For Immediate Release
February 3, 2016
Rachaele Raynoff - (212) 720-3471
Today marks the culmination of many months of research, outreach and hard work by the amazing City Planning staff, working closely with our colleagues at the Department of Housing Development and Preservation and so many others in city government, to support Mayor de Blasio’s extraordinary affordable housing plan through smarter zoning.
Today’s vote on Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, or MIH & ZQA as we’ve affectionately come to know them, is not only a major milestone for the Mayor’s Housing Plan and for the City, but it is a testament to the dedication of many people throughout this great city, and I don’t just mean the staff members who have given thousands of hours to these important changes.
I will address each of the two text amendments separately as we vote on them, but first I’d like to say a few words on the importance of what we are doing and the seriousness with which the Commission, and the public, has addressed these issues.
MIH & ZQA ARE PART OF HOUSING NEW YORK
Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability are integral components of Housing New York, an ambitious and comprehensive set of initiatives to help our city create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years, including affordable housing for our rapidly growing population of senior citizens.
MIH & ZQA work together with numerous other elements of the plan. Overall, the City has committed $8.2 billion over 10 years to subsidize affordable housing for New Yorkers, including housing for people making as little as $18,150. That is double what was deployed on affordable housing in the previous decade, and will produce more than quadruple the amount of housing at the very lowest incomes. But we want to make sure that our precious tax dollars are spent as wisely and efficiently as possible. We also want to assure that as opportunities for housing increase, our neighborhoods retain the economic diversity and the quality of life that our residents demand and deserve. We want to reflect the values that New Yorkers have embraced and cherished for almost four centuries.
In addition to the unprecedented capital dollars the city is allocating to subsidizing affordable housing, it is beefing up its anti-displacement efforts to protect tenants in existing affordable housing.
We are working in several neighborhoods in all five boroughs where we think housing capacity can increase, but doing so in a careful, comprehensive and pioneering way through ground-up planning and engagement with local residents. We, at the Department of City Planning, are not simply looking at rezoning, but at a vast array of approaches to making neighborhoods more livable and to assure that the public investments needed in these neighborhoods are made. We are doing so working closely and collaboratively with our sister agencies.
In this regard, the city has committed $1.0 billion to a unique Neighborhood Development Fund that will be deployed exclusively in these neighborhoods for the public investments and infrastructure that will be required as the neighborhoods grow. The fund will assure that promises made to neighborhoods will be kept. This $1.0 billion is in addition to the more than $8.0 billion the city is devoting to subsidizing affordable housing itself.
But even beyond that, the Department of City Planning is now working closely with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on the development of the city’s Ten Year Capital Plan, so that our capital program reflects not only our budgetary constraints and opportunities, but our planning needs as well. This harkens back to the days – 40 years ago – when City Planning and OMB were jointly responsible for the development of the City’s capital budget.
So, these important matters before us today – MIH and ZQA – should be seen in the context of the larger approach the city is taking to addressing our acute housing needs and, indeed, the city’s future more generally.
PUBLIC REVIEW PROCESS
Even before the formal start of the public review process, the Planning Department staff started meeting with communities, offering to meet with all community boards. We ultimately met with almost every community board in the city – frequently several times – to discuss these proposals, listen to neighborhoods and make changes.
The Commission held a public hearing on December 16th of last year that brought people out in large numbers and we listened to each and every person who was there to speak for 13 straight hours. I thank all of the Commissioners for their commitment, attentiveness and stamina! We heard thoughtful analysis from community members, elected officials, people who build non-profit affordable housing and affordable housing for seniors, and academics. We also read extensive written submissions, letters and recommendations, and discussed the proposals at great length.
We have weighed the issues and acknowledged the tradeoffs. We have made adjustments to the proposals so that we believe that they will address our acute affordable housing needs, while enhancing the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the city.
Let me turn now to the first item before us today:
Mandatory Inclusionary Housing
The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program would require a share of new housing – 25% or 30% - in specified areas to be set aside as permanently affordable to low- and moderate-income households. By requiring developers to build affordable housing in connection with new development where mapped, the City can secure a new stock of permanently affordable housing, while assuring a neighborhood will be economically diverse. This will bring new affordable housing to neighborhoods where it otherwise wouldn’t be built, and act as a cushion against potential gentrification of communities caused by broad demographic trends we are seeing in so many neighborhoods, simultaneously freeing up City funds to provide even more deeply affordable housing at lower rents where economic need is great. MIH will preserve and promote the economic diversity of our neighborhoods, creating opportunities for residents with a range of incomes.
MIH will stabilize neighborhoods by permanently protecting the affordability of a significant amount of housing. Its provisions will enable the city to relieve the stress on thousands of rent burdened households and protect lower-income families from displacement in the event that neighborhoods change.
The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposal before us today is city-wide “enabling legislation,” meaning that it establishes a framework for permanent affordable housing that will be applied in individually mapped areas as significant new housing capacity is approved through rezonings of medium and high density neighborhoods – whether through the city’s neighborhood planning initiatives or through private land use applications. It will also be applied when Special Permits or other discretionary actions significantly increase housing capacity. MIH is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Its options enable it to serve a range of household incomes. Each application of MIH would be subject to its own public review as applications that significantly increase housing capacity come before us.
Most importantly, the affordable housing would be mandatory -- and permanent.
And it would be the most rigorous such program of any major city in the country.
