to look at buildings,” and “if you’re more comfortable with fish, trees, and aging houses, move to Vermont.”
On the other side of the debate were Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and Ronda Wist, the vice president of preservation at the Municipal Art Society (MAS), who explained how historic districts create a vibrant, livable city that creates jobs, attracts tourists, and increases property values.
This type of preservationist versus developer back-and-forth is not new—these battles have been waged over the streets of New York for years. But, now, as Mayor de Blasio sets out to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing, the issue of landmarking—specifically, the designation of historic districts—has become a flashpoint in the debate over the city’s affordability crisis.
So, when exactly, did the landmarking process supposedly get “out of control?” A quick look at the numbers shows it happened under Mayor Bloomberg. Yes, as glass towers were rising and megaprojects were being approved, “pro-development” Bloomberg was designating more historic districts than any mayor since the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) was founded in 1965. According to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg added or extended 41 historic districts—topping Giuliani’s designations by 23 and Koch’s by 14. More than half of those designations were in outer boroughs.
AN / NYC.GOV
Near the end of Bloomberg’s three terms, REBNY started issuing studies on the impact of all this landmarking. In July, the Board found that nearly 28 percent of Manhattan properties were landmarked; a subsequent press release declared: “Excessive Landmarking of Manhattan Properties Stifling Economic Growth.” To arrive at that figure, REBNY counted both historic districts and specific landmarked buildings in its calculation. Four months earlier, the Journal reported that historic districts, by themselves, only encompassed 10 percent of the island and two percent of the city overall. REBNY now puts that latter figure closer to four percent.
In September, REBNY was out with another study; this time it claimed that no affordable units had been created on landmarked properties in the borough since 2008. “Landmarking Curtails Affordable Housing Development in Manhattan,” read the press release.
And then in June—with a new mayor in town—the same argument. The latest study, which encompassed the entire city, found that only 0.29 percent of new affordable units built from 2003 to 2012 were on landmarked properties.
This finding was immediately dismissed—and mocked—by the Historic Districts Council. “[REBNY] is at it again,” said the Council in a statement. “The crisis in affordable housing… is not a landmarking issue; this is a deeper indictment of the real estate market to provide for the needs of New Yorkers and the subtle failure of government to guide market forces to help meet that need.”
A spokesperson for the LPC told AN, “the Commission is currently reviewing the findings in the REBNY Report.”
When asked about landmarking’s impact on affordability, preservationists tend to reject the notion outright. Since landmarked properties represent such a small percentage of the city overall, they say historic designation has little—if anything—to do with the city’s housing crisis, and question REBNY’s seriousness about wanting to create affordable housing. Laurie Beckelman, the chair of the LPC under Mayors Dinkins and Giuliani, said REBNY’s claims on this issue are a “cheap shot” and “total rubbish.”
Fifteen of the city’s top developers did not respond to AN’s request for comment for this story, but REBNY spokesperson Jamie McShane, said, “we are working with the de Blasio administration and other stakeholders on how to address the need for more housing, particularly affordable units. Responsible landmarking is one issue of many in addressing that need.”
As this debate plays-out, the Board is quick to tout its support for Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan. “Mayor de Blasio deserves a lot of credit for putting forward an honest plan that attemptsto deal with the housing needs for all New Yorkers. [The plan] identifies the problems and provides a realistic roadmap for solutions,” said REBNY president Steven Spinola. “[The Board] thanks the mayor for his commitment to this issue and we will continue our work with the administration to implement these critical objectives.”
The plan, however, does not touch the issue of landmarking. In 115 pages, the word “landmark” only tangentially comes up in a footnote and in the glossary. And that is partially because the mayor is not targeting the West Village’s brownstones or Soho’s cobblestones to build his 80,000 new units of affordable housing. And the industrial and under-used areas he is eyeing to rezone for residential use are not being considered for historic designation.
To achieve his ambitious goal within 10 years, de Blasio is launching a multipronged approach that also includes mandatory inclusionary zoning, raising taxes on vacant lots to encourage development, and reevaluating Bloomberg’s land lease plan to build on New York City Housing Authority property. The mayor has also been packing more affordable units into Bloomberg-era developments like the Domino Sugar Factory and Atlantic Yards.
But even with these new, permanently affordable units—and the many more market-rate apartments slated to rise alongside them—New York City will still be a very expensive place to live in a decade’s time. The city cannot, and will not, stop building; most everyone agrees that freezing construction would only make matters worse. But there is plenty of debate about how much the city should build, where it should do so, and if supply can ever meet demand.
The bigger question, then, is: Can New York City build its way out of the affordability crisis?
