Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/114 Mon, 11 Dec 2017 19:03:30 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Crucial Weeks Ahead for Potential Rezoning of East Harlem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7132:crucial-weeks-ahead-for-potential-rezoning-of-east-harlem http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7132:crucial-weeks-ahead-for-potential-rezoning-of-east-harlem mark viverito at east harlem planning session

Mark-Viverito at East Harlem planning session (photo: Samar Khurshid)


The de Blasio administration’s plan to significantly alter a large section of East Harlem is in the middle of a contentious process, with its fate unclear. The proposed changes to land use rules and infusion of community development resources -- part of the administration’s larger efforts to build more housing, some of it with affordability requirements, and improve neighborhoods -- have not been to the liking of key elected officials and the window for negotiations will close before the end of the year.

The East Harlem rezoning plan has hit several bumps in the road as it moves through the city’s process for designing and approving changes to the type of development that is permitted and resources the city will bring into a particular area. Namely, the city’s current proposal faces disapproval by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

The City Planning Commission formally began the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process for the East Harlem rezoning plan when the proposal was released April 24, followed by the Borough President’s recommendation earlier this month, in which Brewer put forth her non-binding vote of no confidence.

Next, the City Planning Commission will hold a hearing August 23, followed by a City Planning Commission review due by October 2. Afterwards, the City Council has 50 days to vote on the proposal, which can be tweaked within certain parameters acceptable to the City Planning Commission.   

East Harlem is one of 15 neighborhoods that the administration identified early in 2015 as potential areas where the city could build significant amounts of new housing, some of it with affordability requirements, with the goal of boosting local communities through other means as well, including retail and open space, job creation, new school seats, and better transportation infrastructure. The rezonings are a part of de Blasio’s goal of creating and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing across the city over 10 years. Along with the rezoning of parts of East New York, in Brooklyn, a plan to rezone East Midtown just passed, though it is largely focused on creating new and modern office and commercial spaces.

East Harlem could be the second major neighborhood rezoning of de Blasio’s tenure, but, like in East New York, the administration must negotiate with local stakeholders, especially Mark-Viverito, the local Council rep whose opinion is the most important in the process.

Mark-Viverito will negotiate with the de Blasio administration until there is a plan to her liking, or she will kill the rezoning. The speaker is term-limited out of office at the end of this year (two leading candidates vying to succeed her have also criticized the de Blasio administration’s plan) and has the opportunity to pass the rezoning before she departs.

Mark-Viverito wants to make a deal work. She has seen the rezoning of East Harlem -- especially the affordable housing and community development that would come with it -- as key to her legacy as she prepares to leave the City Council. She helped lead the development of a community-based blueprint, East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, that she and others believe the city has not hewed close enough to in its proposal.

At a recent news conference, Mark-Viverito expressed her displeasure with the city’s process, and criticized the administration for ignoring the East Harlem community voice. “We all took ownership for that process so we stand very strongly behind the recommendations of the steering committee of the neighborhood plan,” she said August 9, when asked by Gotham Gazette about Brewer’s recent opposition and negotiations about the plan.

“What City Planning presented flew in the face of all of that, and it was very disrespectful to all of the thought and workings of the community, and I think Gale [Brewer] strongly spoke to that in her statement,” Mark-Viverito said. “We had thousands of people that participated in that process,” she said. “It was nothing to really sneeze at. And I’m really, really proud of that effort.”  

Mark-Viverito made mention of the numerous community representatives were involved in the planning process with the City Planning Department, and that the community has made its needs and wants clear. The Neighborhood Plan, a joint effort involving CB11, Brewer, Mark-Viverito, and advocacy group Community Voices Heard, is a more wide-reaching document than a rezoning proposal, including recommendations on everything spanning NYCHA repairs, public safety reforms, tenant protection and park space. The comprehensive 138-page analysis also includes specific models for ratios of market-rate to affordable housing for newly developed buildings. Undergirding the report and the entire conversation is an estimate of 12,000 East Harlem households that the report classifies as in need of affordable housing.

East Harlem rezoning, whatever form it winds up taking, will create additional housing, both affordable and market-rate, as well as commercial space, by upzoning much of the Upper Manhattan neighborhood, often referred to as El Barrio.

By its current design, the rezoning would allow buildings to stretch up to 30 stories between 104th and 126th Streets in the eastern part of the area and between 126th and 132nd in the western portions. Currently, there is a 120 foot, or ten-to-twelve stories, height restrictions on parts of 125th street and surrounding areas while the rest of East Harlem are not subject to specific height limits. According to the City Planning Department, the upzoning would create approximately 3,500 rental apartment units under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) program, which set asides a quarter of new housing for affordable housing in any new development approved by the city in a rezoned area. The commission estimates the upzoning would spawn 122,000 square feet of commercial space along with 27,500 square feet of office and industrial space.The proposal also includes height restrictions on units built on parts of Lexington Avenue and mandatory apportioning of more affordable housing units in the densest of new developments.     

Still, elected officials representing the area, in agreement with Manhattan Community Board 11’s stance, fear the upzoning will not sufficiently benefit low-income residents of the area, which has a high poverty rate, and will adversely affect mom-and-pop stores, accelerate gentrification, increase property prices, without enough affordable housing to meet the area’s needs.

On August 3, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer came out against the administration’s current proposal. While she reaffirmed support for the general idea of rezoning East Harlem, she explained she is not convinced of the merits of what the city put forward. "A rezoning done the right way offers the opportunity to create many new affordable units, including units affordable to low-income East Harlem residents, while actually reducing the effects of gentrification and reinvigorating neighborhood small businesses and retail,” she said in a statement announcing her opposition. "What the administration has put in front of us, however, is rezoning done the wrong way.”  

Brewer went on to cite concerns about gentrification, affordability and building heights, all of which she believes are better addressed in recommendations put forward by Community Board 11. Community Board 11 rejected the proposal, though, like Brewer’s, the vote is not binding -- ultimately, the decision is up to the City Council, which almost universally follows the lead of the local Council member, in this case Mark-Viverito.

Mark-Viverito has worked to convene a “Rezoning Task Force” which has met periodically from January to April of this year.  

"This proposal concentrates new development in too small an area with too much density, likely worsening the effects of gentrification,” Brewer said, echoing CB11’s criticism. “This proposal lacks a meaningful preservation plan and sufficient up-front commitments to save existing affordable housing units,” the borough president added.

Brewer also issued a list of recommendations for the city to adopt to make the plan more palatable to the community. The list includes reclaiming lost affordable housing units, lowering the density of potential buildings to preserve neighborhood character, and providing more affordable housing units to low-income residents of the area, particularly those making less than 30 percent of the area median income, which amounts to $23,350 for a household of three.  

Despite Mark-Viverito’s frustration and Brewer’s disapproval, the effort to rezone East Harlem is far from dead, with negotiations to tweak the plan ongoing.

Mark-Viverito, taking note of the time she has remaining in the Council, said she would continue to advocate for the community’s recommendations. “So that’s what I’m going to be doing in the months that I have to discuss and analyze this rezoning, is to really advocate for the recommendations the community put together,” she said. “We’re in the process of working through that, and I take that plan as a guide in terms of my negotiations with the city. So I’ve been pushing them on a lot of the things that are outlined in that plan.”

But Mark-Viverito’s opposition, should it persist, would effectively serve as a death knell for approving the current plan, or something close to it, any time soon.

At a news conference on August 7, Mayor de Blasio acknowledged that dynamic when asked by Gotham Gazette about the status of rezoning talks and Brewer’s opposition to the East Harlem plan. “This rezoning is unusual compared to all the others because it’s the Speaker’s own district,” de Blasio said. “I think what’s good is when you then hear those concerns and try to work them through and try to find a solution that you both feel pretty good about. And certainly, most importantly, the person who matters the most is the representative of that district in the Council.”

De Blasio said there is still time to iron out the differences in order to craft a plan that meets both the administration’s preferences and the community’s needs. “We’ve had vocal conversations about the rezoning and will continue to…And there’s plenty of time to do that,” de Blasio added. “So we’ll continue having those conversations.”

The process for approving a rezoning is long and multifaceted. Each proposal must go through ULURP, a process that involves a mixture of behind-the-scenes machinations and public hearings with the aim of creating an upzoning blueprint which includes input from city planners, elected officials, and relevant communities. Rezonings typically take several months, if not longer, to make their way through ULURP. The East Midtown rezoning, for instance, was in the pipeline in different iterations for several years before being approved by the City Council on August 9th.

A spokesperson for the City Planning Department said the process has already incorporated additional community input.

On August 7, the CPC issued a technical memorandum, called an “A-Text,” or amended text, which addressed concerns coming from the local community board and elected leaders. This particular iteration of the rezoning plan includes height restrictions on buildings on 3rd Avenue, the Park Avenue Corridor and Lexington Avenue -- provisions not included in the original plan.

