Quantcast

Here's What You Need to Know About the Mayor's Citywide Rezoning Plan

By  Amy Zimmer and Danielle Tcholakian | December 1, 2015 7:20pm 

MANHATTAN — Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to change some of the city's existing zoning regulations as part of his 10-year plan to create 80,000 new affordable units of housing and preserve another 120,000.

The 526-page plan has implications for every neighborhood in New York City.

Department of City Planning officials have visited community boards to convince their members — whose input is only advisory — to support the two proposals.

But the boards have overwhelmingly voted "no," worried the changes won't yield enough affordable housing or that a "one-size fits all" approach doesn’t respect individual communities’ needs.

READ MORE: You Need to Earn $130K to Rent a 1-Bedroom By Yourself in Manhattan

Here's an interactive map outlining how each community board voted:

 

To help demystify the plan, DNAinfo New York has prepared the following overview of its proposals.

WHAT IS THE MAYOR'S PLAN?

De Blasio's rezoning plan has two main parts:

► "Mandatory Inclusionary Housing" would require some new construction to include a certain amount of permanently affordable housing.

► "Zoning for Quality and Affordability" would increase building heights, among other changes, to spur construction of affordable and senior housing.

WHAT'S MANDATORY INCLUSIONARY HOUSING?

To begin the plan's rollout, the city selected several neighborhoods to focus on: East New York, East Harlem, Long Island City, the Jerome Avenue corridor in The Bronx, Flushing West and the Bay Street corridor on Staten Island.

If a developer wants to build a project in those neighborhoods, or one that requires a zoning variance from the city (say, to build taller than the zoning would allow), they would be required to include "permanently affordable" housing in their building.

Buildings that do not require a variance would be exempt from the requirement.

Affordable for who?

Because neighborhoods have varying economic situations, the city devised options for the number of required affordable units.

► In weaker markets like East New York, either 25 or 30 percent of the units must be affordable for residents earning 60 or 80 percent, respectively, of the “Area Median Income,” or AMI. (AMI is the median income of residents in all five boroughs as well as Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester counties. Sixty percent of AMI is roughly $46,620 a year for a family of three, and 80 percent is $62,150 a year for a family of three.)

Developers would also be able to tap other subsidy programs to build their projects, further encouraging development.

► In mid-range or growing markets, such as Astoria, developers could set the affordability higher, at 120 percent AMI ($93,240 a year for a family of three), but not get any direct subsidies from the city. 

► The mid-range option would not apply in Manhattan south of West 110th Street or East 96th Street, where the city feels the robust market is strong enough to support even cheaper housing without subsidies.

But is it truly affordable?

The actual median income of many New York City neighborhoods, like East New York and East Harlem, is significantly lower than the figure that includes suburban counties.

Because of this, many residents worry that the so-called affordable housing will be out of reach for families in their neighborhoods.

City officials have said they want economically diverse neighborhoods and are balancing tradeoffs between the number of affordable units versus the level of affordability.

They have also said that in neighborhoods targeted for rezoning, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development has subsidy programs that could help.

Are there loopholes?

► The affordable housing requirement only applies to buildings with more than 10 units.

► Buildings with more than 10 but fewer than 25 units do not have to include affordable units. Those developers would be required to pay into a fund to build affordable housing elsewhere in the district.

► Developers will also be allowed to build their affordable units in a separate building in the same district.

► Developers can get out of the program if they convince the Board of Standards and Appeals that they have a “hardship” that prevents them from complying.

WHAT IS ZONING FOR QUALITY AND AFFORDABILITY?

The city's current zoning regulations are a patchwork of codes that set limits on the use, size, and shape of buildings. They can make it more expensive to build here, and the city believes some codes result in buildings that are unattractive at street level.

City Planning hopes that updating the code will result in more appealing design — like front steps, stoops and gardens — and reduce the cost of construction, especially for senior and affordable housing.

How does it work?

Current first floor ceiling heights discourage businesses from retail spaces in residential buildings, city officials and developers say. Officials believe adding five feet to ground floors would attract better retail tenants, and insist that the height increases are only tall enough for “neighborhood retail” rather than big box stores.

Other changes would allow for new technologies, like modular construction, which is considered more cost effective but has faced difficulties under height constraints because pre-fab modules have thicker floors when stacked on top of each other.

The plan would also make it easier to build "micro-units" by allowing developers to build units as small as 300 square feet, down from the current minimum of 400 square feet.

What's the plan?

► Luxury buildings that include some affordable units — usually 20 percent — would be allowed to increase their building heights by two to four stories.

► Mixed-use residential buildings that include a "fresh food store" on the ground floor can get height increases of up to 15 feet to encourage access to healthy produce.

► The proposal would eliminate the requirement for off-street parking in newly-developed affordable buildings and in new and existing senior housing in "transit rich" areas that are generally located half a mile from a subway station.

The parking requirements have been a big roadblock for affordable housing, developers said, since building on-site spaces uses expensive land and when building garages underground, each spot costs on average, $40,000 to build.

Since these projects are often built with subsidies, developers say they are forced to use this money on parking — which they say is often underutilized — rather than for affordable units.

► When it comes to senior housing, which require elevators, the city hopes to be able to build taller buildings in certain low-rise neighborhoods — but no more than 4- to 6-stories — to meet the needs of the aging population.

But the senior apartments are not permanently affordable. Their affordability expires after 30 years, unless the city steps in with subsidies to extend it.

WHAT'S EVERYONE SO CONCERNED ABOUT?

► Communities feel the proposal is a "one size fits all" approach that doesn't respect the particulars of individual neighborhoods. But the plan highlights "special districts" in areas across the city, from Forest Hills and Sheepshead Bay to the Harlem River Waterfront and City Island, with specific impacts outlined for each one.

► Some advocates question what will happen to seniors further down the line considering the city’s oft-cited statistic that there will be a 40 percent increase in the 65 and older population by 2040.

► Some worry that the city is giving away more to developers than the community is getting in terms of affordable housing.

► Some worry the changes might incentivize teardowns of existing buildings since laws that protect mid-blocks from out-of-scale developments would no longer apply when affordable housing is part of the project.

► Some fear that eliminating any off-street parking will only add to their woes of finding street-parking in their communities.

► Many community leaders are concerned that there are few details on the affordable housing fund that developers of smaller buildings will pay into and not enough of a plan for how it’s going to work.

► Some community boards are concerned that there is nothing in place to ensure the developers will maintain both affordable and luxury buildings in equally good condition.

What's next?

After all the community board votes are in, the two proposals will return to the City Planning Commission, where modifications will likely be made, before heading to the City Council, where more changes are expected. The City Planning hearing is scheduled for Dec. 16.