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ANHD Supports ZQA Plan

March 7, 2016

The City Council is getting set to consider major zoning legislation in the next few weeks. As negotiations between the Council and the Administration shape the final proposals, addressing the affordability crisis must be at the center of the policy. With so many zoning proposals in the news and before the Council, it is important that each proposal be understood on own its merits.

 
Supporting Zoning for Quality and Affordability
 
The City Council is getting set to consider major zoning legislation in the next few weeks. As negotiations between the Council and the Administration shape the final proposals, addressing the affordability crisis must be at the center of the policy. With so many zoning proposals in the news and before the Council, it is important that each proposal be understood on own its merits.
 
ANHD has written extensively about Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning, and urged that the Council withhold support until the affordability requirements are strengthened. But we have also urged support for the Mayor's Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) proposal because it reflects thoughtful and modest changes to encourage affordable and senior developments, while at the same time preserving the types of livable, mixed-use communities New Yorkers value. Most importantly, the ZQA proposal fits with ANHD's belief that zoning changes sho uld, in all cases, encourage specifically affordable housing development or other community benefits.
 
As final changes to ZQA are considered, we urge the City Council to preserve the provisions of the program - including very modest density increases - that will add much needed affordability, especially for our seniors. We currently have a million senior citizens, who are disproportionately low-income. The City is projected to add over 360,000 more senior citizens by 2030. Our low-income population is growing, but our supply of apartments with affordable rents continues to shrink. Going forward, we simply have to make it easier to build affordable and senior housing in New York so that we can address these future needs.
 
The Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposal takes some smart steps to address this need:
 
Contextual zoning districts - areas of the city which have strict height limits and design guidelines - were first developed in the 1980s. But the situation in the city has changed dramatically since then. Construction techniques are different. Affordable Housing programs are different. Car usage is different. And our city needs affordable and senior housing more desperately than ever, a need that is projected to continue well into the future. The City's proposed ZQA text amendment would adapt our contextual zoning rules for the current environment, making it easier to build affordable and senior housing in contextual districts. Design guidelines would be made more flexible, costly parking requirements would be eliminated, and unused parking lots could be developed as more senior housing.
 
It's important to be clear about the tradeoffs - these changes do mean height increases for new buildings in many areas. And since contextual districts are almost always the result of community advocacy, put in place to provide protections against unwanted types of developments, revisiting the regulations in these districts is something that should not be taken lightly. But ANHD believes that the modest height increases offered by ZQA in return for incentivizing affordable and senior housing are reasonably designed. The new rules are specifically written to not encourage tear-downs of existing structures to make way for new developments, just to encourage better design and affordability options for new developments. Planning New York City is the art of balancing many concerns in a city with limited space. 
 
With our affordable housing crisis continuing unabated, and our senior population projected to increase 36% by 2030, the ZQA proposal strikes the balance our city will need in the upcoming decades. Communities of all types from across the City have made it clear that more luxury housing is not a community benefit - which is why the City has modified its original ZQA proposal to better encourage Inclusionary Housing, Affordable Housing, and Senior Housing instead of unrestricted market-rate housing. Instead, small changes to market-rate designs are now linked to providing a higher first floor, which leads to the commercial ground floors and the mixed-use streetscape that's one of New York's unique urban design strengths. But more senior and affordable housing is something our city needs, our seniors and low-income families need, and we are ultimately much better off addressing this issue now, before our affordable and senior housing crisis get worse.
 

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