MIH is an important tool within the broader housing plan. It is a powerful tool in combination with HPD’s subsidies and financing mechanisms, which are being harnessed to finance thousands of additional affordable apartments—many of which will house low-income families in 100% affordable buildings.
So, MIH will act as a floor, not a ceiling, on affordability – and it will provide permanent protection to a significant share of new housing units in the neighborhoods where it is mapped, not only today but for decades to come – indeed, permanently.
MODIFICATIONS VOTING ON TODAY
With respect to the MIH proposal before us today, the modifications the Commission is voting on incorporate improvements to the BSA special permit provisions of the program, underscoring and enhancing the important role HPD will play in the BSA’s review of hardship applications. This will ensure that this provision serves its limited function, to provide relief in rare cases of genuine hardship caused specifically by the MIH requirements. The Commission’s modifications also incorporate a number of clarifications to the text.
In addition, HPD and DCP believe that the text should reflect the commitment HPD made before the Commission to reserve funds generated by payments-in-lieu for use within the same Community District for at least 10 years, after which they may be used only elsewhere in the borough. This commitment was to be memorialized in the HPD rules governing the in-lieu component of the program, but we urge the City Council to make this change in the text itself.
THANK-YOU TO STAFF AND HPD
This historic proposal is the product of many dedicated DCP staff members, chiefly, Howard Slatkin, Anita Laremont, Eric Kober, John Mangin, Jen Gravel; Bob Dobruskin, Evren Ulker-Kacar and, as always, our amazing Executive Director Purnima Kapur – and many more I wish I had the time to name. This has been truly a department wide effort.
For HPD, our invaluable partner in this endeavor, we are deeply indebted to the incomparable Commissioner Vicki Been and her ace staff led by Louise Carroll, Matt Murphy and David Quart.
I enthusiastically vote yes.
The Department of City Planning has a deep commitment to protecting and enhancing the character of all neighborhoods. We are also intent on identifying opportunities to make them more affordable and livable, and to proactively respond to the daunting housing crisis facing the entire City.
ZQA represents a modest but essential update to our zoning regulations. By updating certain zoning requirements, we can rectify several ways in which current regulations, drafted a generation ago, have not kept pace with other changing regulations, with the rise of green technologies and other best practices for residential design and construction, and instead have limited both the affordability and design quality of many recent buildings.
ZQA is about rationalizing zoning to reduce unnecessary costs to taxpayers and removing obstacles to the creation of affordable and senior housing, while improving housing quality. It is not an upzoning and does not create one additional square foot of market rate housing.
With ZQA, the City can more efficiently deploy its public resources to affordable housing to better support the creation of new affordable housing. It will also address the increased and varied needs of our growing senior population, and enable them to stay in their communities. Targeted modifications to parking requirements will free up resources to create more affordable housing and senior affordable housing by enabling cost-effective, transit-accessible development. Long waiting lists for senior affordable housing are a universal and disturbing reality of today’s housing crisis, and, to our knowledge, no waiting lists exist for off-street parking in affordable housing.
Limited additional height – no more than one or two stories, in over 95% of cases – will be permitted so developers can fit in the additional floor area they are allowed when providing affordable senior housing or Inclusionary Housing in areas that have already been designated for it – and so we don’t leave affordable housing on the table.
Our commitment to contextual zoning will be even stronger so that residential buildings can be more in keeping with neighborhood character, with façade articulation, courtyards, and other elements that provide visual variety and enliven the pedestrian experience. Design quality does not need to be sacrificed in order to achieve housing affordability. With smarter zoning, we can achieve both more affordable and higher-quality buildings.
PUBLIC REVIEW PROCESS AND CHANGES WE’VE MADE
We have been listening to those on the ground: the communities across NYC’s five boroughs. In each and every neighborhood, the elements of ZQA were analyzed, discussed, debated. We provided detailed and tailored information to each community board so that they could understand how ZQA would affect their neighborhoods and make targeted recommendations as part of the land use review process. In response to these early conversations, we refined the proposals even before public review began by:
Throughout the process, we heard support for the general goals of promoting affordable housing and better buildings, but there were concerns about specific provisions and unease about allowing changes outside the context of a neighborhood-specific project or proposal. This, after all, is the first time in many years that a major city-wide text amendment on issues of such breadth and importance has been proposed.
We have weighed the issues, acknowledged the tensions between affordability and additional height to accommodate it, and between reinforcing the context of neighborhoods while allowing for modest change. We made adjustments to the proposals that we believe strike the right balance to ensure that neighborhoods provide both the quality of life our residents deserve as well as opportunities for New Yorkers to afford to live there. And so we have made a series of changes where they are most needed in response to the comments we’ve received:
THANK-YOU TO STAFF
ZQA is the result of a department-wide and city-wide effort, with over 100 staff members involved, chiefly Frank Ruchala, Chris Hayner, Laura Smith, Kiyoshi Yamazaki, Stacy Passmore, John Mangin, Samantha Kleinfield, Namon Freeman, as well as Howard Slatkin, Eric Kober, Beth Lebowitz, Bob Dobruskin, Evren Ulker-Kacar and Danielle DeCerbo, as well as DCP’s amazing Executive Director, Purnima Kapur, the rest of the Executive Office – and many more too numerous to name.
If we are going to address our profound housing challenges and maintain the greatness of our city and its neighborhoods, we need our zoning to be more flexible and responsive. Our ambition is to make all of New York a better place to live, to preserve what works and improve what doesn't.
I vote yes.