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City’s SoHo/NoHo Rezoning Plan Would Make Neighborhoods Less Affordable, Wealthier, and Less Diverse

The newly-released study by Village Preservation shows that the City’s SoHo/NoHo Rezoning Plan, which includes part of Chinatown, will make the area richer, whiter, and more expensive to live in than now, increase demolition pressures on existing rent regulated units, and potentially destroy more affordable housing than it creates. The city also does not accurately represent the current racial composition of the area.

Presentation and Discussion 3/25

On Thursday, March 25, Village Preservation is honored to be invited by Think! Chinatown for a presentation and discussion: The SoHo/NoHo Rezoning Plan: Its Impacts on Chinatown. RSVP here.

The City’s proposed SoHo/NoHo rezoning plan includes an important corner of Chinatown. The plan has been rushed through during the pandemic without adequate engagement with the Chinatown community. Its official release is expected soon, with the public review and approval process to immediately follow.

T!C invited Andrew Berman, our Executive Director, to share research from our recent report on the implications of rezoning at this scale, and give a fuller understanding of the plan and its impacts in Chinatown. Questions are encouraged. RSVP here for the Thursday March 25th 6:30 pm event.

RSVP here: https://www.thinkchinatown.org/happenings/sohorezoning

In the fall of 2020, the de Blasio administration announced its plans to rezone the neighborhoods of SoHo and NoHo, saying it would “advance the City’s goals of fair housing and equitable growth” and “create a more inclusive…SoHo and NoHo” as part of “a more equitable and integrated city.”

Under the City plan, new development may in many cases result in the displacement of lower income residents and the destruction of affordable housing. In a “best case” scenario, existing residential buildings with affordable, rent-regulated housing and lower-income residents will be destroyed for new residential construction that is 70-80% super-luxury/20-30% “affordable.”

The City projects their rezoning plan will create 1,201-1,369 units of market-rate housing, and 330- 498 units of affordable housing, over the next ten years (an additional 1,255 – 1,102 units of market-rate housing and 293-446 units of “affordable” housing are considered “less likely to be developed within the foreseeable future and were thus [only] considered potential development sites” in the city’s analysis.) The market-rate units (approximately 75% of new units created under the city’s plan) will likely sell for an average of $6.437 million, requiring an annual income of roughly over $1 million. Census and ACS figures don’t break down income levels above $200,000, but for roughly the SoHo area they show households with incomes of $200,000 and above are 81% white, 10% Asian, and 3% each black and Hispanic. The 25% of units that are “affordable,” though no doubt more diverse in their makeup than the 75% occupied by millionaires and above, will not change the fact that these new developments under the city’s plan will skew the neighborhood whiter as well as richer.

While it is impossible to concretely predict the race of the new residents of the neighborhood under the city’s rezoning plan, it is possible to make projections based upon some clear indicators around income distribution.

Assuming that the affordable units (25% of the building) reflect the citywide makeup of their income bands, 37.25% of residents of those affordable units will be white, 11.3% will be Hispanic, 30.14% black, and 13.3% Asian.

Combined with the market-rate units, this will result in buildings which are 70% white, 10.8% Asian, 5% Hispanic and 9.8% black – a higher percentage white and black than the 7 census tracts for this neighborhood, but a lower percentage Hispanic and a dramatically lower percentage Asian identified.

If the affordable units reflect the Manhattan-wide makeup of their income bands, 51% of those residents will be white, 10.1% will be Hispanic, 18.7% black, and 11.9% Asian, resulting in buildings which are 73.5% white, 4.8% Hispanic, 6.9% black, and 10.5% Asian.

This is an even higher percentage white than the 7 census tracts, with Hispanics and Asians at a further decreased percentage of the population than currently. And while the share of African-American residents would be a modest increase compared to the current makeup of the 7 census tracts, it would still be a very small percentage of the population in these new buildings.

It should be noted that two additional factors may strongly affect the racial composition of new residents under the city’s plan, in both cases substantially skewing the likely make-up of new residents to make them even less diverse in several key respects.

Current city policy known as “community preference” requires that ½ of the affordable units in such developments are set aside for residents of the community board in which they are located. Given Community Board #2’s racial composition (74.2% white, 6.3% Hispanic, 1.9% black, and 14.1% Asian), if Community Preference is applied here, it is likely to significantly decrease the small share of residents of new buildings who would be black, slightly increase the share who would be Asian (though they would still be well below the current percentage for these 7 census tracts), very modestly increase the share who are white, and negligibly affect the share who are Hispanic.

Proposed Upzoning Area

The other assumption, that the racial composition of residents of the “affordable” units would roughly reflect their relative share of the respective income bands city- or borough-wide, is also questionable. Accessing affordable housing in private developments such as these favors those with social capital to know about such opportunities and be able to navigate the bureaucracies to secure the spots. This would undoubtedly further skew these numbers. So while these new developments have tremendous potential for destroying existing affordable housing containing a diverse array of income levels and a significant percentage of Asian residents, they will add housing which is richer and whiter than the neighborhood as a whole currently, with at best a very small increase in the share of black residents and a much more substantial decrease in the share of Asian residents.

The city’s SoHo/NoHo upzoning plan will make these neighborhoods richer and whiter, make housing prices overall much more expensive than they are now, likely destroy a considerable amount of affordable housing, and create about 80% less affordable housing than projected. It will allow grossly out of scale development and a flood of super luxury condos at prices averaging over $6 million for households with incomes averaging over $1 million, as well as large new office buildings and big box chain stores. The city is ignoring the clear evidence of the impact which this plan would have, not just on SoHo and NoHo but adjacent neighborhoods like Chinatown and the Lower East Side, continuing a pattern of wildly inaccurate projections and prognostications about what their rezonings would do.

There are ways to make SoHo and NoHo more affordable and equitable, as well as to update nearly fifty year old zoning which in some cases may conflict with present-day realities. The city’s plan is not the way to do so. It will exacerbate problems of affordability and inequality in these neighborhoods, and in adjacent neighborhoods which will also be impacted. And it will destroy the qualities of the built environment, the artistic heritage, and the unique character of these neighborhoods which have made SoHo and NoHo successful and sought-after.

RSVP here: https://www.thinkchinatown.org/happenings/sohorezoning

The Community Alternative Rezoning Plan, developed by a group of civic and community organizations, lays out a plan that would not destroy any affordable housing or push out any existing residents, but would create as much if not more affordable housing than the city’s plan, especially if combined with direct subsidies for the construction of new affordable housing in the neighborhood. 

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