“Adding this ‘A-text’ alternative allows for consideration of additional options on shaping the future of East Harlem,” said the CPD spokesperson in an email. “Together with the certified application, the A-text enables deliberation on a wide array of options to protect neighborhood character, increase affordable housing and spur job-generating development in East Harlem. We hope that this provides an environment for a more robust public discussion on the development of the final rezoning plan.”

The East New York rezoning, passed in 2016 and seen as a model for others to follow, like East Harlem, includes infrastructure investment, a new school, and a career center to help those seeking jobs, along with the central goal of paving the way towards creating more housing units.   

The rezoning has also become a key issue in the race for Mark-Viverito’s seat. If the proposal is not enacted this year, the issue will be passed along to the next Council member to represent the district.

Two leading District 8 candidates -- State Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez and Diana Ayala, the speaker’s former Constituent Services Director and Deputy Chief of Staff -- also oppose the administration’s plan.

Rodriguez and Ayala, both Democrats, feel the city did not adequately adhere to the community’s input, which Rodriguez insisted was a difficult and crucial component to the process.

“I remember how long those meetings go and how hard it is to get consensus on these things and in this case they spoke very clearly,” Rodriguez said at an August 8 candidate forum in an East Harlem community center. “They’re against it and they provided some reasonable conditions. So I stand with the community board against the plan.”

Rodriguez was not convinced the plan would have much benefit for lower and middle-income residents, a very large combined chunk of the neighborhood, which has seen early waves of gentrification. “[I]t’s an aspirational goal that you’ll be able to get some affordability out of the percentage that is affordable in the new developments,” he said. “So what we’re saying is that we hope that the developers take this incentive after we’ve created wealth for them and then go through the lottery process and hope that our residents get in there? Where’s the mom and pop stores?” Rodriguez wondered.

He voiced concern about what new developments would do to help low-income residents, such as those who earn less than 30 percent of AMI. “What’s in it for them? Nothing!” Rodriguez said. “What is the benefit for residents of East Harlem?” he continued. “Are we just going to hope that we’re going to be able to get affordability?”

Ayala, who has been endorsed by Mark-Viverito, explained her opposition to the city’s plan at a candidate forum. “I think the city’s proposal is very upscale,” she said. “I would like to see deeper affordability as part of the plan. I would like to see more long-term affordability than in the current plan,” she said. “I want to see smaller buildings, I’m not a fan of huge towers,” Ayala said, voicing similar criticism when the topic again came up at the August 8 forum.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Ayala said many residents in her community are unhappy with the plan. “Well, they fear that they’re going to be pushed out,” she said. “And they fear that, y’know, we’re going to have all these luxury, tall buildings that are going to change the character of the community and the culture is going to evaporate, [and the neighborhood is] not going to be Harlem anymore,” Ayala said. “I can sympathize because I live in the community, too, and that’s the last thing I want to see.”

With reporting by Felipe De La Hoz

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Crucial Weeks Ahead for Potential Rezoning of East Harlem Tue, 15 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
With Clock Ticking, East New York Negotiations to Heat Up http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6262:with-clock-ticking-east-new-york-negotiations-to-heat-up http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6262:with-clock-ticking-east-new-york-negotiations-to-heat-up espinal east new york hearing

City Council Member Espinal (photo: William Alatriste) 


With only two weeks left for the City Council to vote on the proposed rezoning of East New York, all eyes are on City Council Member Rafael Espinal, who is leading negotiations with the de Blasio administration and whose approval of a revised plan will determine its fate. Espinal has promised significant improvements to the plan put forward by the city and community organizers and advocates are calling on him to reject the rezoning if it does not deliver what they see as adequate affordable housing, local hiring, and other provisions.

Meanwhile, Espinal's colleagues and many others are looking to him as the East New York negotiations with the de Blasio administration will set the precedent for rezonings across the five boroughs.

The city's proposal to rezone East New York was passed almost unanimously by the City Planning Commission on February 24, giving the City Council the next fifty days to vote on it as part of the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The neighborhood is the first of 15 the city plans to rezone as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's ambitious plan to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing. The plan aims to change land use rules and implement community improvements in order to make East New York more desirable and liveable, while fostering development that will include thousands of new units of housing, many of them with rent regulations.

Negotiations so far have been slow going, leading to a series of news reports this past week indicating that Espinal and others on the City Council side of the bargaining table are frustrated with the de Blasio administration. The parties are set to hold another meeting on Monday afternoon at City Hall, which participants hope will yield progress.

"There's a lot of frustration because we've proposed changes to the plan and we've been waiting for [the administration] to come back to us," said Espinal, whose district covers a vast swathe of the area in the plan - the City Council traditionally defers to the local Council member to approve or disapprove land use deals.

Espinal has made his priorities clear: "serious anti-displacement measures, a strong jobs plan and truly affordable housing." While he insists there has been no push back from the administration against his demands, the lack of movement seems to be testing his patience.

"The clock is ticking," he said. "We've been working on this for over a year. It's time to talk turkey." Espinal did say that one cause for delay was that both the administration and Council had been preoccupied until last week with the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposals, two citywide zoning amendments that lay the groundwork for the neighborhood rezonings that are set to go from East New York to Flushing, corridors in the Bronx and on Staten Island, East Harlem, and beyond.

The de Blasio administration has reiterated its commitment to the process. "The city is currently having very productive conversations with Council Member Espinal on the East New York rezoning plan," said Austin Finan, a spokesperson for the mayor, in a statement. "Since the beginning of the East New York planning process, we have been and remain committed to ensuring that the final proposal to be voted on by the City Council meets the affordable housing and community infrastructure needs of East New York residents."

Espinal will meet with city officials on Monday to hammer out the details of the East New York plan. On the Council side of the table, he'll be joined by Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, and Council Member David Greenfield, chair of the land use committee. Also expected to participate are the Council's land use director, Raju Mann, and the chief of staff to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Ramon Martinez.

According to a source with knowledge of the discussions around the rezoning, key sticking points include not only ensuring deeper levels of affordability in new housing, but also extending affordability for about 1,000 current residents whose rent-regulated apartments are nearing expiration of their terms; details of the city's commitment to a Workforce1 job training center; and progress around adding school seats and day-care slots - two areas of need in the administration's final environmental impact assessment of the rezoning plan.

"We have an opportunity to show that we are attacking inequality head on in East New York and the administration needs to take this issue seriously as we negotiate the first rezoning under MIH and ZQA," said Council Member Richards in a statement. "The lack of progress thus far on these negotiations is deeply concerning and we need to see legitimate movement soon to ensure that the needs of the community and Council Member Espinal are met."

All the stakeholders -- Espinal, his colleagues, community leaders, housing advocates, de Blasio administration officials, real estate developers, and others -- recognize that these rezoning negotiations will set the tone for the next fourteen and determine the future of housing and development in the city for decades to come.

"What I'm doing in East New York is the reason I ran for office," Espinal said. "It's an opportunity to create the strongest affordable housing plan in the city and set a precedent for how the rest of the city approaches rezoning." He has received strong support from his colleagues who, he said, "feel that whatever deal I'm able to reach with the administration, they can work off of when their neighborhoods are up for rezoning."

Council Member Peter Koo from Queens is likely to be next in the hot-seat as the Flushing West rezoning proposal moves through the ULURP process.

"We're certainly watching what happens in East New York closely," Koo said in an email, "but the Flushing West rezoning proposal is significantly different. Our rezoning area is on the waterfront which limits depth, and the LaGuardia flight path limits height. Flushing also has serious infrastructure needs that a large-scale rezoning of this nature would need to address. So we're watching East New York to see how the city responds to the community because Flushing also has a long list of needs."

Housing advocates also recognize the immense pressure that Espinal is facing, although different groups have taken varied approaches to respond.

"The guy's in a difficult spot," said Jonathan Furlong, zoning technical assistance coordinator, Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. "What he decides in East New York has vast and far reaching implications for the Bronx, East Harlem, Flushing, Upper Manhattan."

ANHD has provided technical assistance to the Coalition for Community Advancement, a collaborative effort by housing advocates to address issues of rezoning across the city, communicating with administration officials, elected representatives, and residents. Members have met with Espinal numerous times to air their concerns and will also be meeting with Council Speaker Mark-Viverito.

The CCA has called for a scaling back of the East New York plan and has proposed its own alternative community plan. Besides more affordability for current residents, they want manufacturing sites removed from the plan to protect manufacturing jobs, a $15-million small homes preservation fund, the preservation of the Arlington Village development as affordable housing, and mechanisms to set aside space for community facilities.

On Sunday, the coalition held a rally outside City Hall to tell the Council to vote against the rezoning plan unless these proposals are embraced. The group said Sunday night that about 120 people rallied, including community members, State Senator Martin Dilan and Assembly Member Latrice Walker.