“It is impossible,” said Jaron Benjamin, the executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, a housing advocacy group based in New York. “We do not have billions and billions of dollars to throw at this problem. We have to think creatively.” Benjamin supports new development, but wants the city and state to focus on ways to preserve the apartments that are currently affordable.
And that is exactly what the mayor’s plan does. Because while de Blasio’s pledge to build new affordable units, and increase the city’s overall housing stock, has received the most attention, it gets him less than halfway to his goal of 200,000 units. The bigger piece of the plan is focused on preserving affordable units, about 120,000 of them. The details on how, exactly, he plans to do this are less clear, but the mayor’s office has said that city agencies will “use every tool at their disposal” to protect rent-stabilized units from being deregulated.
This is where the LPC believes it can aid in de Blasio’s efforts. “Since historic districts are also home to affordable housing units, the LPC will work with the Department of Housing Preservation & Development to align efforts to preserve both affordability and architectural character in these areas,” said a spokesperson for the Commission. “The LPC also understands that the city must continue to grow while maintaining a judicious approach to designation of historic properties.”
Andrew Berman—the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and one of REBNY’s most vocal critics—readily admits that landmarking is not the way, or even a way, to build new affordable units. But he believes that landmarking can be a tool to preserve rent-stabilized units that still exist in some of the most coveted zip codes in the world. “[Landmarking] can slow down the pushing out of long-term tenants and the disappearance of existing affordable housing because of anti-demolition protections,” said Berman.
He also pushed back on the “strong correlation” that REBNY drew between high incomes, limited racial diversity, and Manhattan’s historic districts in its July study. “We are talking about parts of the city that are, for the most part, some of the most distinctive, historic, and architecturally interesting,” he said. “They are naturally going to be places that are likely to have become more expensive, not because they are landmarked, but because they have these qualities that people find increasingly desirable.”
Unleashing development in, or around, historic districts, he said, would not necessarily lead to more affordable units; it could build a foundation for luxury condos that lift prices higher. He points to the glass towers lining the Hudson River, just outside of the Greenwich Village historic district, as glossy examples.
But in the debate over the future of landmarking, something resembling common ground starts to appear in terms of the process itself. The LPC’s approval procedures for new projects in historic districts—and renovations on landmarked properties—has been criticized by many for being too slow and overly expensive for property owners.
Peg Breen made clear to AN that the landmarking process is not broken, but that it could be improved. And to do that, she said, the LPC’s budget should be increased. “[The Commission] is woefully understaffed and overworked,” she said. “It needs an adequate staff to handle the load, and they do not have that now.”
Whether that will happen is entirely unknown—as are most aspects of landmarking under Mayor de Blasio. The big question hanging high above any concerns about process or funding is what’s next? On preservation, will de Blasio be another Bloomberg?
Six months into the mayor’s term, that remains a question neither side can answer. And de Blasio’s selection of Meenakshi Srinivasan to head the LPC provides few clues about the future of landmarks in New York City. The choice of the then-chair of the Board of Standards and Appeals surprised most onlookers when it was announced in May.
While landmarking is not expected to have an extensive impact in the affordable housing plan, in the coming months and years, the LPC could have a direct role in shaping New York City’s skyline. If the controversial Midtown East Rezoning plan is adopted, and taller towers head for the sky, the Commission will help decide the fate of the area’s older stock.
It could also adopt a proposal from a group called “Iconplans,” which would upend the selling of air rights. As the Journal reported, the group’s plan allows non-profits, universities, and religious institutions to sell air rights above their landmarked properties to developers who could use them elsewhere in the city—likely places where they can build taller. Currently, those air rights can only be transferred to adjacent sites. The LPC told AN it would consider this type of proposal. “As the administration continues to develop its housing and economic development policies, the expanded sale of air rights will be a relevant part of the discussion, which will occur across agencies,” said the LPC spokesperson.
Now, with the mayor’s housing plan in effect and the Commissioner in her new role, preservationists and developers are eagerly waiting for the Commission to answer that same question posed by Crain’s back in May: “Is Landmarking Out of Control?”
Its response could transform the city.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pledge to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade was a cornerstone of his mayoral campaign. From the outset, de Blasio set a specific target – and now the city finally knows how he plans to hit it.
In the heart of Fort Greene, Brooklyn—where glossy apartment towers are rising at a remarkable clip—the mayor unveiled his $41.1 billion strategy to fight back against New York’s affordability crisis. The city is heralding the plan as “the most expansive and ambitious affordable housing agenda of its kind in the nation’s history.”
The city will provide $8.2 billion for the plan, and hopes to secure $30 billion more from private funds. The rest of the cost will ideally come out of state and federal coffers.
