Press Releases

For Immediate Release
May 6th, 2014

Rachaele Raynoff - (212) 720-3471

Chairman Weisbrod Delivers Keynote Speech at Only Brooklyn Real Estate Summit 2014

I am very pleased to be here this morning to discuss the extraordinary Brooklyn planning and development story with all of you – and to take both a look back and a look forward.

As far as taking a look back, I hesitate to date myself, but my first conscious memory of Brooklyn was going to Ebbets Field as a four-year-old Queens boy to watch Jackie Robinson play baseball, and to discover to my astonishment that the field was green. That was well before the days of color TV. In those days, the Dodgers were, perhaps, a metaphor for the borough – lovable, colorful, the object of fierce loyalty, but also a symbol – perhaps – of futility – somehow always finding extremely creative ways to lose and playing second fiddle to its rivals in Manhattan and the Bronx.

A lot has happened since then.

Now, Brooklyn is not only the center of gravity for the city, but has a zeitgeist that is emulated and embraced across the country and around the world. Thanks, in large part, to many of you in this room, Brooklyn has established its own distinct identity – becoming a center of vibrant culture, economic innovation and political power. Nationally and internationally it has emerged as a world-class brand and the “place to be.” From ‘hip’ Williamsburg and Greenpoint, to ‘techie’ DUMBO, to the surging 24/7 Downtown Brooklyn, with its mix of uses including new housing, hotels, retail and office towers, to the family-oriented Park Slope and to new housing and economic enterprises from Sunset Park to Crown Heights and Coney Island, Brooklyn’s neighborhoods are leading the way in urban regeneration and innovation.

Downtown Brooklyn and the neighborhoods adjacent to it are emblematic of this transformation. In the past decade, Downtown Brooklyn has seen $5.4 billion in private investment, including over 8,300 new dwelling units, 1,600 new hotel rooms, 1.5 million square feet of new retail, and an expanding skyline with three new 500 plus feet towers on the way. Virtually every city in the country must be envious of this extraordinary record.

While Brooklyn has a large and diverse immigrant population – indeed 950,000 or 38% of the borough’s population are immigrants – we are in the midst of yet another phase in our city’s demographic history; one where domestic in-migration and natural growth – families staying and having children – is becoming a larger factor in the increase in our population.  The data show that “net migration” to the city continues to be positive, meaning that more people are coming to New York City than leaving, and that more people are staying in New York City to start families.  The diversity and growth of our population are among the major reasons why the city’s neighborhoods and its economy – with Brooklyn as a major driver – are flourishing.

Brooklyn’s growth has not just been confined to a few areas but extends to all parts of the borough; from Bay Ridge to East New York, Bushwick to Coney Island, the borough’s neighborhoods are surging. Just since January, some 3,600 new dwelling units have started construction throughout the borough.  Retail corridors along 8th Avenue in Sunset Park, Fulton Street in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Church Avenue in Flatbush are bustling with activity. 

Who says increased density has to be bad?

And yet, this population increase underscores the need to spur creation of housing for all New Yorkers, and also to produce affordable housing for those whose enhanced prosperity has not kept pace with the rising cost of shelter and for those who have not seen enhanced prosperity at all. 

Many communities and citizens in Brooklyn have been overwhelmed by the pace of change and have felt “left-out” of this “New Brooklyn” that continues to envelop them. The same is true throughout the city. Income inequality, lack of affordable housing options and unacceptable levels of unemployment continue to dog too many families.

This is what we are focusing on in Mayor de Blasio’s Housing New York plan, which he released yesterday.  The de Blasio administration is committed to providing 200,000 affordable apartments over the next ten years through preservation and new development.

Let me talk a bit about the Housing New York Plan.

The 115-page plan, which was created through coordination with 13 agencies and with input from over 200 individual stakeholders, outlines more than 50 initiatives that accelerate affordable housing construction, protect tenants and deliver more value from affordable housing investments.  It is the most ambitious housing program ever undertaken by this or any other city or state.

We envision that the total cost of the plan over the next 10 years will exceed $40 billion, with the city providing $8.2 billion and the remainder coming from the federal and state government and from private sector investment.  The city is literally doubling its capital investment in housing – something you will hear a little more about when the city’s proposed budget is announced on Thursday.

40% of these 200,000 affordable units will be through new construction, which means an average of 8,000 units of affordable housing per year over the life of the plan.  This is a 60% increase over the average annual new construction of affordable housing produced during Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, so you can see that we are being very ambitious. We are expanding the number of units for the extremely low income households by 200% compared to the Bloomberg administration program, as well as increasing the number of moderate income units by 50%.

The plan is also promoting more units for homeless families, for seniors as well as supportive and accessible housing.

We recognize that for developers and businesses time is money.  The city – particularly City Planning and HPD – are committed to making the permitting and approval process more efficient.  We are also reviewing zoning and building code regulations – such as reducing parking requirements for affordable housing in transit oriented areas where car ownership is low, building envelope constraints and minimum sizes of units for seniors – that could lower the cost of construction.

But the key theme that runs through the plan is our commitment to expand the capacity for housing in all five boroughs by fostering diverse and livable neighborhoods.

To fulfill this ambitious goal, the Department of City Planning, working with local elected officials, local businesses and community organizations, will commence planning studies in fifteen neighborhoods in all five boroughs over the next year, where we believe the potential exists to greatly expand housing capacity. 