Furlong commended Espinal for being firm with the administration, but faulted him for not being more vocal on specific proposals. "It's tough to get a read on him," he said of the Council member.

New York Communities for Change, a grassroots advocacy group, has been more critical. NYCC released a report titled "Educating Espinal: How to Deepen Affordability for Thousands of Apartments in East New York and Protect Low-Income Residents" in which they directly called on Espinal to fight for more affordability in the plan.

"The Council member has not yet come out in support of a growing cry in the community for deeper affordability for low-income families," said Jonathan Westin, NYCC executive director. The group, which claims about 1,000 members, has two demands: 50 percent of units in new developments affordable for families making about 40 percent of the $77,000 annual area median income (AMI), and union jobs for workers in any new construction along upzoned areas. AMI is a federally-calculated number for all of New York City and surrounding counties. The area median income in East New York is significantly lower - about $35,000 per year for a family of four, about the same as 40% of AMI.

"We're pushing that if that's not part of the plan, he should vote "no,"" said Westin. "He should not vote against the interests of his constituents."

Asked recently about the East New York rezoning and the pushback it has received, Mayor de Blasio said that development and gentrification are taking place all over the city and that the city must take action to harness it. On WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show, the mayor said on March 18 that "the worst thing in the world is to do nothing about" gentrification. "And bluntly," he said, "that was the broad approach of the previous administration and I point to neighborhoods like Bushwick and Bed-Stuy as classic examples where there was no rezoning" to offer developers more in exchange for community benefits.

Saying that there needs to be "a coherent governmental response" to gentrification and displacement, de Blasio said that "rezonings are absolutely necessary to create that affordability...if we don't do it, you'll see displacement with no countervailing action by the government." The mayor indicated that the East New York plan will include many affordable units for both lower- and middle-income residents.

It is negotiations on the plan that will yield the full details of what that government response is, in East New York and elsewhere.

On Thursday, New York Communities for Change led a rally in East New York, blocking traffic along Atlantic Avenue to draw attention to their demands. "Along Atlantic Avenue is where lots of developers have bought property and stand to make a windfall of profits from the rezoning," said Westin. "We need to ensure that with the increase in density that they get from the rezoning, there are deep affordability standards and real job standards for workers building these buildings."

Espinal was blunt about NYCC's efforts. "I don't need any educating," he said of their report. "I was born and raised there. I know exactly the struggles my constituents are going through."

Insisting that he prefers a "pragmatic approach," Espinal said he wants a holistic plan that covers all constituents and their needs, and that the administration has been receptive.

"To be fair, they've been listening," Espinal said. "But the time to listen is over. It's time to take action."

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated with details of the Sunday rally.

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With Clock Ticking, East New York Negotiations to Heat Up Mon, 04 Apr 2016 00:52:30 +0000
Sides Near Deal on Major Zoning Changes Aimed at Creating Affordable Housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6222:sides-near-a-deal-on-major-zoning-changes-aimed-at-creating-affordable-housing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6222:sides-near-a-deal-on-major-zoning-changes-aimed-at-creating-affordable-housing de blasio rally

De Blasio rallies for his housing plans (photo: Demetrius Freeman, Mayor's Office)


After months of public discussion and weeks of private negotiation, the City Council is on the verge of passing, with tweaks, two sweeping changes to the city's land use rules that are key to Mayor Bill de Blasio's housing plan.

Sources familiar with negotiations say that some details are still being worked through, but that the major tenets of the controversial changes to city zoning text are all but set. A deal may be announced as early as Monday afternoon.

With several alterations to the original proposals by the de Blasio administration, the Council is likely to vote Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) through committee this week. Then, the City Planning Commission will be asked to sign off on the changes to the plans that it passed earlier this year, stamping them as "within scope" and sending them back to the Council for a full vote on March 22.

Council votes in the zoning subcommittee and land use committee are likely to take place on Wednesday, though they could be moved if deemed necessary. But, indications are that discussions between de Blasio administration and City Council representatives are close to finalized. In news that signaled the end of what has at times been a contentious process, the de Blasio administration announced on Sunday that the coalition making the most noise in opposition to the structure of the plans had come around in support given new developments.

Most importantly, de Blasio will see his Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program enacted; the plan requires that real estate developers who receive an upzoning on a plot of land in order to build more housing than otherwise allowed will have to include a set percentage of units under specific rent thresholds. Negotiating parties are making slight but important changes to the structure of affordability levels within MIH, including set-asides for lower income earners than the plan had previously included.

With a series of recent endorsements and now the backing of Real Affordability for All (RAFA), a collection of community groups and construction unions, along with prior support from a variety of advocacy groups and other unions, de Blasio is set for a big-tent win. The City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Council members will also tout the new land use policies as major progress for the city, especially those in danger of being priced out of an increasingly expensive New York. Council negotiations with the de Blasio administration have centered on affordability levels, with the Council apparently able to move the needle in slight, but significant ways.

The two zoning changes are part of the administration's larger housing plan, which aims to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over ten years. Forty-thousand were secured during de Blasio's first two years in office.

"We're on the verge of implementing the strongest, most progressive requirement for affordable housing of any city in the country," said de Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell in a Sunday statement announcing the backing of RAFA. "We welcome this support, and look forward to working with communities across the city to identify even more tools to reach New Yorkers with quality jobs and affordable housing."

The backing from RAFA, which is spearheaded by New York Communities for Change, an organization at one point led by a longtime friend of de Blasio, Jon Kest, who passed away in 2012, comes after concessions by the administration. Not only has RAFA seen encouraging movement on affordability levels within MIH, but the administration also promised to conduct a study of tools it can use to deepen affordability and ensure "job standards in new housing." The coalition, especially its labor component, has been calling for both local hiring and construction safety precautions to be included in the plans.

The affordability levels within MIH have been the source of perhaps the most debate as the zoning amendments have gone through the public review process. Along with Mark-Viverito and Council staff, Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the Council's zoning subcommittee, has been key in the negotiations. Council Member Jumaane Williams, chair of the housing committee, has been said to be the loudest voice pushing for deeper levels of affordability. It appears that in the final MIH structure, shifts will have been made to ensure some apartments for lower income earners and broader economic diversity within new developments.

Income levels are based on Area Median Income, currently $77,688 for a family of three. AMI is a federal measure that for New York City also includes data from surrounding suburban counties. Average incomes in the city are significantly lower, especially in neighborhoods the de Blasio administration is targeting for added housing density and community improvements. "Affordable" means that a family would not be spending more than 30 percent of its income on rent.

Throughout the public review process, fears of gentrification have been at the forefront. De Blasio, his representatives, and his allies argue that without a new program from the city, gentrification will continue largely unabated as it has in many communities over the past two decades. Some advocates and politicians have been calling for a mandatory inclusionary housing program for many years. As de Blasio moved forward with his plan, the big question became the exact numbers.

As proposed, the administration included three options for builders creating new housing on land rezoned under MIH:
> 25 percent of new units affordable to tenants making an average of 60 percent AMI
> 30 percent of units affordable to tenants making an average of 80 percent AMI
> 30 percent of units affordable to tenants making an average of 120 percent AMI - this third option would not come with added city subsidies; would not be available in most of Manhattan in an effort to create more economic diversity; and is often known as "the workforce" option, meaning that it is targeted more at middle-class households.

Negotiations appear to be yielding a couple of changes to that structure. One change is that instead of simply requiring rents for the affordable units to average 60 or 80 or 120 percent of AMI, there would be clear set-asides for some percentage of units to be affordable for those earning down to 30 percent of AMI. Another change would add a fourth option that gets at deeper affordability, possibly accompanied by a smaller percentage of affordable units, again in an effort to make some new apartments available to tenants with lower incomes. Two sources close to negotiations confirmed the outline of these changes to Gotham Gazette.

City Council members indicated they were looking for these types of tweaks during a February hearing on MIH, as did Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the zoning subcommittee and one of the Council's lead negotiators on the subject, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. Details of the changes as part of negotiations were first reported by Politico New York earlier this month.

Mark-Viverito, the Council speaker, has, like many of her members, been a supporter of the plans from the start, but also interested in making changes, especially to affordability thresholds. Council Member Williams said he knows Mark-Viverito and Council Member Richards have been negotiating those numbers.

"The speaker and Donovan Richards are in there trying to push what many of us are asking for," Williams said in an interview on Friday. "All of New York has to see itself in this plan. If it doesn't, we haven't achieved what we need to achieve."

Williams referenced the push for a fourth option under MIH and the carving out of a certain percentage of units for those making the most modest incomes. "We want to make sure that there aren't parts of this city that are built with no deeply affordable units," he said. "There shouldn't be a project where some of the units aren't of the deepest affordability - 30 percent or below of AMI must be considered."

