New York City Council Backs Affordable Housing Plan


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Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council speaker, announced a revised zoning plan at City Hall on Monday. Affordability requirements were expanded after vocal opposition to the plan.

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Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

A proposal by Mayor Bill de Blasio to rezone parts of the city to build more housing cleared its most important hurdle on Monday, emerging from a City Council meeting with enough revisions to satisfy major critics and city lawmakers who had opposed the plan for not doing enough to provide housing for the poorest New Yorkers.

Council members said the plan would now ensure that any new housing built would include units affordable to more of the city’s lower-income residents, including rental apartments in some developments for those making an average of 40 percent of the New York City area median income, or about $31,000 a year for a family of three. The proposal is expected to pass the Council when it holds its next full session on March 22.

“Our work has resulted in a plan that addresses the magnitude of our city’s affordability crisis by encouraging smart, sustainable affordable housing production,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council speaker, standing at a lectern in the rotunda of City Hall on Monday to announce the details of the deal. “The focus of these changes is to provide affordability, one, and two, economic integration.”

For Mr. de Blasio, the deal represented the final stage of a complex proposal that had been in the works for most of his two years in office and had met resistance at local community boards and among some Council members. City Hall officials described the changes agreed to with the Council as a significant victory and compared the plan, both in its scale and in its likely impact on the future of the city, to the mayor’s push for universal prekindergarten.

“Years from now, we will look back on this as a watershed moment when we turned the tide to keep our city a place for everyone,” Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, said in a statement on Monday.

Under the mayor’s proposal, endorsed by the Council, the city for the first time would require builders to include below-market-rate units in new buildings if they want to build in areas rezoned for either residential growth or greater height and density. Although such a requirement, known as mandatory inclusionary housing, enjoyed widespread support from the Council and housing advocates, a major point of contention had been what types of households would be eligible for any new affordable homes.

Council members on Monday afternoon announced they had reached a deal to expand the affordability levels to 40 percent. They also lowered the top inclusionary housing level for developers, from 120 percent of the area median income, to 115 percent, about $89,000 a year for a family of three, with requirements that a portion of the apartments in those developments be created for those earning much less.

The plan also includes the option to set aside the below-market-rate units for households with earnings averaging 60 percent of area income, about $47,000 a year for a family of three, at the low end, or an average of 80 percent of the median income, in the middle.

“We changed the affordability at both ends,” said Councilman David G. Greenfield, the chairman of the Land Use Committee who helped negotiate the changes with the administration.

The set-asides for affordable units would range from 20 percent to 30 percent of all the new units built, with the rest renting at market rates in the neighborhood. The decision of what level of affordability to require in each project would be determined on a case-by-case basis by the local Council member. Developers would also be able to create the units of affordable housing off-site at another location, though the plan discourages this by increasing the amount of units that would need to be affordable.

Administration officials had argued that they had designed their zoning proposals so they were financially viable for developers, and could withstand any potential legal challenges. But there were signs of impending change over the weekend: The mayor’s office announced that, after discussions with tenant advocates, it agreed to do a study that would seek to find another means — possibly a separate program — for the city to create housing for those with even lower incomes, and that would require that higher standards at construction sites to encourage union labor.

Both remain demands of those advocates, like a coalition of housing and labor groups known as Real Affordability for All, that originally opposed Mr. de Blasio’s plan. The coalition director, Maritza Silva-Farrell, described the study, whose contours and timing have yet to be fully determined, as a victory because, she said, it would focus on how to meet their demands, not whether doing so is possible.

Michelle de la Uz, an affordable housing advocate and nonprofit developer who sits on the City Planning Commission, said the changes announced on Monday were an improvement to the mayor’s plan. However, “if we’re going to be an inclusive city,” she said, the conversation must continue about how to provide housing for the poorer households still left out from the options.

Others said the changes to the city’s proposals could dampen the creation of new units of housing.

“It is great that the Council wants to get to ‘yes,’ but their design and affordability proposals add up to a more expensive, less flexible program that will likely produce fewer affordable units over all,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, an association of the city’s business groups.

“The Council’s call for 20 percent of units to be rented at 40 percent of A.M.I. will typically require additional subsidy from another source, which limits the volume of production that can be achieved through the zoning package alone,” she added, referring to the area median income.

The mayor had also proposed numerous zoning changes that also face strong opposition because they would allow taller buildings and eliminate some parking requirements for new development, among other concerns.

The Council, to assuage critics, made a series of granular changes to the mayor’s zoning plan, including eliminating height increases in certain areas of Manhattan, and preserving more parking for developments in neighborhoods far from public transportation.

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