Full City Council to Vote Today on Mayor’s Affordable Housing Proposals [UPDATE: MIH & ZQA Pass Full Council]

Click here to see CityLand's comprehensive modifications chart. Image credit: New York City Council

Click here to see CityLand’s comprehensive modifications chart. Image credit: New York City Council

Full vote follows Committee approval following extensive modifications after receiving community input and testimony for months. On March 17, 2016, the City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and the Committee on Land Use each voted on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposals. The full Council is expected to approve the proposals at today’s City Council Stated Meeting. To see CityLand‘s comprehensive chart outlining the modifications made to MIH and ZQA and approved by the Council, click here.

The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises approved the ZQA proposal unanimously and approved the MIH proposal by a vote of 5-1-0, with Council Member Jumaane Williams providing the only vote in the negative. The Land Use Committee approved the ZQA proposal by a vote of 15-2-1, with Council Members Inez Barron and Andrew Cohen voting against the proposal and Council Member Rosie Mendez abstaining from the vote.  The Committee approved the MIH proposal by a vote of 15-2-1, with Council Members Williams and Barron voting against the proposal and Council Member Mendez abstaining from the vote.

Prior to any votes taken, the Council outlined extensive modifications made to both of the plans from the original proposal that was approved by the City Planning Commission on February 3, 2016.

Zoning for Quality and Affordability

The Council’s policy on ZQA is four-pronged. First, ZQA should be focused on developing affordable housing for both the general population and for the senior population. Second, ZQA should ensure that the public review process is adequately utilized. Third, ZQA should restrain its parking restrictions in the City’s neighborhoods that have the least amount of access to public transportation. Fourth, ZQA should not disturb the character of the neighborhoods in which it is implemented. To view a comprehensive list of the Council’s proposed changes to the Mayor’s Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposal, click here.

Mandatory Inclusionary Housing

The Council’s policy on MIH is five pronged. First, MIH should be geared towards reaching lower income levels while maintaining a flexible income range. Second, the MIH proposal’s various loopholes should be closed, such as the proposal’s provisions providing for the BSA to grant developers special permits and its provisions permitting developers to meet affordable housing requirements with off-site affordable housing. Third, the level of transparency involved throughout the process should be improved. Fourth, the MIH proposal should include provisions addressing safe working conditions on construction sites and ensure local hiring is prioritized. Fifth, the MIH proposal should address issues relating to resident displacement and tenant harassment. To view a comprehensive list of the Council’s proposed changes to the Mayor’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposal, click here.

In addition to modifying the income range options for affordable housing development, the City Council amended the off-site affordable housing option. If developers choose to build affordable housing off-site, they must build additional affordable housing to the tune of five percent more of the usable floor area than if they had built the affordable housing on-site. Additionally, if the off-site option is chosen, the building would not benefit from increased height limits.

The Council added provisions to the proposed MIH that would require the upkeep of a database of all affordable units in the program, annual tracking of the Neighborhood Development Fund, and regular reports to be issued on the usage of the Payment in Lieu option.

The MIH original proposal granted authority to the Board of Standards and Appeals to issue special permits to waive the affordable housing requirement where the developer can show that the requirement would be the cause of undue hardship.  The Council’s modified MIH proposal would provide for issued permits to expire in four years if construction does not commence before then and mandate the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to comment or appear at the BSA hearing for each special permit application.

The Council added construction safety provisions, as well. The Department of Buildings would require construction superintendents for all major construction being conducted on both new and old buildings below 10 stories tall. Such superintendents would be required to conduct daily reviews of the construction sites and maintain a log of all safety information. Non-compliance would be met with stop-work orders and severe penalties ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, depending on whether the infraction was a first-time offense or a repeat offense.

The Council’s version of MIH would provide for HPD to require developers and contractors involved with projects subsidized by more than $2 million to make job openings publicly available through HireNYC and to interview candidates directly from HireNYC. Under this provision, the Department of Small Business Services would commit $2 million to ensure outreach efforts would reach residents seeking new jobs in areas affected by an MIH rezoning.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Administration has committed to increasing tenant harassment protection efforts and strengthening the Voluntary Inclusionary Housing program, but it has not yet made any commitments on these issues.

At the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises’ meeting, Subcommittee Chair Donovan Richards Jr. testified that there is no justification for the proposed ZQA’s authorization of the BSA to issue special permits waiving zoning regulations to allow for the construction of market-rate developments on irregularly shaped lots, especially due to the dramatic effect it could have on local context. In discussing the modifications to ZQA’s proposed height changes, Subcommittee Chair Richards testified that granting height increases to developers is only appropriate when the developers are providing affordable housing.

“We need this housing badly, and I have confidence that the proposals we now are considering will help alleviate the housing crisis for many New Yorkers in the decades to come,” said Subcommittee Chair Donovan Richards.

Council Member Vincent Gentile, from Brooklyn, expressed his satisfaction with the Council-modified MIH proposal’s inclusion of the “workforce option,” which is listed above as the third option in the MIH proposal’s income ranges. He noted that this provision is of the utmost importance to his constituents, who reside in southwestern Brooklyn. “Teachers, firefighters, policemen, and women—with or without families—who live in my District can qualify for affordable housing within the District,” said Council Member Gentile.

At the Committee on Land Use’s meeting, Committee Chair David Greenfield noted the magnitude of the MIH and ZQA proposals. He testified that Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito acknowledged that the City only changes the Citywide zoning text “once every fifty years,” which means the changes made by MIH and ZQA will affect the City’s skyline for the next few generations to come.

Council Member Jumaane Williams explained that he could not vote in favor of the MIH proposal unless it provides for the construction of a mandatory minimum amount of low-income units. “This plan is great, I believe. It even touches, plausibly, 30 percent, but it is for those elected officials and those communities who welcome low-income units. It does not mandate those elected officials and communities that historically have not welcomed low-income units,” said Council Member Williams.

The full City Council is expected to vote on the Mayor’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and the Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposals today.

UPDATE: Both proposals have been approved by the full City Council at its stated meeting.  The MIH proposal passed with 42 votes in favor of its passage and five votes against it. The ZQA proposal passed with 40 votes in favor of its passage, six votes against it, and one abstention. (See Full CityLand coverage of Stated Meeting vote: here)

City Council: LU 0334-2016, LU 0335-2016 (March 17, 2016).

By:  Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2015)

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