“This plan thinks big--because it has to,” said Mayor de Blasio in a statement. “The changes we are setting in motion today will reach a half-million New Yorkers, in every community, and from every walk of life. They will make our families and our city stronger.”
As expected, one of the central pieces of de Blasio’s plan is “mandatory inclusionary zoning,” which will require developers to include below market-rate units at rezoned sites. Under Bloomberg, developers were incentivized—but not required—to make 20 percent of new projects affordable. While inclusionary zoning is a focal point of this plan, it is easy to overstate its impact. According to The New York Times, inclusionary zoning under Bloomberg—albeit voluntary—only created 2,800 affordable units since 2005.
Still, mandatory inclusionary zoning will likely have a significant impact on the size and scale of future development. This part of the plan was foreshadowed in March as the city was hammering out the final details of the Domino Sugar Factory redevelopment. Before granting approval to the project, the mayor demanded that it include more affordable housing. The developer, Two Trees, obliged, and in return taller towers were approved. De Blasio’s New York will likely be a denser New York.
And a denser New York means a happier development community. Not surprisingly, the Real Estate Board of New York is applauding the mayor’s plan. “It identifies the problems and provides a realistic roadmap for solutions,” said Steven Spinola, the board’s president, in a statement.
Along with mandatory inclusionary zoning, the City will also “re-examine parking requirements, zoning envelope constraints, and restrictions on the transferability of development rights.” It is also launching two programs to incentive development on vacant lots. This part of the plan received high praise from the city’s architectural community. “The AIA New York Chapter supports the Mayor’s affordable housing plan and notes, in particular, that the plan calls for ‘unlocking’ potential sites for new housing development by changes in regulatory procedures, including potential changes in zoning,” said Rick Bell, the chapter’s president.
But for all the focus on development, new projects only represent 40 percent of the plan—or 80,000 units. The other, bigger, piece of the pie is directed at preserving the affordable units that currently exist. For starters, the City plans to double the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s capital budget.
To slow the tide of deregulation, the City is proposing a host of incentives for property owners to keep units from leaving rent-regulation. It will also focus on keeping currently affordable, and non-regulated units, from dramatic rent increases in the future.
According to the plan, “such investments will allow current tenants to beneﬁt from improved units, and permit future tenants to be assured that the unit remains affordable, even as the neighborhood’s housing values and rents increase.”
The City also plans to engage in a “respectful conversation” about the potential of development on NYCHA’s underused land. This proposal, which sounds an awful lot like Bloomberg’s “land lease plan,” was heavily criticized by de Blasio back when he was a candidate.
Another key focus of the mayor’s plan is reducing homelessness—ccording to the city, 50,000 New Yorkers currently sleep in shelters every night. To lower those ranks, the city will reallocate some funding from shelters to lower-cost permanent housing for the homeless.
While both housing activists and the development community have lauded the mayor’s strategy, his 115-page plan leaves many questions unanswered. But what is exceptionally clear is the daunting challenge before the mayor. His predecessor claims to have built or preserved 165,000 units of affordable housing in 12 years and now Mayor de Blasio says there is no choice, but to achieve more in less time.
“We didn’t want to take the easy way out,” said the mayor. “We didn’t want to take the slower path. We wanted to challenge ourselves to do something that had never been done before because our people need it.”
The Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), a coalition of housing advocates, together with several prominent New York City elected officials, is calling for a major revision to city zoning laws to make affordable housing a requirement in all middle- and large-sized New York City developments. If implemented, the group’s proposals, which are outlined in a recent paper, Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning: Ensuring Affordability is a Part of New York City’s Future, could make New York’s neighborhoods more economically and socially diverse and have a major impact on the size of new buildings.
At issue is inclusionary zoning, a market-based program that is used in various forms in cities throughout the country to stimulate the production of affordable housing. Under the administration of New York City’s previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, the city’s current inclusionary zoning policy was introduced as a voluntary program that allowed participating developers in certain designated neighborhoods to construct buildings 33 percent larger than would otherwise be permitted under standard city zoning laws. In exchange, the developers were required to either make 20 percent of their new building’s units affordable or to rehabilitate an equal of affordable units offsite within one-half mile of the development or within the same community district.
Voluntary inclusionary zoning definitely has had an impact on New York City’s skyline. For example, some of the controversial bulky towers along the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront were built with a density bonus in exchange for providing affordable housing, and one reason that many of the buildings at the massive Hudson Yards project on Manhattan’s West Side will be so big is that developers there are taking advantage of the program.
