In an effort to alleviate New York City’s housing crisis, Mayor Eric Adams has proposed a set of reforms representing the most substantial zoning changes the Big Apple has seen in decades.
Throughout the year, Manhattan has recovered its rental rates with growth improving 0.9 percent on a trailing three-month basis through June, Yardi Matrix data shows. The average rental price in the borough is $4,743 per month.
However, high rents aren’t just plaguing Manhattan. In every borough, residents are having difficulty obtaining housing, particularly those designated as “affordable”. The situation is worsening as more people move into the city.
Part of Adams’ series of “City of Yes” proposals, the overhaul has the potential to be one of the most significant overhauls of NYC zoning in decades, Rafael E. Cestero, CEO of The Community Preservation Corporation, told Multi-Housing News.
“Big challenges demand big solutions and there is no greater challenge right now for New York than our housing crisis,” said Cestero. “Mayor Adams and his team are giving us a thoughtful, ambitious plan that reflects both the gravity of the crisis and the kind of all-of-the-above approach needed to make housing more abundant, accessible and affordable.”
“NYC should be doing all it can to increase density, but there should be an affordability requirement wherever feasible,” said Peter Madden, executive director of Westbeth, who said he welcomes the reforms.
For years, strict zoning policies in certain neighborhoods have prevented the construction of multifamily communities above ground-level commercial spaces, such as bodegas or laundromats. One proposal aims to change this, allowing for apartment buildings to be developed up to five stories tall atop such commercial spaces.
Other key reforms would change the rule that requires certain developments to include parking spaces and that prevents single- and double-family property homeowners from constructing a second unit on their property and renting it out.
Madden believes that of the many proposals, Adams’ “Universal Affordability Preference” reform is one that has especially great potential. If passed, this policy would allow affordable housing to, like senior housing, be 20 percent larger than other types of residences.
“Developers will push for the restricted units to be set at high incomes, claiming that the economics won’t otherwise work,” said Madden. “The City should insist on income restrictions at 60 percent of Area Median Income and below. Providing rental assistance vouchers to some portion of the restricted units will make this more palatable to developers.”
Also included in the reforms set forth by Adams, shared living homes would be relegalized, allowing for a common area bathroom or kitchen and changing the laws that mandate larger units.
Cestero told MHN that the city needs each and every one of the proposals put forth to ensure real progress is made. Securing approval for the zoning reforms will require winning over city and state elected officials and gaining support from their constituents and community leaders.
“We can’t cherry pick one or two things, and we can’t get caught up in endless ‘not in my backyard’ debates about which neighborhood should or shouldn’t do this or that,” Cestero explained. “Our housing crisis is long past the point of looking for one or two silver bullets. If every community does their part we can make real progress.”
No neighborhood would be left unchanged by the proposed reforms, whether it be through smaller unit sizes, altered zoning to encourage conversions or maximized housing on large campus spaces.
The New York City Council is not expected to vote on the proposals before fall of 2024. Should the reforms be put into effect, some 100,000 new homes could be constructed as a result. While this would take some 15 years, these reforms could be the most significant zoning changes the city has seen, at least since 1961 and potentially ever.
A slew of reforms, incentives and plans
The “City of Yes for Housing Opportunity” initiatives are the third of three NYC zoning changes that will be presented to the New York City Council, all put forth by the mayor in an effort to improve the city’s housing shortage.
The set of proposals elaborate on the mayor’s earlier announcement for Manhattan’s Midtown South neighborhood, targeting the conversion of 136 million square feet of vacant office space into multifamily homes. The initiative could create some 20,000 new units. Other programs and incentivization proposals have been rolling out all year. M-CORE, or the Manhattan Commercial Revitalization program, provides commercial office owners tax benefits for residential conversions.
“Now the mayor has given us the plan, but to make it work we need everyone – community boards, local stakeholders, city council members, and our neighbors and fellow New Yorkers to enthusiastically say yes to housing in their neighborhood,” said Cestero.
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