Sunday, March 26, 2017

Let’s Slam the Door on 80/20 Neighborhoods

 

This past Friday, the de Blasio administration made its strongest statements yet about its commitment to mandatory inclusionary zoning. At a New York Law School breakfast, City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod laid out the vision the administration has for our neighborhood rezonings and large-scale developments. Weisbrod stated that developers will now be expected to build “their share” of affordable housing. Specifically, this means the administration will:

  • Move the city from a policy of voluntary to mandatory inclusionary zoning.
  • Institute mandatory inclusionary zoning in the 15 major neighborhood rezonings that the Administration expects to announce.
  • Require affordable housing in all smaller-scale developer-initiated rezonings.
  • Require that the affordable inclusionary units be considered “off budget,” meaning they will not be allowed to access additional city money.

The administration had previously committed to mandatory inclusionary zoning in its major rezonings, but the clarification that the policy will also apply to smaller, developer-initiated rezonings is important and expands the impact of the program. Also important is the shift to requiring that the affordable housing be built without added city capital. It makes sense – because developers profit heavily from the extra density the city allows, the affordable units should be fully cross-subsidized by the market-rate units. This allows the city to save money that can be used to build affordable housing elsewhere.

There are more crucial details of the inclusionary zoning policy to come, including what percentage of the housing will be affordable, and to whom. But the administration should be applauded for creating a new inclusionary zoning mechanism that will move the city toward a more equitable neighborhood development relationship with the real estate industry.

This is a significant step forward from the Bloomberg years. But we need more than just a change in mechanism. We need a change in goals and results. “Their share” needs to be “their fair share.”  And the real estate industry has not been contributing close to their fair share, even in those instances when they have chosen to build some affordable. Most of New York City’s market-rate development, even in outer-borough neighborhoods, is reserved for a small percentage of people at the very top of the income spectrum. 80% market-rate, with 20% for the rest of us, is not nearly enough. In fact, because of the upward pressure luxury development puts on affordable neighborhoods, and because most of the affordable units are still priced too high for existing residents, 80/20 ends up as a recipe for gentrification, not affordability.

We’ve seen what the low bar of 20% affordable has done to our neighborhoods. Williamsburg, Downtown Brooklyn, Harlem – these are all places where we’ve settled for 80/20 under Bloomberg. The results have been skyrocketing rents, with scant opportunities for working families to find housing and with longtime residents forced to leave. We simply cannot stay on this path and expect a different and better result for other neighborhoods.

We expect this administration to slam the door on the 80/20 model once and for all.Where should the Administration start? The first deal, framed by this last administration but negotiated by the de Blasio Administration, was the Domino Sugar Factory development. The final deal allowed for affordable housing in excess of 30% of the units. It will be a significant step backward if the next deal – the first true de Blasio Administration deal – is not a further step forward. Yet that’s exactly that is being asked for at the latest large-scale development, Astoria Cove, which is committing to the exact same percentage of affordable housing, just 20%, that we got under Bloomberg.

In his comments Friday, Weisbrod indicated that it is City Planning’s job to certify land-use applications when legal and complete, and then let the ULURP system work as intended. This lets communities, elected officials, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council weigh in if the proposal doesn’t pass muster. At Astoria Cove, this is exactly what is happening. The proposal was rejected by the Community Board. It was rejected by the Borough President. Community members, elected officials, and New Yorkers of all stripes have made it very, very clear about what they expect out of new rezonings and new large-scale developments – and they expect a significantly better deal than 80/20.

The city needs to work toward more affordable neighborhoods, and not just more affordable production.  This won’t be simple, and there’s no magic bullet for affordability. But meeting this challenge is imperative, and we can do so by bundling an array of programs that lead to more affordable neighborhoods, build the type of housing that average community residents can afford, preserve existing affordable units, and put downward – not upward – pressure on rents./span>A new development that pushes out more people than it creates affordable housing for is not a success. A rezoning that builds more housing, but housing unaffordable to those in the neighborhood, is not a success. A program that adds affordable housing units, but leads to a more expensive city, is not a success. And this is ultimately what the administration will be judged on – whether our neighborhoods become more affordable, whether our citizens become less rent burdened, whether average working families find it easier or harder to live in this city.

As the new development policy is created, there will be compromises to be made, and that includes compromises with the Real Estate industry. But we must start from what we need, not what Real Estate developers are used to. Already, the real estate industry is talking about renewing the 421a developer tax break – which costs the city over a billion dollars a year in forgone revenue from luxury developments – without making significant changes. That needs to change. We cannot be satisfied to assume the failed paradigms of the past, and then fight for a few more units, a little more affordability. That’s not a victory, and it’s not going to result in developments that are good for our neighborhoods.  

 

Blogger:   Moses Gates

Blog team: Benjamin Dulchin, Jonathan Furlong, Moses Gates, Sandra Park, Ericka Stallings, Jaime Weisberg, Barika X. Williams, Eric Williams. Editor, Anne Troy.

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