CIVIC CENTER — Many elderly New Yorkers want the City Council to pass Mayor Bill de Blasio's controversial rezoning plan as is because they "don't have time" to wait for a long bureaucratic process to play out amid a housing crisis for seniors.
The Council held two hearings this week on the key facets of the plan that would rezone swaths of New York City's neighborhoods. One of them, called Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA), would increase building heights and relax parking requirements to ease construction of affordable senior housing.
Council members are eyeing changes to ZQA amid concerns in many neighborhoods that it doesn't do enough to keep housing affordable. Seniors at the hearing wanted it pushed through anyway.
"It will at last allow us to use virtually empty parking lots for housing," said Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy at Live On New York, a group that advocates and provides housing for seniors.
Sackman said New York City has some 200,000 seniors on waiting lists for housing, "none for parking."
Senior housing developers are required to create parking lots when they build — lots that advocates like Sackman say are left unused.
City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, one of the architects of ZQA, said providing three parking spaces is equivalent to two units of affordable housing.
At a hearing on the proposal, some council members suggested adding community board review or special permits for construction of senior housing — a prospect that alarmed senior housing providers.
"Approve this as-is," said Sandy Myers of the organization Selfhelp Community Services, which aims to help seniors age "with independence and dignity."
Sackman said adding anything that would prolong an already lengthy development process was out of the question.
"That's what's holding it up," she said, providing as an example a development in Brooklyn that required eight years of red tape before they could even start a two-year construction process.
"Do you all have 10 years to wait?" she asked the crowd of seniors gathered around her in the City Hall lobby outside the Council hearing.
"No!" the seniors shouted.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin stood with the seniors and promised she "will be speaking to all [her] colleagues to make sure they" support the current ZQA proposal.
Upstairs at the hearing, Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been balked at adding anything that would delay or prolong a process that already takes years.
"We want to ensure that the character of the community is protected, we’re delighted to work with you on that," she said. "But in the balance is seniors who don’t have a lot of time to wait, who need housing now.”
The last time a citywide zoning change was enacted was more than four decades ago, according to city officials.
"We cannot stay in 1961," Sackman said.