Study: City’s Proposed SoHo/NoHo Upzoning Would Make Neighborhoods Richer, Whiter, and More Expensive

Plan Would Likely Only Create 1/5 of Projected Affordable Housing, Push Out Asian American and Lower Income Residents Would Likely Destroy More Affordable Housing Than It Creates

A newly-released study by Village Preservation shows that the city’s SoHo/NoHo Rezoning Plan will make these neighborhoods richer, whiter, and more expensive to live in than they are now, and likely create significantly less affordable housing than projected, potentially destroying more affordable housing than it creates.

The new study found that the city’s projections about the impact of the rezoning plan are highly flawed, and the plan will likely produce only about one-fifth of the projected affordable housing, while creating strong incentives for the demolition of a much larger amount of existing affordable housing (rent regulated and loft law) than it creates. The city’s plan would disproportionately result in the demolition of buildings housing Asian American residents and businesses, and lower income residents. The report, which can be read here, is being released at a critical time as the city’s rezoning plan is expected to be certified, and begin the official 6 month ULURP public review and approval process, in the spring.

“The city’s SoHo/NoHo rezoning plan is being packaged as one which will increase equity, affordability, and diversity, and generate a great deal of new affordable housing. In fact, a closer examination shows it will do none of these, and would, in fact, make these neighborhoods richer, whiter, and more expensive than they are now, while disproportionately squeezing out lower-income tenants and people of color,” said Andrew Berman, Executive Director of Village Preservation. “The good news is the city does not need to move forward with this flawed plan. We have proposed an alternative that will protect and increase affordable housing, and we hope the city will consider that.” 

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. 

The report found multiple flaws in the city’s draft Environmental Impact Statement and both its characterizations of the existing neighborhood and the impact the plan would have. This includes:

  • Census data shows that while a significant percentage of residents of the affected area (which includes part of Chinatown) are of higher income levels, a considerable percentage of residents of these neighborhoods are of lower to moderate income levels.
  • The housing the city’s rezoning would create, even with affordable housing included, would overall be many times more expensive than average housing prices currently in the neighborhood, house a much higher percentage of white residents than the current neighborhood as a whole, and be unaffordable to most neighborhood residents. 
  • The plan is only likely to produce about 1/5 of the projected affordable housing, or 68-103 units, because in 80% of cases where affordable housing construction is projected to be built, the plan  gives stronger zoning incentives for the construction of commercial buildings (which would contain no affordable housing) than for residential ones. 
  • The city’s analysis assumes no affordable housing will be destroyed and no residents displaced by new construction in their plan.  But the plan utilizes a very large upzoning (increase in allowable size and density of development) which would provide huge financial incentives for the destruction of existing 4-6 story buildings in the neighborhood, many of which contain affordable housing and lower to moderate income residents, many of them Chinese American. The study shows similar examples of what has happened with rent stabilized housing nearby when there was a significant difference between the allowable size of new development and existing buildings such as the city’s proposed rezoning would create, in which buildings were demolished and affordable housing lost. The study shows dozens of buildings in the proposed SoHo/NoHo rezoning with rent regulated housing and lower income residents which would be similarly endangered by the city’s proposed upzoning. 
  • The areas where the city’s plan proposes the largest upzoning, and therefore the largest incentive for demolition of buildings, also contains a disproportionately high concentration of Asian American residents, lower income residents, and affordable rent regulated or loft law housing. 
  • In these areas, the city’s proposed upzoning would allow new residential development at the maximum legally allowable density in New York State, and 20% higher than zoning allows for residential development on “Billionaire’s Row.” 

The study also looks at the Community Alternative Rezoning Plan, which would not endanger any existing affordable housing or result in any increased pressure to displace existing lower or moderate income residents, because the maximum allowable size of development would remain the same as it is under existing rules. Though it would not allow an upzoning, it would allow as-of-right residential development (currently prohibited in the area without a special permit) with mandatory inclusion of affordable housing in new residential developments, and calls for a higher percentage of affordable units and at deeper levels of affordability than the city’s plan.

The study points out that the community plan, by not endangering any existing affordable housing, would likely produce a larger net increase in affordable housing (the city’s plan is shown to potentially lead to a net decrease in affordable housing) and, combined with direct subsidies for the construction of 50%, 75%, or 100% affordable housing on parking lots and similar sites in the neighborhood, would lead to the creation of even more affordable housing than the city’s plan (inaccurately) projects it would. 

The study also points out that the city’s plan takes no account of its impact upon neighboring areas of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, which have an even higher concentration of lower and moderate income residents, affordable rent regulated and loft law housing, and people of color. The potential for secondary displacement in these immediately adjacent areas is even greater, and will likely lead to the city’s plan creating an even greater shift in the demographics of the area to richer and whiter residents living in more expensive housing.   

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March 5, 2021