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Affordable Housing Program Gets No Interest From Developers in Queens

 A look at where the city received applications for its Inclusionary Housing program from Jan. 1, 2014 to March 26 this year.
A look at where the city received applications for its Inclusionary Housing program from Jan. 1, 2014 to March 26 this year.
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DNAinfo/Nigel Chiwaya

QUEENS — Developers applied to build hundreds of units of affordable housing in Brooklyn and Manhattan through a city program over the course of more than a year — but none of them wanted to build in Queens, according to city records.

The city's Inclusionary Housing Program is designed to encourage developers to build affordable apartments, who in exchange are allowed to build larger projects than zoning would otherwise allow. 

However, out of the 58 applications the city received for the program from Jan. 1, 2014 to March 26 this year, 30 were for projects in Brooklyn, 26 were in Manhattan and two were for The Bronx, according to data obtained from the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development.

City officials said that because the program is optional for developers, there's not much they can do to control where they seek to build affordable housing.

"This is [a] voluntary incentive program, so the developers choose whether to participate," HPD Spokeswoman Elizabeth Rohlfing said.

"It is totally market-driven. Developers are only likely to apply for the program if they view that the market will support the affordable portion of the project."

The applications in Brooklyn were mostly filed for rapidly developing neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene. The Bronx's projects are located in Tremont and Norwood.

The projects would produce at least 1,301 affordable units in Brooklyn, 1,539 in Manhattan and 52 in The Bronx, according to HPD.

Check the map below to see where the city received applications for its inclusionary housing program, from the start of 2014 through March of this year.

Those familiar with the affordable housing process said the lack of applications for Queens was likely caused by the city's bureaucratic zoning system as well as by a general lack of knowledge of how the city's inclusionary housing program works.

Developers can only apply for the program if their projects are located in certain designated areas of the city —maps of which can be found here. Staten Island isn't even on the list.

The Department of City Planning said they picked the designated areas because they were "in medium- and high-density neighborhoods being rezoned to create new housing opportunities," according to its website.

There are only a few designated areas in Queens, including small parts of Astoria, a stretch of Northern Boulevard adjacent to the Sunnyside Railyards, small portions of Queens Boulevard in Woodside and Sunnyside and a swath of downtown Jamaica, city zoning maps show.

Mike Slattery, senior vice president of research with the Real Estate Board of New York, said the floor area bonus that the program provides might not be enough to cover the costs of keeping 20 percent housing in a project permanently affordable, he said.

"Perhaps in Manhattan and where it was being used, the overall value of the project made it viable to do that. I'm not sure that in Queens that the market value for the project would offset the cost," he said, adding that a lack of familiarity with the program might also keep some developers from participating.

The city is also proposing to add a mandatory affordable housing component to its zoning regulations.

The de Blasio administration last week presented a new proposal for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing — a new policy in which developers would be required to include affordable housing in projects built in certain areas zoned by the city or as part of their private rezoning bid.

Rohlfing said the mandatory program  "is just one example of how the City is expanding its toolkit and leaving no stone unturned in maximizing the affordable housing we can build in all our neighborhoods."

Still, that proposal would only apply to certain areas, potentially including East New York, Long Island City, Flushing West in Queens, Jerome Avenue in The Bronx and the Bay Street Corridor in Staten Island, as mentioned during Mayor Bill de Blasio's State of the City Speech in February.

Some housing advocates have criticized the mandatory inclusionary plan, saying they worry the rents and income requirements proposed would still be too high for many New Yorkers and low-income residents.

The proposal has to undergo a public review process, where it will be reviewed by community boards, borough presidents and eventually the City Council, according to the city.