According to ANHD, however, the housing policies implemented by the previous mayoral administration have fallen woefully short in addressing the needs of the city’s low- and moderate-income residents. “The current voluntary zoning program, where you say ‘pretty please’ to the real estate industry and give them a huge amount of buildable density, but ask very little in return, that doesn’t work for our neighborhoods, ” ANHD executive director Benjamin Dulchin said at a press conference on the steps of City Hall, which was attended by elected officials such as Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Members Brad Lander and Jumaane Williams. “We want mandatory inclusionary zoning that says when you build market rate housing of a certain density in New York City, you must build a modest rate of affordable housing as part of that development,” Dulchin told a cheering crowd of housing activists from around the city.
Although moderate and large-scale residential developments in New York City have created a $7.8 billion windfall for the real estate industry since 2002, according to ANHD, the city’s current voluntary inclusionary zoning policy, implemented in 2005, has only resulted in 2,800 units of affordable housing. In fact, according to the organization, that represents just 1.7 percent of the more that 160,000 market rate units built during the Bloomberg administration.
If inclusionary zoning was made mandatory in New York City, ANHD estimates that the new policy potentially could create 4,000 affordable units annually instead of the 400 per year that the current voluntary program is averaging. The Real Estate Board of New York, which was sent a copy of the ANHD paper, had no comment by press time.
The difference between Michael Bloomberg’s final State of the City address and Bill de Blasio’s first was so vast it seems impossible the two were speaking about the same city. In the newly opened Barclays Center, then-mayor Bloomberg touted the booming development across New York—from the Atlantic Yards to the Hudson Yards. He referenced job opportunities, sustainability, and, of course, the bike-share program.
One year later, at the LaGuardia Community College in Queens, Bill de Blasio spoke of “The Tale of Two Cities”—a town racked by inequality. He didn’t talk about any big, splashy developments, but pledged to help “New Yorkers crushed by skyrocketing rents.” There was no mention of transportation, climate change, or infrastructure—all considered bright spots in Bloomberg’s complicated legacy.
But while Mayor de Blasio makes national headlines for his laser-like focus on tackling inequality, he has been appointing highly competent individuals to lead the city’s housing, transportation, environmental, and planning teams. All of these appointments, explained de Blasio, are not separate from the fight against inequality. They are central in waging it.
In early February, de Blasio appointed Carl Weisbrod—a real estate industry veteran with experience in the private and public sector—to chair the city’s planning commission. Weisbrod is perhaps best known for his integral role in cleaning up Times Square in the 1980s and later helping to transform Downtown Manhattan into a mixed-use neighborhood.
Rick Bell, the executive director of New York’s AIA chapter, said Weisbrod is “an excellent choice” for planning commissioner because he “brings to the table the skillset, the mindset, and the attitude of someone who is going to take the promises made, the expectations of the de Blasio campaign, and realize them.”
As planning commissioner, Weisbrod will be instrumental in accomplishing one of de Blasio’s key legislative goals: to “preserve or construct” 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next 10 years. He will be joined in that fight by the mayor’s new housing team.
The mayor recently appointed Shola Olatoye—a former executive at an affordable housing non-profit—as chair of the New York City Housing Authority. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s new commissioner is Vicki Been, who was the former director of NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. And Gary D. Rodney, from the affordable housing developer Omni New York, is the new president to the Housing Development Corporation.
Alicia Glen—the former head of the Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group—is the city’s new deputy mayor of housing and economic development.
Even with a strong team beside him, de Blasio’s affordable housing goal will be exceptionally difficult to achieve. One tool de Blasio will likely use to hit his 200,000 figure will be “mandatory inclusionary zoning,” or requiring developers to include affordable housing units in new buildings. Under Bloomberg, developers were only incentivized to do so.
And since it will not be enough to just “preserve” existing affordable units, the de Blasio years might see significant zoning changes to offer new development opportunities. The benefit of this could be twofold: more development would boost the number of new affordable housing units, and the housing stock overall.
In terms of transportation and the city’s streetscape, the de Blasio administration is poised to build on Janette Sadik-Khan’s impressive legacy of transforming New York City streets. The mayor’s selection of Polly Trottenberg—the former under secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation—to lead the city’s DOT has been lauded by those championing safer streets and improved transportation. “The personnel positions, and particularly hiring Polly Trottenberg, look really good from street safety and livable streets perspective,” said Ben Fried, the editor-in-chief of Streetsblog.
Trottenberg will be responsible for more than bike lanes and pedestrian plazas; she will work alongside the new police commissioner, Bill Bratton, to implement the mayor’s “Vision Zero Action Plan” to reduce pedestrian fatalities.
It has become clear with these appointments that the mayor plans to use every department, and every new official, to address the city’s inequality. Combatting inequality is a daunting, if not impossible, fight to wage from City Hall, but the mayor and his team seem ready to at least throw some punches.