Gotham Gazette Mon, 24 Sep 2018 10:11:51 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Sides Near 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.

Sides Near Deal on Major Zoning Changes Aimed at Creating Affordable Housing Mon, 14 Mar 2016 14:41:40 +0000
Real Affordable Housing for Our Communities de blasio housing constituent

photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

When I think about my family's future in New York City, I wonder: will there be an affordable, safe, and healthy apartment where I can raise my children and still be able to provide them with everything else that they need?

This is the question that our city government has to address if it wants to protect low-income and working class New Yorkers.

My husband and I live in Bushwick in a one-bedroom apartment with our three children—one of whom has special needs—and my sister. We pay more than $1,200 per month—more than half of our income, which comes from my husband's job in a fruit and vegetable store. For the last two years, we've been looking to find somewhere better—somewhere more affordable, with more space for our children. Our landlord wants us out, too, because he wants to renovate and charge new tenants more as Bushwick gentrifies.

But there's nowhere for us to go. Even studios near where we live are now renting for $1,400-$1,500—too much money, and too little space, for our family of six.

In recent weeks, the city has heard much debate on how to create and preserve affordable housing. The most talked-about item has been the Mayor's Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) plan, which would exchange zoning changes to allow more housing construction for, in most neighborhoods, the requirement that 25–30 percent of apartments be affordable to people earning 60 to 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI).

The problem with the plan is that it won't solve the problem for working class New Yorkers like me.

Sixty percent of Area Median Income is almost $47,000 for a family of three, and many New Yorkers are far from earning that. My family of six earns about half that much.

As a recent Real Affordability for All (RAFA) report found, in many of the neighborhoods that are being rezoned—like East New York, the South Bronx, and East Harlem—the average income is far below 60 percent of Area Median Income. So, when I look at the MIH plan, I wonder: "affordable" housing for whom? Certainly not for local residents like me.

Mayor de Blasio stood on the right side with our communities in the Fight for $15, to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour for the 3.2 million low-wage workers in our state who currently earn less. But the reality is that, even once our families win the $15 per hour that we so desperately need, the vast majority of the housing being proposed in the MIH plan will not be affordable to us.

We ask the Mayor to reconsider his plan and expand affordability to preserve and build genuinely affordable housing.

Susana Salas is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @maketheroadny.

Real Affordable Housing for Our Communities Tue, 09 Feb 2016 02:51:13 +0000
At Hearings, City Council to Examine Mayor's Zoning Proposals richards de blasio

Council Member Donovan Richards (photo via @DRichards13)

Amid light flakes of snow, about 20 ralliers stood outside City Hall Monday morning and unleashed a flurry of criticism of a key piece of Mayor Bill de Blasio's affordable housing plan. De Blasio's plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing relies in part on proposed changes to the city's land use rules, which are set to go before City Council review this week.

Members of the Real Affordability for All coalition, including construction union members, low-wage workers, and community organizers, believe that the mayor's plan to change the city's zoning codes do not account for enough affordable units for those at the lowest end of the income spectrum. They also want to see provisions for union labor in the development of affordable housing across New York City.

Monday's rally is just one example of a barrage of actions taken over the past months, heightened in recent days, as advocacy groups, urban planners, editorial writers, and city officials express various opinions about the administration's proposals, which would help shape the character of neighborhoods across the city for generations.

Having had little luck influencing the de Blasio administration to change the details of its Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) proposal, advocates seeking deeper affordability provisions say they are hoping to see City Council members push for changes as they consider both MIH and its sibling zoning amendment, Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA). They got good news when, just ahead of City Council hearings on the plan, the Council's Progressive Caucus announced its desired tweaks to the proposals, which include units at lower rents (first reported by the Daily News).

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the zoning subcommittee of the City Council land use committee will hold hearings on MIH and ZQA, two proposals key to the de Blasio administration's goal of building 80,000 new units of affordable housing by 2024. The de Blasio administration hopes to create a new framework for development across the city, allowing for more density and encouraging more construction, while insisting on more units of rental housing with set caps on monthly charges along with an increase in market-rate apartments.

City Council Member Donovan Richards chairs the zoning subcommittee of the Council's land use committee and will be at the center of the two hearings this week, as will Council Member David Greenfield, chair of the land use committee.

Richards, who is a co-chair of the Council's Progressive Caucus but abstained from signing onto its MIH letter due to his role as subcommittee chair, has previously expressed concerns about ZQA. Like many of his colleagues, he is supportive of the idea behind MIH - requiring developers receiving a rezoning to include a set number of affordable units in their project - but has not committed to a specific position on the numbers behind those affordability requirements. Greenfield has expressed concerns as well, and has indicated that the Council may seek some significant adjustments to the proposals.

