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De Blasio's Affordable Housing Plan Comes Under Fire at Hearing

 Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, and City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, left, are pushing a city-wide zoning change that was met with vehement opposition at a public hearing.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, and City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, left, are pushing a city-wide zoning change that was met with vehement opposition at a public hearing.
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DNAinfo/Colby Hamilton

CIVIC CENTER — A push by Mayor Bill de Blasio to allow developers to build taller buildings across the city in exchange for affordable housing was met with vehement opposition at a public hearing on Wednesday.

Critics blasted the mayor's Zoning for Quality and Affordability initiative — part of de Blasio's 10-year affordable housing plan designed to change regulations so that building new housing is easier and cheaper — during the Department of City Planning's hearing at their lower Manhattan office.

Their main complaint was the lack of transparency the mayor's office has offered to date. The city has not publicized the plan enough in order to push it through without substantial community input, according to the lineup of speakers — ranging from elected officials to everyday citizens, and even a former member of the City Planning Commission.

“If not for the fact of emails flying from Greenwich Village… to civic groups in Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx," said Ed Jaworski, president of the Marine-Madison-Homecrest Civic Association in Brooklyn, "this might have been held before two people.”

The hearing ran for more than three hours, and city officials said anyone who still wants to weigh in can submit written testimony before April 6. The Department of City Planning will then produce the actual text of the proposed amendments, and another public review process will commence, DCP officials said.

Amending the city's zoning regulations will allow the city to create badly-needed senior housing and "encourage better quality buildings that contribute to the fabric of neighborhoods," according to DCP director Robert Dobruskin, who led the hearing.

But organizers who fought to secure neighborhood-specific construction regulations around the city — in places like Greenwich Village, The Rockaways, and Bay Ridge — fumed at the possibility that the city could undo their work.

Several speakers accused the de Blasio administration of working to make things easier for developers while demanding too little in exchange.

Kelly Carroll, director of advocacy and community outreach at the Historic Districts Council, said the proposal could "incentivize demolition of existing housing in order to replace it with new development" that could be built with bigger height limits. 

"Bigger buildings do not equal lower rents," Carroll said. "If that were the case, West 57th Street would be Manhattan’s newest neighborhood for the middle class."

Mayoral spokesman Wiley Norvell defended the amendments as "modest changes that respect what works" in protected historic neighborhoods, and insisted that "the only noticeable changes to height apply solely to buildings with affordable and senior housing—and to suggest otherwise is just untrue."

Some at Thursday's hearing accused the mayor of being unduly influenced by the Real Estate Board of New York, an organization that lobbies in the interest of developers.

REBNY dismissed those accusations as the rantings of so-called "NIMBYs," and lauded the de Blasio administration "for making our housing crisis a top priority."

"A few ‘Not In My Backyard’ opponents are placing their own self interests ahead of the changes that are desperately needed to address New York City’s housing shortage," said REBNY president Steven Spinola.

The public review process of the text amendments is anticipated to begin in May, according to officials.

A PowerPoint produced by the city outlining their plan is available online.