We recognize that this effort must be undertaken through ground-up community planning that coordinates new development with appropriate infrastructure and city services.  City Planning, working with other city agencies including, HPD and EDC, will play an enhanced role in the city’s Capital Budget planning process in order to better mesh the level and timing of the city’s capital investments in neighborhoods with new residential development.

Let me provide a template for how this can work:

For the past two years, our Brooklyn office, under the direction of the super capable Purnima Kapur, has been engaged in a planning process with the community in East New York – a vibrant multicultural neighborhood that has been left behind even as many other parts of Brooklyn have thrived. This transit rich area offers an easy 30-minute commute to Lower Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn, and east to JFK and Long Island via the LIRR. Our planners, under Purnima’s direction, have been out in the community meeting with all stakeholders and listening to their hopes and their vision for their community. In close partnership with elected officials, community members, business leaders and the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, we have developed a framework for growth and revitalization that can create the opportunity for thousands of units of new affordable housing, much needed retail, jobs and services, and that also addresses the physical infrastructure needs of the area. We have been engaged with our sister city agencies to ensure that our planning work comprehensively addresses infrastructure and service needs, access to jobs and training, and ensures that the people in the community can continue to be partners in the revitalization of their neighborhood.  We believe East New York now welcomes increased density because it understands the benefits it can bring.  But we understand the city’s obligation to produce the timely infrastructure and services increased density requires.

We will similarly engage with communities throughout Brooklyn and the other boroughs to identify other opportunities for growth and redevelopment. We will work towards shared goals of providing new housing options, necessary services and economic development opportunities throughout the Borough and the city.

We will also implement a Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning requirement as part of all future rezonings that substantially increase potential housing capacity in medium and high density areas.

This will require that a portion of the new housing developed in these rezoned areas to be permanently affordable to low- or moderate-income households in order to ensure diverse and inclusive communities, and to cushion the impact of gentrification. Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning will be implemented rezoned neighborhood by rezoned neighborhood.  It will not necessarily be exactly the same in each such neighborhood, but within each neighborhood, once enacted, it will be predictable, as of right, and required. 

City Planning, working with HPD, will immediately initiate and expedite the completion of a study to provide the foundation in land use policy for incorporating a mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program into the Zoning Resolution. 

We will also be looking at under-utilized land where housing opportunities may exist. In this regard let me also talk a bit about manufacturing.

I recognize that some manufacturing areas in Brooklyn, and elsewhere in the city, are sacrosanct.  The nature of the manufacturing activities and jobs conducted in these areas require that they remain as exclusive precincts where other, incompatible uses must be prohibited or severely restricted. But I also believe that for too long – indeed, for the past 70 years since the end of World War II – the city’s manufacturing policy, in effect, has been defensive. It has been one of attempting to slow the rate of manufacturing decline. It is time to go on the offense.

Brooklyn has been at the forefront of a new wave of manufacturing and Tech industry advances that have started to reverse the trend of disinvestment in our manufacturing areas. In 2012, Tech industry occupied 1.7 Million square feet of space in the Brooklyn Tech Triangle area— DUMBO, the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Downtown Brooklyn – with 9,600 employees. It is estimated that the existing Tech companies will double in size occupying 3.1 Million square feet with 18,000 employees in the next few years. The success of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and DUMBO has spurred new investment and energy in many of the industrial areas in Brooklyn from Sunset Park to Williamsburg and Gowanus. Uniquely-Brooklyn commercial enterprises like 1000 Dean Street in Crown Heights, The Yard co-working space in Williamsburg’s Northside, Acumen’s Pfizer Incubator in Bed-Stuy, and Industry City and the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park are pushing the boundaries of the tech and creative scene beyond the inner-ring, and are capitalizing on the overwhelming success of DUMBO and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

It is time to recognize the dynamic changes in these kinds of new manufacturing businesses – ones that have discovered the locational advantage in staying in New York City.  It is time to create the physical and business environment that would allow these businesses to achieve their full potential to grow and thrive. In order to accommodate this growth, the public and the private sector must join forces to find appropriate geographic areas for these businesses and to revise our land use policies accordingly. 

In my view, some manufacturing, high tech businesses are not incompatible with workforce housing.  Indeed, manufacturing and workforce housing in some circumstances can be mutually reinforcing.  Co-location can reduce stress on our infrastructure requirements by providing opportunities for workers to live near their jobs, and create the kind of physical environment, including enhanced retail, that will make manufacturing areas more appealing to those who work there.

We must continue to welcome manufacturing innovation, and work jointly with businesses and communities to ensure that our neighborhoods are vibrant mixed-use communities providing both jobs and housing options for all income groups.

And I know many of you have some interesting ideas in this regard. 

Moving forward, City Planning will continue to engage communities, especially those that have been left behind in the last decade, in re-imagining and strengthening their neighborhoods based on a shared vision of opportunity.  We will meet with neighborhood residents, civic and business leaders, as well as elected officials in making sure that our plans for future growth are based upon the real needs and aspirations of the people that live there.

I welcome the real estate and development community to be our partners in realizing the shared goal of a strong and vibrant Brooklyn that continues to embrace newcomers while keeping what makes this Borough strong and desirable – its people and its diverse and beautiful neighborhoods.