Meanwhile, it is still unclear if there will be modifications around other key points of contention, such as the building of affordable units "off site," as in at a different location than new market-rate units. Council members have expressed interest in disincentivizing the practice within the MIH language, perhaps by including language requiring more affordable units if they are built away from the market-rate units.

As for ZQA, which deals with a wide variety of more specific zoning rules, the parties appear to be coming to compromises around modifications to parking requirements that come with senior affordable housing and the distances in so-called transit zones. Details of the ZQA deal are said to be among those still being discussed as City Council members often have neighborhood-level concerns, especially around building heights, parking, senior housing, and retail space.

Much of the discussion around ZQA has related to the ways in which it will help create more affordable housing for seniors. AARP and other advocacy groups have backed the plan, with AARP-NY dedicating significant resources in support, rallying with the mayor, and lobbying Council members.

A spokesperson for Council Member Richards told Gotham Gazette that negotiations have yielded a deal on the minimum size of new affordable housing units for seniors, one point of contention in early negotiations. The de Blasio plan had put the minimum at 275 square feet, which Richards and others called too small, pushing for 400. The sides have agreed on 325 square feet.

The sides are said to be negotiating specific numbers around the number of parking spots that must accompany new senior housing and which areas of the city would still require special permits to build nursing homes, among other finer points. Politico New York has reported on already-decided changes to ZQA.

When a deal on MIH and ZQA is finalized, de Blasio and City Council members are likely to celebrate, these types of changes to city zoning rules do not happen often, and the mandate for affordable housing in any upzoned development is indeed a major win.

How prior critics of the plans, including many local community boards who voted against their initial construction, will react is unclear. While some have seen and will continue to see merit in the plans, fears of new real estate development, added density, and rising rents are very real and unlikely to abate. The de Blasio administration is also moving forward with a series of neighborhood rezonings, starting with East New York, Brooklyn, but soon moving to communities in each borough.

De Blasio is staking his legacy largely on his attempts to make the city more affordable and his housing policies will be a key piece of his 2017 reelection bid.

In endorsing the mayor's plans, the New York Times editorial board recently captured the moment, writing, "This grand plan is a hugely important gamble that the city can build its way to greater housing equality, that it can ignite growth, improve neighborhoods, tame gentrification and protect tenants, all at once. That New York can still be a mixed-income city."

Passing MIH and ZQA doesn't provide the result to that gamble, it pushes more chips on the table.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Sides Near Deal on Major Zoning Changes Aimed at Creating Affordable Housing Mon, 14 Mar 2016 14:41:40 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 14 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6220:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-14 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6220:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-14 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has reason to smile as this week begins. Through negotiations with the City Council and outside critics, de Blasio appears to have gotten just about everyone on board with his citywide zoning changes and they are all-but-certain to be passed through the City Council over the next two weeks - first through committee this week, then the full Council on March 22. The City Planning Commission has to sign off on the tweaks in between. And there are tweaks, but the plans - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) - will pass in forms close to what the city originally proposed. The two zoning amendments are major pieces of de Blasio's housing plan, which aims for 200,000 units of affordable housing to be built or preserved over ten years.

De Blasio spent part of Sunday speaking at South Bronx and Harlem churches to sell his housing plans. The most significant concerns about the mayor's zoning proposals have come from communities of color worried that the affordability levels of MIH are not deep enough. It appears that some of the tweaks being made to the plan will address these concerns. The de Blasio administration also continues to point to other elements of its housing plan aimed at creating affordable housing for the city's lowest income earners.

The mayor will celebrate movement on his housing plans this week and he'll also hold a town hall on the subject in Brooklyn Monday night, hosted by City Council Member Mathieu Eugene. De Blasio will also travel to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, responding to proposed federal cuts to anti-terrorism efforts - see below for details. And on Wednesday, de Blasio will speak at the New York City premiere of a new film promoting gun control - details also below.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also spent part of Sunday at two churches, both in Brooklyn, where she discussed her criminal justice reform efforts.
[Read: City Council Bail Fund Moves Through State Process]

Meanwhile, budget business continues this week, with the fiscal year 2017 state budget due by the end of the month. The Assembly and Senate are moving toward passage of their one-house budgets, which will lead to intensified negotiations among Gov. Cuomo and the two majority leaders - Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate President John Flanagan, a Republican. There are a variety of discrepancies around funding levels and policy priorities. It's unclear if anything will be done in the budget on government ethics reform. Not a necessity to passing a spending plan and with significant pushback from Republicans to what Cuomo and Heastie have proposed, ethics could easily be bumped to further negotiations in the legislative session to follow the budget.

City Council preliminary budget hearings on the mayor's $82 billion plan also continue this week. Catch up on our coverage of budget hearings thus far:
-At First City Council Budget Hearing, Concerns About City Savings and State Cuts
-Government Investigator Explains 43% Budget Bump
-Underfunded Conflicts of Interest Board Struggles to Meet Mandates

Before Gov. Cuomo gets back to budget business in Albany this week, on Sunday Cuomo made his first visit to Hoosick Falls since the town's water contamination crisis broke. Cuomo insisted that the state was not slow to act, pointed the finger at federal regulators and the media, and assured all that the state response is on the right track.

And this week: "Comptroller Stringer will be in Israel along with a delegation of Latino leaders from New York City for a trip organized in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. He will arrive in Israel on Sunday evening and will depart on Thursday evening, arriving back in New York City on Friday, March 18."

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Monday in Albany.

At 7:15 a.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will appear on CNN to discuss the presidential race. At 1:30 p.m. Monday, de Blasio will be in upper Manhattan to "host a press conference to discuss the preservation of affordable housing." At 4 p.m. de Blasio will hold a bill-signing ceremony at City Hall. At 7 p.m., de Blasio and City Council Member Mathieu Eugene "will host a town hall meeting with Brooklyn residents to discuss affordable housing" at P.S. 6.

At the City Council on Monday: At 10 a.m., the Committee on Governmental Operations will hold its preliminary budget hearing.

At 10 a.m. Monday at Newtown High School in Queens, “New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Department of Education, Congresswoman Grace Meng and Education Chair Daniel Dromm announce groundbreaking pilot program that will position New York City at the forefront of a national dialogue on access to feminine hygiene products by providing free pads and tampons in select Queens and Bronx public schools restrooms, supporting better educational outcomes and bringing dignity to girls.” Feminine hygiene product dispensers will be placed in 25 public middle schools and high schools.
[Read more: City Council Members Move to Improve Tampon Access]

At noon on Monday in Albany, “as budget bills advance in both the Senate and Assembly during Sunshine Week, good government and reform groups react to proposed ethics legislation.” Participating groups include Brennan Center, Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, League of Women Voters of NYS, NY Public Interest Research Group, and Reinvent Albany.
[Read: Heastie Outlines Assembly Ethics Reform Plan]

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) will deliver a presentation to the Queens Borough Board, chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz, on two of its new economic growth initiatives: NYC Industrial Developer Fund and Futureworks NYC Growth Initiative. The initiatives aim to provide project financing for industrial real estate development projects in New York City and support the growth of promising companies by providing six early stage companies with $30,000 each over a two-year period, respectively.

On Monday evening in Brooklyn, City Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Jumaane Williams will host their annual "Shirley Chisolm Women of Distinction Celebration." Public Advocate Letitia James will deliver keynote remarks. 

Tuesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Tuesday in Albany.

On Tuesday in Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan, who represents Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, will chair a hearing on President Barack Obama’s proposed cuts to anti-terrorism funding. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has strongly criticized the cuts, is expected to testify.

At noon Tuesday, Greater New York City for Change and allies will rally in Albany to raise the minimum wage to $15.

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss granting special permits in regard to the enlargement of an existing property in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. The committee will also discuss amendments “concerning the use, bulk, and parking regulations in Brooklyn.”
  • At 9:30 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will meet for its preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to discuss previous amendments to property tax laws and a current urban development project in Manhattan.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Juvenile Justice the Committee on Women’s Issues will meet for their joint preliminary budget hearing.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Daniel Dromm will host a Celebration of Irish Heritage and Culture in Council Chambers at City Hall.

Wednesday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, New York Law School will host a breakfast panel covering the future of New York City real estate. The panel will feature experts from Blackstone, Cushman and Wakefield, Related Companies, and Downtown Alliance, and will be moderated by Gerald Korngold, New York Law School Professor and The Center for Real Estate Studies Program Chair.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the Council transportation committee, will lead the launch of  “Car Free NYC” at New York University’s Kimmel Center, which will lead to a “car-free” Earth Day in April.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the South Bronx Leadership Forum will hold a discussion with Vicki Been, Commissioner of New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committees on Small Business and Economic Development will meet for a joint preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Education will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1:30 p.m., the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, The Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) will host a public forum addressing how police reforms “preserve the racist status quo.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Carmen Fariña, New York City Schools Chancellor, “will discuss the changing state of public education” with Pace University President Stephen J. Friedman at the University’s Lower Manhattan campus.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, "Matthew Gordon Lasner and Nicholas Dagen Bloom, the co-authors of Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies that Transformed a City host a free, public panel discussion on the future of a livable New York City for the other 99%."