Richards' office tells Gotham Gazette that long hearings are expected on both days, with de Blasio administration officials testifying to kick things off Tuesday morning. MIH will be the focus on Tuesday, ZQA on Wednesday, though the Council will take testimony on either both days. The Council will give numbers to people signed up to testify and update where testimony stands through Twitter and the livestream of the hearing. As the City Planning Commission did, the Council will alternate panels based on whether those testifying are there largely in support of the zoning changes or against them, Richards' office said.

De Blasio's top three housing officials will be the first panel to speak before the zoning subcommittee on Tuesday: Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been, and City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod. The three held a press briefing on Monday afternoon at City Hall in order to give the administration's latest take on the overall housing plan and where MIH and ZQA fit in. As they surely will in front of the Council, Glen, Been, and Weisbrod sought to stress that the zoning amendments are just one piece of the larger plan, and that deeper levels of affordable housing will be created through several means, including city subsidies to developers.

Saying that it "gets lost" that MIH is "only one part of our housing plan," Been explained to reporters that "mandatory inclusionary housing" means "harness[ing] the private market to create affordable housing." She went on to explain the "subsidies," "vouchers," and "term-sheets" that her agency uses to "reach those lower incomes" that won't be reached through MIH.

Deputy Mayor Glen repeatedly called MIH "a game-changer" Monday, referring to the fact that it would create a first-of-its-kind framework to require set levels of affordable units as part of any development receiving an up-zoning. In an interview on NY1 Monday evening, Mayor de Blasio defended the plans, saying that MIH means the city will "demand more from developers than we ever have before."

De Blasio acknowledged that City Council members have concerns, and as his top aides said, he appeared open to continuing to tweak the zoning changes. "We're going to be working with the Council," de Blasio told NY1 anchor Errol Louis. "The Council's asked for some changes, we're going to be very receptive, to see if we can find a good balance."

Along with administration officials, many of the same groups and individuals who have been outspoken on housing issues for a long time and throughout the recent process are expected to testify. The City Planning Commission, which recently passed MIH and ZQA with a few tweaks, held a lengthy public hearing in December. Much of the conversation is likely to be similar this week at the City Council, though Council members sharing their thoughts and asking their questions will be an important added dimension.

Groups expected to testify include affordable housing advocates like the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD) and Municipal Arts Society, which want to see changes to the plan; representatives of AARP, which has endorsed the mayor's plans citing benefits for senior affordable housing; the Real Estate Board of New York, which is supportive; New York Communities for Change, which is not; and those from other trade and advocacy groups and think tanks.

Unions behind de Blasio's plans, including the Hotel Trades Council, 1199 SEIU, 32BJ, and District Council 37 may also send representatives to testify in support. As reported by Politico New York, these unions have just helped form a new organization created to support these and other housing proposals from the de Blasio administration.

Many are indeed supportive of the administration's plans, saying that this is the first real attempt at responsible housing development across a changing New York City, and, combined with other aspects of de Blasio's plans - like tenant legal protections and affordable housing subsidies - will stem the tide of gentrification, increase housing options, and improve neighborhoods.

However, many across the city believe that the mayor's plan does not go far enough in terms of the affordable units that would be required of real estate developers seeking a rezoning of a piece of land in order to build housing on it. Furthermore, there are concerns about the myriad provisions in ZQA that change a variety of rules around building heights, parking requirements, and more.

All eyes are on the City Council now. While other Council members may join for the hearings, along with Council Members Richards and Greenfield, the rest of the zoning subcommittee will take center stage. Other members of the committee are Council Members Dan Garodnick, Antonio Reynoso, Ruben Wills, Ritchie Torres, Jumaane Williams, and Vincent Gentile. If the subcommitte votes through MIH and ZQA (with tweaks acceptable to the City Planning Commission as "within scope" of the original proposals), the land use committee will vote, then the full Council. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito remains a key decision-maker in the process. She has indicated that the plans need some changes, but has not spoken in much detail about what she wants to see changed.

In a recent update, called "MIH Moves to City Council," ANHD leaders wrote that "Local community groups will be looking to the Council to revise MIH and make it a tool that can actually help meet the needs of all New Yorkers - particularly the lowest-income members of our communities, who are most in need of affordable housing."

While they called it a "game-changer," de Blasio's top housing officials also called MIH "one tool in a toolkit" Monday as they explained the ways in which the city creates that deeper affordable housing so that people and families earning less than $30,000 a year can afford an apartment.

Asked Monday about getting the City Council on board with the plan, Deputy Mayor Glen said that there's been a "radical shift" over the last couple of months in terms of Council members coming to understand what the administration is doing, what she called a "growing consensus among the Council that we need to do something game-changing."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

At Hearings, City Council to Examine Mayor's Zoning Proposals Tue, 09 Feb 2016 04:15:51 +0000