The City’s rezoning proposals ‘Zoning for Quality and Affordability’ (ZQA) and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) are making their way through the public review process. If approved, each would profoundly impact our neighborhoods and our city, increasing the size and amount of allowable development. And while have received overwhelming disapproval from community boards and Borough Presidents, the Mayor insists they will ultimately be approved. The City Council has final say over these proposals’ fate, but their position remains to be seen.
It’s therefore critical that New Yorkers get involved with the process. But East Villagers have a particular stake in ensuring these rezoning plans are not adopted.
Why? The East Village would see the largest increases in height for allowable new development of any part of the city, with no real public benefits in return. Worse, the height limits this proposal would gut were ones which a whole range of community groups, affordable housing advocates, elected officials, and many others worked hard to achieve, and compromised significantly to put into effect.
Under the Mayor’s ZQA plan, in virtually the entire East Village, new market-rate developments would be allowed to grow five feet higher. While this seem like a modest amount, it’s a noticeable difference — in much of the East Village, existing buildings often average forty to fifty-five feet in height. A five foot difference is therefore significant.
The bigger change will come on East Village avenues and the blocks between 3rd and 4th Avenues. There new development will be able to grow by 25 feet or 31% over existing allowable height limits if they include 20% affordable housing – lifting height limits in these areas from 80 to 105 feet or 120 to 145 feet.
Some may say the height limit increase is worth it for the affordable housing produced. But all evidence points to the height limit increases not resulting in a single additional unit of affordable housing being built, and potentially only resulting in developments which would have been built anyway growing up to 25 feet or 31% taller.
Right now, East Village avenues and the blocks between 3rd and 4th Avenues have what is called “inclusionary zoning.” This means including 20% affordable housing in new developments is incentivized (but not required) by allowing developers to add additional market-rate square feet to help pay for the affordable housing they include. The new developments must currently abide by the existing height limits; currently about 50% of new developments in the East Village chose to include the affordable housing.
Under ZQA, such developments would get to go up to 25 feet or 31% higher. The City claims the current height limits discourage developers from including the affordable units, saying there isn’t enough room to do so.
But the facts don’t bear this out. About half of new developments in the East Village do include the affordable units with the height limits. The other half rarely if ever do not because of height limits. In most cases, those new developments had more than enough room under the existing zoning to include the affordable units. The developer simply chose not to.
So increasing the height limits is unlikely to result in any additional affordable housing being built. But for those 50% of new developments which would have included the affordable housing anyway, they might increase in height by up to 25 feet or 31%.
So what will happen in the East Village if ZQA passes? Likely not a single additional unit of affordable housing would be built as compared to what would be built under the existing height limits. But new market-rate developments would be five feet taller, and 80% market-rate/20% affordable developments would be 25 feet or as much as 31% taller – without any increase in the affordable housing we would have gotten with the existing height limits.
But what about Mandatory Inclusionary Housing? Isn’t the Mayor also putting forward a plan that would require new developments to include affordable housing, and 25-30% rather than the current 20%?
Yes, but with one big caveat, that would not help the East Village, and arguably would not help any part of the city.
The Mayor has said he will only apply the mandatory affordable housing provisions if the area is being significantly upzoned to allow a large increase in the allowable amount of market-rate housing. In other words, if you want required affordable housing, you have to accept a lot more market-rate housing in order to get it. And it won’t be applied to any of the existing zoning districts like the ones we have in the East Village.
And a large increase in the allowable amount of market-rate housing will inevitably result in an overall decrease in the affordability of a neighborhood, even if some additional affordable units are built. To say nothing of the loss of scale and sense of place which comes with a large-scale upzoning.
Want proof? This is exactly what the city did in West Chelsea/Hudson Yards and the Williamsburg/ Greenpoint waterfront in the mid-2000’s. There, a large-scale upzonings created a tsunami of new market-rate housing, with a promise of 27-28% affordable housing. The result? New affordable housing was built. But overall these became two of the most rapidly gentrifying, increasingly unaffordable neighborhoods in New York, with a scale and sense of place more like Hong Kong or Miami than New York.
Clearly this is not the future the East Village wants.
Want to help? Attend the City Council public hearings at City Hall on Tuesday February 9 or Wednesday February 10 starting at 9:30 am, and send letters to city officials in opposition here (letters can also be used as sample testimony; testimony must be no more than four minutes, but 20 copies of written testimony of any length can be submitted). More information on how to testify, track when you will be called to speak etc. can be found here and here.