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, “Making a Killing: Guns, Greed, and the NRA,” from Brave New Films, will premiere in New York City. Mayor Bill de Blasio will deliver introductory remarks before the premiere.

Thursday
Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Thursday in Albany.

At 1 p.m. Thursday, The Rockefeller Institute of Government will host “Facing the Global Immigration and Refugee Crisis” in Albany. The forum will reflect on past conflict and violence that has led to mass immigration and feature Maher Nasser, director of the Outreach Division for the United Nations’ Department of Public Information; Jill Peckenpaugh, director of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants; and Sana Mustafa, Bard College Student and Syrian Refugee.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet on results of subcommittee meetings held recently and conduct other general business.
  • At noon, the Committees on Land Use and Technology will meet for a joint preliminary budget hearing.

Friday
Friday is the second annual Student Voter Registration Day in New York City, which aims to get newly eligible voters registered in time to vote in April’s New York State presidential primary.

At 8:15 a.m. Friday, Chair and CEO of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Shola Olatoye will be speaking at a CityLaw Breakfast at New York Law School.

At noon Friday, state Senator Jesse Hamilton, colleagues, and partners will hold a press conference at the Howard Houses Community Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn to announce the “first technology and wellness center at a public housing site in the United States.” The “CAMPUS” will serve as a resource center for technology, health, and career development. Hamilton will be joined by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Assembly Members Latrice Walk and Nick Perry, and other officials, residents, partners, and organizations.

At the City Council on Friday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Youth Services will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Health will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Leanna Carroll and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 14 Sun, 13 Mar 2016 06:00:00 +0000
Addressing NYC's School Overcrowding Crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6210:addressing-nycs-school-overcrowding-crisis http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6210:addressing-nycs-school-overcrowding-crisis img2424

Protesting school overcrowding in Queens


All parents in New York City deserve the peace of mind that their children will be able to attend a school where they can thrive and grow. Unfortunately, following years of neglect from the Bloomberg administration, our city's school system is plagued by school overcrowding and excessive class sizes, where hundreds of thousands of our children simply don't have adequate space to learn.

With education a top priority for the city, it's critical that our leaders take strong action to address the chronic underfunding of our city's school infrastructure. Key to addressing this issue is investing sufficient capital resources in the city budget, as well as improving the current school planning process, which is broken.

Recently, we've had some good news. When the city Department of Education (DOE) released its school capital plan, it included a commitment from Mayor de Blasio to invest nearly $900 million in additional resources to build more school seats. In the same plan, the DOE raised its needs assessment to 83,000 additional seats, given enrollment projections and existing overcrowding. This is closer to the 100,000-seat figure that Class Size Matters estimated in its recent report, "Space Crunch." Together, these two adjustments are a welcome acknowledgement of the crisis in school overcrowding, and we applaud them.

But more should be done. The number of new seats in the capital plan is 49,000—only about 59 percent of the DOE's own admitted need—and New York City's population is growing faster than any other large city in the nation. The mayor is now urging the City Council to adopt rezoning plans to accelerate the construction of thousands of new affordable and market-rate housing units, which will increase pressure on our school system. At this critical moment, the city has a real opportunity to address housing and education together.

Right now, more than half a million students are crammed into over-utilized schools, according to DOE data. In many cases, this means excessive class sizes of 30 or more, a loss of art, music, or science rooms, and a lack of dedicated spaces for students to receive counseling or mandated special education services – no less the wraparound services inherent in the community school model.

According to the analysis in a recent report by Make the Road New York—"Where's My Seat?"—immigrant communities have especially egregious overcrowding problems and even greater unmet needs in the DOE capital plan. In many of the schools in these neighborhoods, children are forced to eat their lunch as early as 10 a.m. or are bused to schools far away from their homes. Many do not have adequate opportunity for physical education because there is not enough space in their gyms.

We need to build, lease, and expand more schools. At least the 83,000 seats that the DOE projects are necessary. In addition, the process of school planning and siting must be made more efficient. There are many communities, like Sunset Park, which have suffered from extreme overcrowding for a decade or more, even though funding to build more schools in the neighborhood has existed in the capital plan, because the School Construction Agency has not been able to site a single one.

According to the DOE, only 15 percent of the school seats needed by 2019 have sites identified and are in the process of being designed. In seven districts, that percentage is zero. The city will fall even further behind in creating seats if the mayor's rezoning proposals are adopted, unless much more is done to build and site schools. A recent Environmental Impact Statement for the East New York rezoning proposal found it would exacerbate school overcrowding, and, along with other changes, drive high school overcrowding in the borough to 109 percent of capacity. Yet the DOE capital plan does not include a single Brooklyn high school to be built.

That is why we are urging the City Council, along with the mayor, to create a commission or task force of experts and stakeholder groups, to propose reforms to the school planning process, so that schools must be built along with housing, instead of decades afterwards. Among the issues to be considered would be reforms to the zoning process, including whether the threshold to consider the need for a new school should be lowered – especially when the schools are already overcrowded; whether the formula used by City Planning to estimate the impact of new housing on schools needs to be updated; whether the city should require impact fees from developers and/or use eminent domain more frequently; and how the trends in lost seats, utilization rates, and enrollment could be made more transparent and more accurate through regular reporting by the DOE.

As Mayor de Blasio repeated in his recent State of the City speech, the goal across our city must be to ensure that neighborhoods thrive. There cannot be successful neighborhoods unless there are schools with enough space for the children in every community across the city to learn and prosper. It's time to invest all the necessary resources and improve the school planning process to ensure the bright future that all of our children deserve.

***
Leonie Haimson is the Executive Director of Class Size Matters. Javier H. Valdés is the Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. On Twitter: @leoniehaimson @javierhvaldes.

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Addressing NYC's School Overcrowding Crisis Mon, 07 Mar 2016 19:27:28 +0000
De Blasio Pushed to Include Local Jobs in Neighborhood Rezonings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6151:de-blasio-pushed-to-include-local-jobs-in-neighborhood-rezonings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6151:de-blasio-pushed-to-include-local-jobs-in-neighborhood-rezonings bdb parents brooklyn

Mayor de Blasio talks with parents (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office) 


Community advocates are making it clear that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans to rezone neighborhoods are not acceptable unless they include broader economic development initiatives like local hiring.

As part of his ambitious affordable housing plan, de Blasio has announced several communities the city plans to rezone first in an effort to create more density, build affordable units, and improve neighborhoods. When the mayor initially announced the start of the rezoning process, the blowback was severe. In East New York, which is slated to be the first area rezoned among 15 neighborhoods across the city, residents cried foul that the process involved limited community input, failed to consider local needs, and could lead to wide-scale displacement.

Last week, the city capitulated to a degree. At a hearing of the City Planning Commission, the administration announced that it would make additional investments in job creation to allay residents’ concerns. The investment includes a Workforce1 career center to connect residents to jobs and education and provide assistance to local businesses, as well as $1.5 million to renovate the East New York Industrial Building and attract businesses.  

“I feel like it’s too little, too late,” said Bill Wilkins, director of economic development, Local Development Corporation of East New York. Wilkins said the city is moving in the right direction but needs to keep local groups such as the LDCENY in the loop. “There’s been a degree of dialogue with respective agencies. There just needs to be more.”

Stressing the need for a collaborative approach to rezoning, he said the need to create affordable housing has to also be matched by economic synergy. “We have an opportunity to create a local micro stimulus plan if done correctly,” he said, conceding that the city planning department’s plan for economic development in East New York was well-intentioned but in need of “fine tuning.”

“I think they’re in the room,” WIlkins said of the administration, “and they’re close to getting on the dance floor.”

Residents and groups all over the city are concerned that new residential development and other aspects of neighborhood improvement will lead to rapid gentrification and displacement of current residents. Good employment opportunities for those locals can help avoid such pitfalls.

Other communities identified for rezoning are making similar appeals around jobs, and the East New York announcement has marginally buoyed their hopes.

“Well, again, wherever we are looking at rezoning, my view is, I think, different than some of my predecessors,” Mayor de Blasio said at a recent unrelated press conference when Gotham Gazette asked about including similar measures elsewhere. “I see the rezoning as a chance to right some wrongs and to make up for some things that were not done properly in the past,” the mayor added. “A lot of communities did not have the kind of job creation they deserve. We haven’t had enough of a five borough economy. That is changing in the last two years.”

In the Bronx, community advocates insist that the city must guarantee job training and placement for local residents, especially around the new construction that comes with rezoning.

