A study will show that the city can drive a much harder bargain with developers
Shortly after Bill de Blasio was elected mayor in 2013, a broad coalition of advocates, workers and residents came together to begin demanding real affordability in new housing and quality job opportunities in neighborhoods that would be rezoned for residential development.
Over the past two years, members and leaders of Real Affordability for All have called on the de Blasio administration to ensure that low-income New Yorkers are not left behind.
Thousands of New Yorkers involved in this campaign agreed on something crucial: Just as de Blasio’s election was a referendum on the growing inequality tied to his predecessor Michael Bloomberg’s legacy, so must de Blasio’s housing and rezoning plan slow the gentrification and displacement connected to Bloomberg’s luxury housing boom.
Together, de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) are intended to boost the supply of affordable housing across the city. The two initiatives recently passed the City Council with broad support and were strengthened to increase the depth of affordability for countless struggling New Yorkers who are far from middle class, let alone rich. De Blasio’s plan is an important step, but it does not cover all low-income New Yorkers—especially workers earning $30,000 or less per year, who are struggling the most to survive.
De Blasio will not fulfill his mandate as mayor to create a more affordable and livable city if housing is out of reach for working-poor New Yorkers in danger of displacement and homelessness.
To his credit, de Blasio himself has acknowledged the importance of doing more to create deeper affordability and spur local hiring in ways that empower low-income residents in our neighborhoods.
Last month, he said, “We want to look for any other ways we can go further … We want to keep innovating. We want to find ways to do more because this affordability crisis is so real.”
He was referring to a new study the city will conduct with our coalition to examine all the available tools for getting to deeper affordability and job standards in low-income neighborhoods to be rezoned.
This is where the real work begins. It’s crucial to recognize that MIH and ZQA are only a baseline—a solid starting point for new affordable housing in rezoned neighborhoods, but not the end of the story.
New residential density will increase the number of apartments in many neighborhoods, and that means developers will be earning bigger profits. But instead of allowing developers to keep all of that profit, communities should be able to withhold extra density and only offer it if developers agree to build deeply affordable housing, including apartments for residents making below 30% of the area media income (AMI) and offer career-oriented jobs for low-income residents.
How density can be used to create real affordable communities is what we hope to study as part of a collaborative effort with the administration, labor unions and community groups.
This proposed study is a crucial first step toward a new model of community planning in New York City. We believe low-income New Yorkers can use the results of the analysis to drive a much harder bargain with developers and win more affordability, greater economic opportunity and job standards in neighborhoods that are rezoned.
Our goal is to put into practice additional policies and land-use strategies that can drive mixed-income developments where at least 50% of new apartments are affordable to current residents, including low-income New Yorkers who would be hired locally to build new housing they can afford.
Construction is a growing industry and more New Yorkers should be able to gain access to apprenticeship opportunities and new careers building apartments they can actually afford.
Zoning for increased residential density will reshape not just our skyline but the lives of millions of New Yorkers for decades to come. The process can and should create real affordable housing and good jobs that meet the needs of low-income New Yorkers, while still enabling new development to thrive.
Community-based developers, land-use experts, labor leaders and housing policy analysts are ready to work with City Hall to show how de Blasio’s housing and rezoning efforts can live up to the bold, progressive vision of his mayoral campaign.
Let’s roll up our sleeves and make it happen, together.
Maritza Silva-Farrell is campaign director of Real Affordability for All.
This op-ed originally appeared on Crain's NY's website on April 13, 2016.