City Releases Revised Design Guidelines for Affordable Housing to Promote Equity, Health, and Sustainability

March 4, 2021

Press Office:

New guidelines call for high-speed broadband in every apartment and enhanced cooling and building ventilation to respond to needs arising from COVID-19 pandemic 

Updates to help developers navigate and incorporate energy efficiency and accessibility requirements

NEW YORK, NY – The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) released revised Design Guidelines today for City affordable housing to ensure newly constructed buildings promote equity, health, and sustainability. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, HPD worked with the City’s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity and the wider affordable housing community to issue stronger requirements and recommendations to improve standards of living for more New Yorkers, promote broader public health, and reduce the city’s carbon footprint. Key additions to HPD’s Design Guidelines include facilitating broadband access for tenants, improving cooling and ventilation, increasing energy efficiency, and building out a supplementary guide that serves as a framework for accessibility requirements.

"Affordable housing development will fuel the engine of New York City's economic recovery," said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been. "HPD's revised Design Guidelines reflect key learnings from COVID-19: Our affordable housing must promote the health and well-being of New Yorkers and help protect our planet." 

“As we continue to produce affordable housing at record pace, this Administration is equally committed to ensuring that housing contributes to creating a more equitable and sustainable city. That is why our new Design Guidelines incorporate lessons learned from COVID-19 and follow best practices to promote equity, health, and sustainability,” said HPD Commissioner Louise Carroll. “I am grateful to all our partners for working with us on exciting changes to accelerate broadband access and foster healthier, more energy efficient housing that meets the needs of all New Yorkers.”

“The pandemic has underscored the need for all New Yorkers to have healthy housing that is broadband-ready, adaptive to climate change, and supports active living for all populations,” said Sideya Sherman, Executive Director, Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity. “We applaud HPD for taking an innovative approach to promoting equity and sustainability through these new guidelines.”

“We commend the Department of Housing Preservation & Development for their updates to the Design Guidelines for New Construction,” said Keri Butler, Acting Executive Director, NYC Public Design Commission. “At this critical moment of pandemic recovery and climate-vulnerability, and working toward the goals of OneNYC, this body of work creates a framework for more equitable and resilient affordable housing development across all five boroughs. The Public Design Commission is a proud partner in this effort, building upon work from the City’s Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity and our Designing New York: Quality Affordable Housing initiative. HPD’s updated design guidelines provide a comprehensive and accessible document advocating for rounded and inclusive approaches to housing infrastructure as part of healthy and sustainable communities.”

The pandemic has had devastating health and economic effects on New Yorkers with a disproportionate impact on low-income communities of color. As the City works towards a recovery for all New Yorkers, strengthening design policies for HPD’s affordable housing development—including senior and supportive housing—can address these disparities in a significant way. The updated Design Guidelines also reflect the vision of the City’s Where We Live NYC fair housing plan to build more integrated, equitable, and inclusive neighborhoods. Where We Live NYC calls for city investments to address disparities and break down barriers to opportunities, which the new guidelines will help to advance building by building. 

Working closely with the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), Supportive Housing Network of New York (SHNNY), and Citizens Housing and Planning Council (CHPC), HPD built out new equitable and healthy buildings guidelines, including an innovative broadband where feasible mandate. 

Supporting Equity

According to the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, 29% of NYC households— and nearly half of those living in poverty—do not have a broadband subscription at home, an access issue preventing many low-income New Yorkers from utilizing online learning, teleworking, and accessing telehealth, and emergency services. Now, following the updated Design Guidelines, to the extent feasible, projects must provide high-quality internet access. HPD further encourages project proposals that outline how to provide service at no additional cost to the tenant without additional HPD financing. HPD also recommends wireless service in common areas throughout the building.

The City also aims to better support developers to provide accessible housing and meet the needs of New Yorkers with disabilities. To that end, HPD developed a supplementary document, the HPD Accessibility Guide, which outlines the accessibility requirements that apply to multifamily housing. The new guide features a useful diagnostic tool to help design professionals navigate the multiple layers of accessibility regulations and includes an expanded library of accessibility sketches that were formerly found in the previous version of the design guidelines.

Promoting Health

The City is also rethinking how better design can reduce health, safety and climate-driven risks for the most vulnerable New Yorkers. To address this, the guidelines now include additional requirements and improved guidance on building ventilation and air quality to reduce the risks of asthma, cardiovascular and cognitive issues, as well as other underlying conditions that were shown to increase the risk of COVID-19 fatalities. Projects are now required to follow new Enterprise Green Communities guidelines for ventilation system design and flow rates and encouraged to have exhaust systems with “boost” settings to ensure adequate access to fresh air. In common areas, the guidelines encourage projects to provide operable windows and ceiling fans, provide MERV 13 filters on outdoor air intakes, and incorporate flexible solutions to increase ventilation and air filtration as needed. These changes help preserve indoor air quality, reducing health risks posed by mold and airborne viruses.

To ensure the safety of all residents during NYC’s increasingly hot summers, especially if there is a need to shelter in place, the guidelines now include a new requirement that owners provide efficient air conditioning and window screens in every habitable room requested by the tenant. Plus, projects are encouraged to incorporate ceiling fans and window shading devices to increase comfort and reduce energy costs. In the event of a prolonged power outage, HPD encourages developers to consider resident recreational spaces that can be used as areas of refuge with backup power, heating, hot water, and refrigeration. And, especially in neighborhoods without easy access to public open space, projects are encouraged to provide and maximize use of outdoor spaces, providing comfortable gathering places equipped with electrical outlets and landscaping to reduce heat island effects caused by climate change. 

Advancing Sustainability

In addition to addressing equity and health concerns, the City is also committed to advancing sustainability and energy efficiency in its affordable housing production. All new projects must certify with the 2020 NYC Overlay of Enterprise Green Communities Criteria (EGCC) or LEED Gold, and benchmark energy and water consumption to help NYC reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. HPD has also introduced a Solar Where Feasible mandate, which requires solar on all HPD-financed projects where it is financially feasible. Across the board, HPD recommends strategies to reduce energy, water, and carbon while increasing energy efficiency, resiliency, and indoor air quality. 

“The COVID-19 crisis shined a light on a digital divide in which far too many New York City households simply do not have access to the high-quality broadband service they need to thrive,” said Jolie Milstein, President and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing. “We believe that the affordable housing industry must play a vital role in bridging that gap, and we applaud the Department of Housing Preservation and Development for its leadership in centering broadband access in its new design guidelines. NYSAFAH looks forward to continuing to work with the City to create the most affordable and connected city possible.”

“We thank HPD for these thoughtful new Design Guidelines which respond to challenges that emerged as a result of the pandemic,” said Laura Mascuch, Executive Director for the Supportive Housing Network of New York. “We deeply appreciate the agency’s prioritizing supportive housing tenants’ health and quality of life and heartily applaud the requirement that, going forward, all supportive housing residences will provide high quality WiFi, which was critical to tenants’ health and well-being during this past year.”

“These new design guidelines recognize that now more than ever high-speed internet access is a basic need,” said Jessica Katz, Executive Director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Council. “HPD’s collaborative process with a range of stakeholders has created a forward-thinking set of design guidelines that will ensure affordable housing is poised to meet tenant needs in the future.”

HPD has already started engaging developers interested in incorporating the new requirements and recommendations, but the updated Design Guidelines officially go into effect beginning December 2021. Learn more by going to HPD’s New Construction Design webpage.