Susanna Blankley, director of Community Action for Safe Apartments, is a member of the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision, which created a community plan to present to the city. She said, “We want to see a comprehensive plan that will lead to long-term careers, protections from displacement, and provisions to get high-end jobs as opposed to creating more minimum-wage jobs.”

One of the coalition’s demands is that construction jobs should go to union workers, which provide them greater opportunities for promotions.

The Bronx does have the benefit of time. The city is still struggling through negotiations over East New York. The City Planning Commission has only just passed two zoning amendments -- Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) -- which apply to the entire city and have been sent to the City Council for its approval. MIH and ZQA are intended to set a new baseline of land use rules that neighborhood by neighborhood rezonings built on.

“The city still has time to learn and adapt,” Blankley said. It will be months before the Bronx rezoning is on the table. “[The city] should correct their course and learn from the mistakes made in East New York,” she added.

In East Harlem, employment was also one of the significant priorities among dozens of objectives that were voted on at a community forum last week at El Museo del Barrio. The East Harlem Neighborhood Plan was formulated over a ten-month process involving community organizations; the City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents the area as its local Council member; multiple community workshops; and input from more than a thousand residents. At the forum, many residents voiced their concerns about being left behind or pushed out. Union representatives insisted that any construction jobs must go to union workers.

David Nocenti, executive director of Union Settlement, was the chair of the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan subgroup on economic development, small business and workforce development issues. He declined to comment since the final plan has not yet been released.

De Blasio said that his administration, led by the Economic Development Corporation,  has “done a great job really trying to create a neighborhood-based economy in a five borough economy. But one of the things we can do through a rezoning process is maximize the creation of local jobs and maximize the ability of local residents to get them. So, that’s something we’re going to focus on intensely as we do rezonings.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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De Blasio Pushed to Include Local Jobs in Neighborhood Rezonings Sun, 07 Feb 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6143:planning-commission-sends-mayors-zoning-proposals-to-city-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6143:planning-commission-sends-mayors-zoning-proposals-to-city-council BdB Weisbrod

Mayor de Blasio & Planning Chair Carl Weisbrod (photo: The Mayor's Office) 


As expected, the City Planning Commission passed two major components of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan on Wednesday morning, sending the amendments on to City Council for public hearings on Feb. 9 and 10.

Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) each passed with nine commissioners in favor, three opposed, and one abstaining. The plans, which need City Council approval, aim to change the city’s land use rules in order to spur more real estate development, but in a way that encourages new affordable housing units and improved neighborhoods.

The Commission addressed a standing room-only meeting hall and overflow annex packed with a large turnout of members from both the Hotel Trades Council and New York chapter of the AARP. Each group publicly endorsed Mayor de Blasio’s housing plan in December, citing positive implications for hotel workers and seniors, respectively.

Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod, who is appointed by the Mayor, roundly praised the amendments before the MIH vote, saying that the changes would “bring affordable housing to neighborhoods where it otherwise wouldn’t be built.”

Responding to oft-repeated criticism that the plans are too broad-strokes for community improvement, Weisbrod emphasized that the plan was not intended as a “one-size-fits-all” approach. He reminded attendees that the two amendments were meant to create a “floor, not a ceiling” for housing affordability in New York, pointing to subsidies from Housing Preservation and Development and other funding programs that would round out the mayor’s 10-year plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing.

Other Commission members weren’t as optimistic. Commissioner Rayann Besser, appointed by Staten Island Borough President, and Commissioner Orlando Marin from the Bronx both voted against the MIH amendment with no comment, while Queens-based Commissioner Irwin Cantor voted against after asking that changes be made during City Council review.

Commissioner Michelle de la Uz, appointed to the Planning Commission by then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and reappointed by now-Public Advocate Letitia James, insisted that MIH “doesn’t do enough to guarantee that the lowest-income families can obtain housing.” De la Uz abstained.

De la Uz’s critique of MIH, which requires affordable housing as part of new developments obtaining a rezoning, is a frequent one cited by critics of the plan. As Weisbrod did, supporters of MIH say that the city has other tools to create affordable housing for those at the lowest ends of the income spectrum.

The MIH amendment passed City Planning with a few changes, including improvements to the Board of Standards and Appeals special permits provisions of the program meant to enhance the city’s Housing and Preservation Department’s role in reviewing hardship applications from developers, and some textual clarifications.

The ZQA vote proceeded in much the same fashion, preceded by Commissioner Weisbrod’s statement that the ZQA amendment is a “modest but essential update” to current regulations that will allow for easier construction of more affordable and transit-accessible housing for low-income residents and seniors, as well as encourage more progressive urban design and ground-floor use of residential buildings.

Commissioner Besser again voted no, citing Staten Island Borough President James Oddo’s concern about “too many unanswered questions” regarding the effects ZQA would have on neighborhood character. Commissioner Marin also voted no, without comment. Commissioner Cantor praised the “tireless” efforts of City Planning before voting against. Commissioner de la Uz again abstained from the vote.

ZQA passed with changes requiring a CPC special permit for long-term care facilities in low-density residential districts, and specification around ground-floor usage for those facilities.

City Planning moved the two zoning text amendments through to the City Council despite the fact that they had received near-universal disapproval from local community boards, which had reviewed the proposals previously.

The Council will hold public hearings scheduled for Feb. 9 (MIH) and 10 (ZQA), at which the Council’s zoning subcommittee, chaired by Council Member Donovan Richards, will hear testimony from city government representatives, housing organizations, residents, and others. After that, the City Council will deliberate and may approve, modify, or disapprove the amendments. It is all but certain that the Council will seek modifications to the plans, especially ZQA.

According to city land use modification rules, any changes to MIH and ZQA must be “within scope” of what is passed by the CPC and approved as such by the CPC. The City Council’s website defines changes “within scope” as alterations that “must be on the same topic and within the boundaries of what has been studied in the Environmental Impact Statement.”

Responding to discussion on Twitter of the City Council’s power to modify the amendments, Council Member David Greenfield, who chairs the land use committee wrote, “Suffice to say we can make significant changes on our own.”

Whatever versions of MIH and ZQA are produced by the Council will be voted on by the subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, followed by the Committee on Land Use, and finally by the entire City Council.

While Wednesday’s Planning Commission majority vote lends a certain momentum to the changes being sought by Mayor de Blasio, advocacy groups continue to push back against both MIH and ZQA.

Community groups say that MIH does not address deeper affordability for New York’s lowest-income residents. New York Communities for Change issued a statement after the Planning Commission meeting, criticizing the commission’s decision. “Today the City Planning Commission sided with some of New York’s wealthiest developers to sell out our neighborhoods for a meager percentage of ‘affordable' units,” it reads. The statement specifically mentioned fast-food and homecare workers as being “left out of the city’s housing plans for decades.”

A cadre of preservation groups also spoke out vehemently against the CPC decision. Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said in a statement, “By far the majority of our city’s communities and residents have spoken out against this plan. We call on the City Council to listen to the people and communities that elected them and to ensure this wrongheaded plan is stopped. Berman’s criticism was echoed in a press release by representatives from the Historic Districts Council, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Landmark West, and Friends of the Upper East Side Historic District.

Despite the pushback, Mayor de Blasio has expressed confidence that MIH and ZQA will be looked upon favorably by City Council members. The City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, has indicated her support for the proposals, though she has said she expects changes to be made before the Council votes them through - something repeated by several members, including Greenfield and Richards.

Discussing his plans recently in Albany, de Blasio said, “[W]hat we found in the previous approach was that there were not particularly stringent demands put on developers in terms of affordable housing and some of the plans that were agreed to with communities were not honored, so that has bred a lot of cynicism.” But, de Blasio added, “I have a very different approach."

***
by Maggie Calmes, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Planning Commission Sends Mayor's Zoning Proposals to City Council Wed, 03 Feb 2016 23:14:46 +0000
Planning Commission Vote Will Send Zoning Proposals to City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6137:city-planning-vote-will-send-zoning-proposals-to-city-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6137:city-planning-vote-will-send-zoning-proposals-to-city-council greenfield city hall

Council Member Greenfield leads a press conference (photo: William Alatriste) 


The next ten days are an especially critical period for Mayor Bill de Blasio's housing plan. While negotiations around a new state-level program to incentivize affordable housing production continue and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has promised to soon flesh out general affordable housing plans he announced during his recent State of the State speech, city-level changes being sought by de Blasio are on the move.

On Wednesday morning, the City Planning Commission is expected to vote through two major changes to the city's zoning codes being proposed by de Blasio. These adjustments to city rules for how land can be used are meant to set the stage for what the administration says will be more responsible development than the city has seen in the past, increasing density in neighborhoods across the city through the creation of tens of thousands of units of housing - including market-rate and "affordable" units - and adding community benefits.

Once passed by the Planning Commission, the proposals go to the City Council, which will hold two hearings on them next week.

Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA), as the two proposals are known, have been highly scrutinized and received a mixed reaction, including a large dose of negative feedback from many local community boards and praise from some city planners and advocacy groups.

