News Source: capitalnewyork.com
September 21, 2015
A set of proposals intended to preserve the character of certain New York City neighborhoods, expand the number of apartments for low-income earners and drastically alter the landscape of one of Brooklyn’s most blighted areas will kick off Monday afternoon.
The Department of City Planning has scheduled a meeting at its Lower Manhattan office to certify the three plans, all of which require advisory input from community boards and borough presidents as well as approval from the City Council.
Each proposed change in the city’s arcane zoning text faces its own hurdles as Mayor Bill de Blasio seeks to convince residents and elected officials he will improve their neighborhoods without destroying their character or making them less hospitable to current locals.
A plan to rezone a section of East New York in Brooklyn has received mixed reviews.
Councilman Rafael Espinal, who represents the vast swath of the neighborhood in question, has been negotiating with the administration over the particulars.
In an interview with POLITICO New York in August, he applauded City Hall for promising to devote 1,200 apartments in the rezoned area to low-income housing within the first two years.
The zoning proposal calls for 11 percent of the two-bedroom units to be rented at less than $583 a month; 16 percent at less than $777 a month; 14 percent at less than $971 a month and at least 39 percent at less than $1,165 a month. The remaining 20 percent could be rented for up to $1,748 a month.
“At least 50% of the new housing built in East New York rezoning area over the next 15 years will be affordable to local residents,” City Planning wrote in its proposal.
The city has also committed to a new, 1,000-seat school in East New York to accommodate the growing population.
And City Hall has promised to subsidize a portion of the project, which administration officials believe will lure developers who would otherwise be wary of building apartments in an area that commands relatively low market-rate rents.
Councilwoman Inez Barron, whose district contains a sliver of the proposed rezoning, is steadfastly opposed.
“In terms of the housing, my issue is the price and the incomes that they are targeting,” Barron said in a recent interview. “As the plan exists now, it’s targeted for 50 percent of people making $135,000 and up. That to me is unacceptable.”
Barron was referring to the fact that under the plan, half of the overall number of apartments built would be rented at the market rate, and half would be deemed “affordable.”
“Totally unrealistic,” she said. “To say that only 50 percent of the so-called affordable housing is going to be earmarked for people and that 12 percent of that are people making what 100 percent or 90 percent of my community makes … this is a model for gentrification that I’m not going to support.”
It is customary in the Council for the member representing a land use project to lead the 51 member body in its vote. Given the geographic split, Barron’s opposition could end up being just a symbolic hurdle.
In acknowledging Barron’s concerns Espinal noted “ninety-five percent of the rezoned area is in my district.” He also defended the breakdown of rents as reflective of the district’s economic conditions.
The East New York project is de Blasio’s first attempt, during his 21 months in office, to use a neighborhood rezoning to spur the creation of low-income apartments.
One hour before the session is set to begin at City Planning’s offices at 1 p.m., a coalition of union members and East New York residents will join the activist group “Real Affordability for All” to denounce the mayor’s proposal.
In a press release Sunday night, the organization wrote, “new housing under de Blasio’s rezoning plan will go to wealthier, whiter outsiders — people who do not live in neighborhoods like East New York and South Bronx.”
De Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell defended the public process, which will take about seven months and end with the Council vote.
“It’s been based on three years of discussions with this community about its priorities and there’s a full public review ahead for residents, businesses and officials to continue shaping it,” Norvell wrote in an email Sunday night.
He reiterated the details of the plan, which he said also includes improved parks.
“The city is taking unprecedented steps to protect tenants in East New York from displacement, he added. “Nothing like this has ever been done before.”
Early in his tenure the mayor set a goal of building 80,000 units of what he deems affordable housing, and preserving another 120,000 by 2024—10 years from when he took office. The oft-used term affordable housing is somewhat subjective, but generally refers to apartments rented below the market rate in a given area. It also means rents that are restricted by government rules.
The two other zoning plans set to begin the formal review process on Monday are “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” and “Zoning for Quality and Affordability.”
The former requires that new developments within a rezoned area of the city include 25 to 30 percent of its apartments for low-income families.
Specifically, the plan calls for 25 percent of the units to be rented to those making no more than 60 percent of the Area Median Income which amounts to $46,620 for a family of three.
The other option allows builders to reserve 30 percent of their apartments for those making 80 percent of the AMI, or $62,150 for a family of three.
A third option, which has been criticized among some Council members and tenant activists, would enable builders in certain parts of the city to set aside 30 percent of their units for those making 120 percent of the AMI, which totals $93,225 for a family of three.
City officials have said that alternative could only be employed in a few neighborhoods and would not be accompanied by city subsidies, but critics believe it would hinder the creation of mixed-income neighborhoods.
City Councilman David Greenfield, who chairs the land use committee, has also expressed concern the mandatory low-rent apartments could be built off-site.
“There’s a little concern that developers could game the system,” he said in a recent interview. “We don’t want to sort of create pockets of low-income housing.”
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito came out in favor of the mandatory housing plan over the summer.
The third change City Planing is proposing, Zoning for Quality and Affordability, entails several zoning changes. One would eliminate parking space requirements in neighborhoods the city believes has sufficient mass transit options.
That proposal is similar to concerns raised by senior citizen advocates, who argue elderly New Yorkers need more housing options and do not drive enough to take advantage of parking lots.
But it is cause for concern among others, such as Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.
“In a transit desert like the borough of Queens, the reality for many families is having to rely on cars to get to work,” she said in a prepared statement in April, when the plan was unveiled. “For our seniors, we want them to maintain an independent, active quality of living for as long as possible. Our current mass transit system, including subways, buses and Access-A-Ride, is simply insufficient in reliability, frequency and reach to warrant stripping parking requirements.”
City Planning is also allowing an additional five feet be added to buildings in certain residential areas but, in response to concerns from the Council, wrote the text to ensure the additional height would be reserved for ground floors, rather than top-floor apartments and penthouses.
“We’re not really improving the building if we’re allowing the penthouse to have an extra five feet,” Greenfield said in a recent interview.
Now, he said, “when you come in, you’re going to have a larger entryway.”
In a letter in April city planning chairman Carl Weisbrod wrote to community boards and elected officials, “We believe that this will help us avoid unintended or undesired consequences concerning our goal of tying slightly increased building height to better ground floors and consequently lead to residential buildings that contribute better to neighborhoods.”