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What's Next for De Blasio's Affordable Housing Zoning Proposals?

By Amy Zimmer | December 15, 2015 8:37am
 How community boards voted.
How community boards voted.
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DNAinfo/Nigel Chiwaya

MANHATTAN — It's a signature policy of Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration — rezoning sections of the city to build 80,000 units of affordable housing and preserve another 120,000.

But it's been roundly trounced. Community boards from all corners of the boroughs have overwhelmingly voted against the plans.

So, what happens next?

Local boards only have an advisory role but, because of their deep and varied opposition, many political watchdogs believe the process of modifying the plans could be somewhat arduous as they wind their way through the approval process.

As the two proposals head to the City Planning Commission on Wednesday for a public hearing, officials have already made it clear they are open to considering changes, including "tailoring" housing strategies to meet communities' needs for levels of affordability, they told Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in a letter sent last week.

The commission is expected to vote on a revised version of de Blasio's zoning proposal in early February before heading to the City Council for further hearings.

In the Council, more modifications are expected to be made, as is common practice when land use issues come before the legislative body.

The Council must vote by early April.

The mayor would then have five days to decide if he will veto the council's decision.

Under one proposal, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, the city would require new construction in certain areas to include some affordable housing. In neighborhoods targeted for such development, like East New York, residents have voiced concerns about whether new units built would be affordable enough and fear that existing residents could be displaced as a result of the plans.

The other proposal, Zoning for Quality and Affordability, would update existing codes to allow for increased building heights and eliminate some parking requirements, among other changes, to make it easier to construct affordable and senior housing.

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

“People have to be able to envision themselves and their families in the new communities proposed by the mayor,” Adam Friedman, executive director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, said of the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan.

“That is not happening because the levels of affordability are not deep enough and the vast majority of the housing is not going to be accessible to today’s residents."

Friedman expects the administration to revise its targets for affordability.

He also said the administration needs to address issues like displacement and work more closely with neighborhoods to address concerns.

“The administration originally promised that it was embarking on a new process for community engagement: That there would be an ongoing dialogue between communities and the city to build a more comprehensive plan that provided not only housing but schools, parks, protection for local blue-collar jobs and community facilities,” he said.

“Instead, people are seeing the same old process that pushes communities’ priorities to the end of the zoning change.”

The city's messaging was off from the start, many experts said.

Mitchell Moss, professor of urban policy and planning at New York University, called the city’s plan “thoughtful and intelligent,” and stressed that the city needs more housing, but that the administration made a tactical mistake out the gate with the proposals' names.

“I think the titles have been a little cumbersome,” Moss said, noting that the city should have taken its cue from NASA space missions, which take complicated things and give then snappy titles like “Mission Apollo.”

Instead, he thought, city officials could have called the proposals something like “Better Living.”

“The planners have been drinking so much of their own Kool-Aid, they put the name of the technique and not the goal on it,” he said.

But the opposition doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the plans.

“You get four times at bat,” Moss said of the process. “The community boards, the borough boards, the Planning Commission and the City Council.”

The administration, he believes, will “find a way to make it work,” though because opponents have different rationale it may take “more time and energy” to do so.

After initially downplaying the role of the community boards, the mayor appeared more contrite last week and said he’d spend more time “going out into communities” to push for the plans.

But with affordable housing "the No. 1 topic" that New Yorkers raise to him, the mayor said the plans were "moving forward aggressively.”

City Planning spokeswoman Rachaelle Raynoff said, “This has been a robust review process with extensive public engagement and the City Planning Commission will carefully weigh the recommendations it has received on MIH and ZQA as well as the public testimony it will hear Wednesday.”