Critics worry about gentrification, landmark preservation, over-development, loss of parking, and whether "affordable" units will be truly so for current residents of neighborhoods that will see major change. Supporters say the administration is taking a measured approach to development, insisting on affordable apartments from developers who benefit from rezonings, protecting tenants from predatory eviction, creating more affordable housing for seniors, and being mindful of community improvement as more housing is created.

The de Blasio administration is quick to stress that the two zoning changes set a new baseline for development in the city, but that city government has several other tools that it will use to create affordable housing and improve communities through neighborhood-specific rezoning plans.

While the City Planning Commission, which is chaired by de Blasio appointee Carl Weisbrod, is set to make some adjustments to the original proposals, they will move to the City Council largely as the de Blasio administration designed them. The Commission is looking at fairly minor changes such as lowering some of the new allowable building heights and the process by which a developer may become exempt from certain requirements.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the Council is set to hold its hearings on MIH and ZQA. Council members have expressed concerns about the two plans, as have the Comptroller, Scott Stringer, and the Public Advocate, Letitia James. MIH appears to have significantly more overall support than ZQA - MIH is simpler, as it basically requires set amounts of affordable housing along with any development allowed through a rezoning. ZQA, on the other hand, is a complicated hodgepodge of changes to land use rules.

The Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and other Council members are generally supportive of the proposals, especially MIH. The extent to which the Council seeks changes to MIH or ZQA is yet to be seen, but by the city's process for zoning amendments, the City Council cannot make major adjustments to the proposals sent through by City Planning, only more minor ones that fit "within scope," as judged by the Planning Commission.

City Council Member David Greenfield is chair of the Council land use committee, a subcommittee of which will hold the hearings next week. "I think the hearings are going be very rigorous," Greenfield told Gotham Gazette during an interview last week after he had appeared on a panel discussion hosted by City & State NY.

During the panel, Greenfield explained some of the issues with the administration's proposals: "[T]he city has rolled them both out at the same time and so things got a little bit confusing," he said. "They're really two independent plans. The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program is very much focused on creating and actually mandating affordable housing in new development. And the Zoning for Quality and Affordability runs several hundred pages long and really varies on anything from building heights to reductions in parking to issues such as waivers for the development of senior centers. That's where it gets a little bit more controversial."

"[W]e've heard the overwhelming number of community boards and borough boards and borough presidents who have concerns," Greenfield said. "Although, when you separate those concerns, you realize that much of those concerns were really about Zoning for Quality and Affordability."

Echoing what Speaker Mark-Viverito, Council Member Donovan Richards, who chairs the zoning subcommittee, and other Council members have said, Greenfield said he doesn't expect to pass the zoning amendments "as is."

"We expect that there will be significant changes at the very least and hopefully we come to a place where the Council can be supportive," Greenfield said. Richards recently wrote an op-ed column explaining problems he sees with ZQA.

Asked by Gotham Gazette whether the Council could move ahead on MIH and not ZQA, Greenfield said, "We have taken the feedback very seriously and our goal is to try to come to a place where folks are happy. If that's not possible, then we're going to look at plan B." He did not elaborate on what that could look like.

One of the major questions around MIH is the levels of affordability it calls for - in essence, how many affordable units will be set aside at what rents. De Blasio's plan would set a precedent, infusing the "mandatory" aspect of affordable units into developments given rezonings and insisting on 25-30 percent of units at certain rent thresholds. But, some say that the plan does not include enough units at low enough rents. "In terms of housing, the big question is 'affordable to whom?,' City Council Member Jumaane Williams said at the City & State panel. Williams said the plan is "not reaching the lowest of the income spectrum."

The de Blasio administration doesn't disagree - representatives note that while MIH may not create units for those living in deep poverty, the city has other housing plans to create affordable housing for those New Yorkers. This is where proponents remind people that MIH and ZQA are not the totality of the administration's "Housing New York" plan, which includes a variety of programs and a ten-year goal of 200,000 units of affordable housing at a combination of affordability levels. Officials are quick to point to major affordable housing subsidies from the city's Housing and Preservation Department (HPD).

As the zoning amendment conversation does indeed occur in a larger housing policy context, the movement on de Blasio's proposals comes with the backdrop of uncertainty in terms of a state-level program to incentivize affordable housing development in New York City.

A long-standing program, called 421-a, recently expired. It offered major property tax breaks to real estate developers in exchange for the creation of affordable housing units. The program was riddled with flaws, though, and in negotiations to finalize a new version, an impasse was reached, leading to its expiration.

The prolonged absence of 421-a, or something like it, could be a big blow to de Blasio's affordable housing plans. There are also some who say that Mandatory Inclusionary Housing should not move forward without a 421-a-like program. Including the New York City Bar Association, these analysts say that the tax abatement program is essential to the kind of rental housing development the city is counting on to leverage MIH into more units. De Blasio has called on Albany lawmakers to get back to work on a new 421-a program.

Council Member Greenfield brought up the issue of 421-a in yet another way when discussing MIH moving forward. "[O]ne of the concerns that we have, especially now with the collapse of 421-a, is the off-site housing, which is that essentially MIH allows you to build affordable housing off-site," he said, referring to developers having flexibility to create market-rate units and affordable units at different locations.

"So, as long as you had 421-a, those people who were utilizing 421-a, which we expected to be the majority of the folks, would be required under 421-a to do it on-site and now it's actually going to be a possibility where they can build affordable housing off-site," Greenfield said. "We don't want to create pockets of poverty."

As have many of his colleagues, Greenfield also pointed to the income levels that affordable units will be reserved at. While there are some who say the affordability doesn't go deep enough, others say that there are not enough units dedicated to middle-income New Yorkers. "There's folks who want more flexibility on the bottom end," Greenfield said, "and there's folks who want more flexibility on the higher end."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Planning Commission Vote Will Send Zoning Proposals to City Council Tue, 02 Feb 2016 22:53:35 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6130:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-1 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6130:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-february-1 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio is in Iowa, where he has been since Friday and remains until Tuesday, campaigning for Hillary Clinton.

In New York, the big weekend news was that Democratic Assembly Member Todd Kaminsky, of Long Island, officially declared his bid for state Senate. Kaminsky, who was immediately endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is running for the seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who was forced from office after he was convicted on federal corruption charges.

As the week begins, joint legislative budget hearings continue in Albany. In New York City, we're anticipating several key developments this week:

There will be a hearing Wednesday of the City Planning Commission, at which it is expected to pass Mayor de Blasio's two citywide zoning changes, with tweaks, and send them to the City Council. The Council will hold hearings on Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) next week, on Feb. 9 and 10.

Also Wednesday, the Council will hold a hearing on its plan to raise pay for the city's elected officials and reform some Council rules, like making the position full-time and eliminating bonuses for chairing issue committees. There is some controversy involved, though, because the Council did not have a public hearing before drafting its plan, and its plan includes bigger raises than those recommended by an independent compensation commission.

On Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will deliver his State of the City address - in the evening this year, he recently announced, so that more members of the public are able to tune in.

And on Friday, the City Council is expected to vote through those pay raises for themselves and other elected officials, while also voting on the mayor's plan to limit the carriage horse industry.

It's going to be a busy week! As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
The New York State Legislature is in session on Monday, each house will hold session, and there will be a joint legislative budget hearing about housing at 10 a.m.

On Monday, members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration will present his "Built to Lead" agenda at a variety of events around the state.

At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet “on the appointment of Shin-pei Tsay to the New York City Art Commission.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Finance will meet for an oversight hearing about “The City’s Efforts to Combat Real Property Deed Fraud.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Technology will meet on two bills related to information security and another related to city agencies disposal of electronics.

The New York Association of Counties will kick off its three-day 2016 Legislative Conference at Albany’s Desmond Hotel and Conference Center on Monday. At the conference, “matters ranging from the State budget and its impact on local government, renewable energy, the heroin epidemic, Uber and Airbnb” and other issues will be discussed. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and other officials are featured speakers.

At 9:30 a.m. Monday in Long Island City, City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, NYC DOT, and NYC DDC will announce the Long Island City/Hunters Point $30 Million Reconstruction Project as part of the City’s Vision Zero Initiative.

At 11 a.m. Monday at her Manhattan office, “Public Advocate Letitia James will announce a lawsuit against the NYC Department of Education (DOE) for failing to provide children with disabilities a free and appropriate public education. This is the second lawsuit Public Advocate James has filed against the DOE regarding students with disabilities.”

Also at 11 a.m. Monday, there will be a World Hijab Day press conference at City Hall, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will participate.

At noon Monday at City Hall, "Communities United for Police Reform, advocacy and community organizations, and community members and New Yorkers" will hold a press conference to announce a request for an official investigaiton into the NYPD.

