Mixed Results in Albany’s Housing Deal — The Battle Continues

Thanks to actions taken by Albany, we’re likely to see more supersized structures in our neighborhoods like 432 Park Avenue (l.), albeit fewer of them than some would have liked. Landmarked churches and other religious institutions (r.) remain safe, for now.

Late on Saturday, April 20, the housing deal in the state budget between Governor Hochul and the legislature was finalized and approved, containing a mixed bag of good news, bad news, and in between.

Here’s the rundown:

  • The misleadingly named “Faith-Based Affordable Housing Act” was NOT included in the final deal. That bill as written would override landmarks protections for churches and other religious properties, allowing construction, alteration, and demolition on historic landmarked sites. This bill, being pushed by real estate front group Open NY, is not dead however. We are working to get state legislators who have sponsored it (including local State Senators Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Brian Kavanaugh) to amend the bill substantially to address these issues, or to drop their support. 
  • The deal does remove the state’s existing 12 floor area ratio (FAR) limit on the allowable size of new residential development in NYC, enabling the City to rezone areas to significantly greater densities than previously allowed, with no absolute upper limit whatsoever. However, it does so with multiple limitations now added, including:
    • Areas within designated historic districts cannot be rezoned to above the previous limit of 12 FAR (this covers much but not all of Greenwich Village and NoHo, and a fraction of the East Village; it also means it will likely become even harder to gain landmark protections for new historic districts in our area, given this limitation).
    • The supersized structures allowed by the rule to exceed 12 FAR must include some “affordable” housing (current rules, which are subject to change, require about a quarter of units to be set aside for households with incomes slightly below average for NYC; we called for requiring these developments to be 100% or majority affordable).
    • The supersized structures the rule change allows cannot be built on lots that have “joint living-work quarters for artists,” of which there are many in our neighborhoods. 
    • These supersized structures cannot be built on lots with existing residential buildings UNLESS they get a “Certificate of No Harassment” demonstrating no tenants were harassed on the site (this will help to keep tenants safe and prevent many of the supersized structures from being built; however, this is a FAR from foolproof system, run by a notoriously inefficient and sometimes corrupt City bureaucracy about which tenants who have been harassed have raised multiple complaints).
    • These supersized structures cannot be built on lots with certain kinds of existing affordable housing. 

Village Preservation extends an enormous THANK YOU to the thousands of you who sent letters and called and wrote elected officials about this issue. Because of YOUR efforts, this outcome is infinitely less bad than it otherwise would have been, even if legislators did ultimately concede more than we would have liked.

Although we had fought to keep the very reasonable 12 FAR cap in place, and the limitations added by the State Legislature are far from ideal or sufficient to protect neighborhoods, this is nevertheless a far cry from what the Governor, Mayor, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, and local City Councilmembers Carlina Rivera and Erik Bottcher had called and lobbied for: a complete lifting of the cap by the state with no limitations or requirements attached to it WHATSOEVER. It’s also a significant improvement over what the State Senate had approved, which was lifting the cap with only the stipulation that some percentage of units in the new supersized structures be “affordable,” and historic districts be excluded. The State Assembly originally did not approve any change to the cap, but ultimately approved this “compromise” deal.

While not nearly as bad as what real estate forces and some elected officials had been calling for, this change in the state’s rules nevertheless significantly increases the chances of grossly out-of-scale development in our neighborhoods and of increased pressure for tenant displacement and loss of existing rent-regulated affordable housing. In order for any of the new supersized developments to be allowed, the City will need to rezone neighborhoods at this newly allowable, vastly increased density. We have no doubt that sometime in the not-too-distant future, we will see proposals by the City to rezone parts of our neighborhood at these new ultra-high densities, and we will be prepared to respond when they do.

If you want to help us continue the fight to preserve our neighborhoods and prevent wanton demolition and out-of-character new development, please consider making a donation today. 

April 22, 2024