IMPACT

New York City Just Took A Huge Step To Tackle Obscenely High Rents

Almost all city council members supported the mayor's affordable housing proposal, but critics say it doesn't go far enough.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, surrounded by union and AARP supporters, urged City Council to pass zoning laws aime
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, surrounded by union and AARP supporters, urged City Council to pass zoning laws aimed at creating more affordable housing at a rally in New York City on March 9, 2016. Council passed the legislation on Tuesday, March 22, 2016.

Two significant components of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (D) affordable housing plan won the approval of City Council Tuesday after months of negotiating, changes and conflict.  

The council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the mandatory inclusionary housing and zoning for equality and affordability measures. A few members opposed the proposals for not doing enough for the city’s poorest families, echoing the concerns of activist groups.

The zoning changes require developers building in certain areas to rent a portion of units in new buildings at lower rates so they are affordable to families making less than the median income. Councilman David Greenfield, who chairs the land use committee, said the legislation would help create “tens of thousands” of affordable apartments and housing for seniors in the next few years.  

“This is the most aggressive affordable housing plan in this nation,” Donovan Richards, the council's zoning subcommittee chair, said Tuesday. “Other municipalities will go back to their drawing boards and consider following our blueprint on how to create a thriving, mixed-income city that is truly built for all.”

The changes also allow taller buildings and remove some parking requirements.

There has been heated disagreement over the mayor’s proposal, which underwent revisions in the council’s hands. Recent changes were targeted at including people with lower incomes than had been previously accounted for. A new option for developers would be to keep 20 percent of their units affordable for New Yorkers who make 40 percent of the area median income, which would work out to $775 for a two-bedroom unit. Meanwhile, median rent for a Manhattan two-bedroom was over $4,700 last month, according to the Ellman Report on the city’s rental market. 

During Tuesday’s vote, protesters yelled over council members and were forcibly removed from the hearing. One man was injured during the struggle with security guards and was taken away by emergency responders, according to DNAinfo.

A number of housing activists and tenants rights groups have denounced the plans.

Last week, Gothamist reported on objections from residents of two Manhattan neighborhoods, Morningside Heights and Inwood, who say the affordable units created under the regulations won't actually be affordable to many of their neighbors.  

“The plan as it's proposed is really a plan that's going to lead to gentrification,” Cheryl Pahaham said at a town hall meeting. “It's a plan that's going to lead to displacement of people who live here."

Several council members noted that the legislation wasn’t perfect, but would still have a significant impact. More than half of New York renters pay more than the standard for affordability as rents continue to rise. In a poll conducted last fall, 17 percent of New Yorkers said there was a time in the previous year where they didn’t have enough money for shelter

“We are holding developers responsible for contributing to the solution of our housing crisis rather than being the perpetrators,” Richards said.  

Daily Intelligencer writer Justin Davidson reflected on the impact the new zoning changes -- the first in decades -- will have for residents, as well as for the mayor’s legacy:

The de Blazoning amounts to the mayor’s version of Obamacare, an imperfect but monumental legacy program on which he staked his political credibility. As with health care, the rezoning program has been crafted to nudge the private market, not replace it; to protect many but not all; to withstand economic tumult; to outlive the current administration by a lifetime at least; and to dole out its effects over decades.

De Blasio has committed to creating or preserving 200,000 affordable housing units by 2024. The city has financed 40,000 affordable apartments since he took office in 2014.

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Kate Abbey-Lambertz covers sustainable cities, housing and inequality. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.   

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