At 6 p.m., the New York City Bar Association will host a program called “How to Get on the Ballot in NYC” with former state Senate Minority Leader and private election law practitioner Martin E. Connor; Sarah K. Steiner, Chair of City Bar Election Law Committee and private election law practitioner; Jerry Goldfeder, private election law practitioner and chair of City Bar NYC Affairs Committee; and Steven Richman, general counsel at the NYC Board of Elections.

At 6 p.m., the School of Visual Arts will host a symposium about “health inequalities in East Harlem” with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Arnhold Global health Institute Director Dr. Prabhjot Singh, East Harlem tenants’ activist Carmen Quinones, Strive co-founder Rob Carmona and community leader Clyde Williams. It will be moderated by Cheryl Heller, Chair of Design for Social Innovation at SVA.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Lunar New Year Celebration.

On Monday evening, several elected officials and many others will attend the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts 50th Anniversary Gala.

Tuesday
The New York State Legislature is in session on Tuesday and will also have two joint legislative budget hearings: a 9:30 a.m. joint legislative budget hearing on taxes and a 1 p.m. joint legislative budget hearing on economic development.

At 8 a.m., de Blasio administration officials will give an information session about the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability zoning amendments at the Bronx Chamber of Commerce.

At noon, City Council Member Dan Garodnick will discuss “Midtown East Rezoning: What’s Next?” at the Cornell Club for the B’nai B’rith Real Estate luncheon.

New York City charter school staff and parents will head to Albany on Tuesday for “Advocacy Day 2016.”

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday: At 10 a.m., the Committees on Governmental Operations and Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet on four bills and two resolutions. The first bill will give pay raises to Council members, the mayor and other city elected officials. The other three bills and the resolutions are also related to compensation. [Read: City Council Announces Bill to Raise Pay, Reform Position]

The New York State Legislature will have joint legislative budget hearings on Wednesday: a 9:30 a.m. hearing on mental hygiene and a 1 p.m. hearing on workforce development.

At 8 a.m., a policy forum about “Green Preservation of Multi-Family Affordable Housing” will be hosted by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, NYU Wagner and Enterprise Community Partners at 295 Lafayette Street.

The City Planning Commission will have a public meeting at 10 a.m. at 22 Reade Street in Manhattan, at which it is expected to pass the mayor’s zoning amendments, called Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, with their tweaks, and send them to the City Council.

Thursday
The New York State Legislature will have a joint legislative budget hearing on “Public Protection” at 9:30 a.m.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will have an oversight hearing: “Update Concerning Local Law 77 of 2013, Which Created a Curbside Organics Collection Pilot Program.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committees on General Welfare and Education will have a joint oversight hearing on “DOE’s Support for Students who are Homeless or in Temporary Housing.”

At 6 p.m., the Center for New York City law is hosting “Police Use Of Force: A Discussion of NYPD’s New Policy”, which it is co-sponsoring with the Impact Center for Public Interest Law and the Criminal Justice Project. Representatives from the NYPD, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Civilian Complaint Review board will speak.

At 7 p.m., Mayor de Blasio will deliver his State of the City address at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts in the Bronx. The address was “moved to the evening to ensure that more New Yorkers will be able to watch and engage.”

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday: The Council will have a full-bodied Stated Meeting at noon.

At a gala on Saturday, the Human Rights Campaign will be honoring Gov. Cuomo and actress Sigourney Weaver at the Waldorf Astoria. Cuomo is receiving the organization’s National Equality Award.

[Read: Concerns of 'Voter Fatigue' as New York Schedules Four Election Days]

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ryan Brady and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 1 Mon, 01 Feb 2016 01:29:50 +0000
Hope Knight to Join City Planning Commission at 'Exciting Time' http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6040:hope-knight-to-join-city-planning-commission-at-exciting-time http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6040:hope-knight-to-join-city-planning-commission-at-exciting-time hope knight city planning

Hope Knight (photo via @rorylancman)


"It's an exciting time to be joining the City Planning Commission," City Council Member Brad Lander said Tuesday to Hope Knight, a mayoral nominee to the commission at the nexus of controversial housing-related policy being pursued by the de Blasio administration.

"It's a tough time to be joining," Knight said during her appearance in front of Lander's committee, which is tasked with vetting potential appointees to several commissions. Knight, who is all but sure to be approved Wednesday by the Rules, Elections, and Privileges Committee, then the full City Council, will fill a vacant seat on the 13-member City Planning Commission, which plays a key role in city land use decisions.

The commission is about to hold a major public hearing on de Blasio's zoning plans, then make recommendations for changes before the plans go to the City Council for hearings and, likely, further tweaks before a vote. The plans, which are aimed at spurring more affordable housing development and improving neighborhoods, have received major pushback from local community boards, advocacy groups, and borough presidents. They have also received some support from labor unions, advocacy groups, and others.

Acknowledging the intense circumstances, Knight said of land use planning, "the issue is so important to this city, it's critical to the future. There is this affordability crisis that we've got here. Our local land-use tools are available to us to help address this. And so, I hope that I am able to bring [my] community planning and economic development background and perspective to this position and this process, and be able to consider these issues in a very thoughtful way."

Knight is currently the CEO and President of the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, a position she will retain while creating the necessary "firewall" so that she does not deal with issues before the city, she said Tuesday. Knight explained that she has received guidance from the city Conflicts of Interest Board and will follow it. Previously, Knight was Chief Operating Officer of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone for about 12 years after several positions in finance.

In her pre-hearing questionnaire, Knight wrote to the City Council that the City Planning Commission "must be sensitive to the needs of communities and establish many channels of communication."

Knight also wrote that "The strategy of zoning changes to allow residential buildings with additional density, provided that affordable housing is included, is one of the few land use tools that the City has access to in order to greater leverage the development of more affordable housing units."

While the City Planning Commission does much more than zoning amendments, that is the focus of the work right now.

With Knight there to observe, the City Planning Commission will hold a much-anticipated public hearing Wednesday on two proposals by Mayor Bill de Blasio that are essential pieces of his affordable housing plan. Both proposals are changes to the city's land use rules by way of zoning language and have been the source of a great deal of recent debate.

Many community boards and all five borough boards have voted against de Blasio's Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning and Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposals. These votes are only advisory, though, and the future of the plans, known as MIH and ZQA, will come down to a City Council vote in early-to-mid 2016. Reasons for opposition and desired tweaks to the plans vary by borough and neighborhood, but some include thresholds for affordability, changes in parking requirements, and increased density or allowable building heights.

Between the advice of the community and borough boards and the City Council getting its shot at tweaking the plans, the City Planning Commission will issue its recommended changes. These recommendations will be based, in part, on Wednesday's hearing, which is expected to be long and contentious.

On Tuesday, Knight appeared to grasp what she is signing up for, discussing her long career in community planning and advocacy, as well as her outlook on land use decision-making. Lander and his fellow committee members were impressed by Knight's candidacy and appear ready to vote her through to the full Council for approval.

Knight will join six other mayoral appointees on the City Planning Commission, as well as one appointee from each borough president, and one appointee by the public advocate. The commission is under the leadership of Chair Carl Weisbrod, who is also the commissioner of the city's Department of City Planning and serves at the discretion of the mayor. Other commission members serve alternating five-year terms. Knight will fill the seat vacated by Bomee Jung, who took a position within the de Blasio administration earlier this year, and will serve the rest of Jung's term, until June 30, 2018. She can be reappointed after that.

According to the City Council, the City Charter says that members of the City Planning Commission "are to be chosen for their independence, integrity, and civic commitment."

On Tuesday, Council members including Lander, Dan Garodnick, and Margaret Chin, praised Knight for her dedication to community planning and neighborhood advocacy. Council members also wanted to make sure that Knight would hear community feedback around land use policy. Council Member Steven Matteo asked Knight how much weight she puts on community concerns. "I would put tremendous weight on what the community has to say," Knight responded of her approach if she is indeed approved, adding that she has been "at the table" representing communities in land use negotiatons in the past.

Repeatedly citing the city's "affordability crisis," Knight also explained that she understands fear of gentrification and that the city must be cognizant of an "aging population."

Knight was not questioned about her independence from de Blasio, who nominated her to the commission after his appointments office identified her as a strong candidate.

"[I]n order to create more affordable units," Knight said, "we have to look at various land-use tools to implement the possibility of creating units. So, I think that MIH, ZQA, they're all components of the mayor's...housing plan and will have to be more greatly considered to support the growth of new housing."

During a Tuesday appearance on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio's planning chief, Weisbrod, said of Wednesday's City Planning Commission hearing and the zoning plans, "We expect to hear a lot of comments on all sides of this issue." The controversy around MIH and ZQA, he said, "Won't get fully resolved until the City Council decides this early next year."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

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Hope Knight to Join City Planning Commission at 'Exciting Time' Tue, 15 Dec 2015 23:40:35 +0000