Massive citywide zoning changes move forward against our will
March 16, 2016 Op Ed by Patricia Dorfman
The City Council is set to approve two major zoning amendments next week after reaching a deal with the Mayor Bill de Blasio Monday.
The amendments, known as “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” and “Zoning for Quality and Affordability,” are designed to promote affordable housing and higher quality buildings in the City.
The amendments, for the most part, kick in when an area is upzoned—like what’s expected to take place in the Queens Plaza/Court Square section of Long Island City.
The MIH amendment makes the concept of larger buildings palatable when an area gets rezoned. City Planners will tell us that bigger buildings make sense when they rezone a neighborhood—since, hey, they include affordable housing.
There seems to be a rush on the Council’s part to push these changes through. Yesterday, the council announced a quick deal with the mayor signing off on the text amendments after requiring the mayor to make more of the affordable units available for those with low incomes.
Prior to Monday’s deal, opposition against the amendments was strong. It is still too early to tell how people will react to the council deal.
However, in its initial form it was panned by residents mainly due to the strain it would cause on the infrastructure, not the income level of the affordable tenants.
Passage would be in defiance of 50 of New York City 59 community boards that voted against these proposals, as did four out of five borough presidents, including Melinda Katz of Queens.
The plans seem to have been generated by asking big real estate how they could afford to provide more affordable and senior housing – by giving them, say, more floors, in exchange for more affordable units versus luxury.
Builders wanted the large scope to make the deal attractive. No pilot projects or community based-solutions were on the table.
So to get the 200,000 affordable and senior housing units that de Blasio is determined to build over the next decade, we are bringing in multitudes of wealthy renters, and billing taxpayers for what comes next.
I see four major negative consequences of these zoning amendments:
1) New York City becomes less habitable as we are subject to massively increased construction, more buildings, greater building height, danger to landmarks and markedly increased density. How many buildings will be built to have a portion constitute 200,000 units? Too many. Why so close to Manhattan? Because that is where luxury renters will pay more.
2) In our city’s past experience, luxury unit proliferation creates higher rents, displacing residents and driving out small business. Who will be able to afford the new retail spaces but banks and chain stores?
3) Local voices are stomped on, as we see already with the dismissal of our community boards’ and borough presidents’ concerns.
4)The billions needed for infrastructure will fall to taxpayers for already inadequate public transit, green space, sewers, schools, hospitals, parking, and civic services. And where will the space be to create the infrastructure with a newly crammed landscape?
Asking big real estate advice made some sense, but their solution was like having the foxes redesign the henhouse. The results will not be affordable nor be about affordability. They are effectively a Trojan horse for big real estate. The results will not be about affordable housing. And if we are going to pay billions anyway for infrastructure to support the new construction and population, why not use our money to just build affordable housing without overdeveloping the city? How about fixing current infrastructure?
There has been little widespread protest from the Democratic Party or “Democratic Machine.” Unsurprisingly, public backing has come from NYC’s most powerful unions.
And for such a large issue, the rush, the future impact, there is a shocking lack of meaningful examination or editorial concern from major media.
What can New Yorkers do right now to stop the permanent over-development of all five boroughs, set to go through?
Email or call your Council Member today and ask that both proposals be rejected. I have contacted my Council Member, whom I support, and whom I trust to vote against the proposals.
But the Speaker and a majority of council members must be in opposition for these amendments to be stopped.
Owners and developers are entitled pursue profits but not at the expense of the City, against our will, with our legislators not yet hearing us.
Long term solutions to help equalize the “stacked deck,” decades in the making, favoring big real estate interests, might include:
1) Pass the Small Business Job Survival Act, which gives more negotiating tools to renters, and would slow the property speculation turning the city upside down, and displacing small businesses.
2) Make more community-based the boards of directors of the 71 NYC Business Improvement Districts to half small merchants and residents, not a landlord majority, and impose board term limits.
3) Vet projects through local community boards.
4) Phase out the taxpayer-financed Board of Standards and Appeals, which can a provide loophole for developers.
(The author is Director of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce)
Zoning text amendments help combat rising Long Island City rents
By James Gaine, Long Island City, Queens
You can’t help but notice how quickly New York City is changing, especially since most of the changes coincide with higher rents, fewer and fewer available apartments, and accompanying changes to the character of our neighborhood.
I moved to Long Island City 26 years ago, and those changes are as noticeable here as they are all over our city.
There used to be a time when for many of us in Queens, Manhattan was the competitive, expensive part of New York that gave this city its reputation as one of the most expensive real estate markets in the US. But now, places like Long Island City have become fair game for developers to build large, expensive, and often out of context new apartment buildings. For working people in Queens, that means a direct hit on affordability and on what “home” looks like.
I am a banquet waiter at Le Parker Meridian, and have been a proud member of the Hotel Trades Council for 32 years. I live in Long Island City, Queens, and I have lived here for 26 years.
There is no place I would even dream of calling home except for right here in Long Island City. So for me, the rising rents and changing neighborhood are extremely worrisome. What if my friends and family leave because they can’t afford it anymore? What if I can’t afford to grow old in my own neighborhood? Where would I even go? As someone who makes a living by welcoming and hosting visitors to our city, it seems crazy that I wouldn’t be able to afford living here myself.
New Yorkers need to see real action so we don’t have to ask ourselves these questions every day.
That’s why I support the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) proposals announced yesterday, and I am proud that our Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer supports them as well.
The MIH proposal includes a requirement for 25-30% of all new development to include affordable housing. In other words, real estate developers can’t get approval for new buildings without ensuring that a portion of them will be affordable. And ZQA will change building rules so that new buildings can more closely match the ones around them, and even more importantly, help enable more housing for senior citizens. Seniors have been neglected for far too long, and we have an opportunity to make sure that New York can be an affordable place for people of all ages.
I’m extremely thankful that Jimmy worked hard with the Council, the Speaker, and the de Blasio administration to improve the plan by making changes in response to our community’s feedback, and to make sure that the quality and character of our district will be preserved under the proposal. MIH and ZQA not only set minimum affordability requirements for the first time but also offer enormous tools to leaders like Jimmy to work to ensure that new developments do the most good and the least harm to our neighborhoods.
I’m calling on the City Council to pass these proposals as soon as possible. If MIH and ZQA become law, our government will have taken the biggest step it ever has to ensure that NYC remains a city for everyone.