City Planning Holds Thirteen-Hour Hearing on Citywide Affordable Housing Proposals

City Planning Commission hearing testimony at December 16th meeting. Image credit: CityLand

City Planning Commission hearing testimony at December 16th meeting. Image credit: CityLand

CPC held the hearing at the National Museum of the American Indian in an attempt to accommodate the large number of guests, however an overflow of testifiers waited on lines outside as the hearing began. On December 16, 2015, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, and Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposals, which are two components of the Mayor’s Housing: New York plan. The public hearing was the latest step in the review process for these two plans, and followed up on the Citywide Community Boards’ votes from last month.

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen, Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been, and representatives of the AARP, SEIU 32BJ, and the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation were among those who spoke in favor of the proposals. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Council member Rosie Mendez, Assembly member Deborah Glick, and a representative of the Real Affordability for All coalition were among those who spoke against the proposals.

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen spoke largely on the importance of the proposed MIH and ZQA in achieving Mayor de Blasio’s goal of building 200,000 units of affordable housing in the City within a decade. According to Deputy Mayor Glen, New York City has been deprived of 250,000 rent-regulated housing units since 1994 due to de-control. Today, more than half of the City’s tenants are spending more than 30% of their income on rent, and one-third of the City’s tenants are spending more than half of their income on rent. “We must add new tools to our toolbox in order to build new affordable housing,” said Deputy Mayor Glen, who characterized the proposed MIH and ZQA as these aforementioned tools.

Commission member Michelle de la Uz began the Q&A session by asking Deputy Mayor Glen to clarify any misinformation that the public may have regarding the proposals. Deputy Mayor Glen testified that she believes the public views these proposals as a one-size-fits-all approach that is too inflexible to benefit a city composed of many diverse neighborhoods. In her view, however, this diversity has been factored into the structure of the approach adopted by these proposals. The “game changer,” according to Deputy Mayor Glen, is that this approach provides the City with the requisite tools to change the amount of affordable housing available because developers will now be required to build affordable housing when they build in certain areas.

Commission member Anna Hayes Levin noted that the plan calls for a “degree of coordination across City agencies that we don’t typically see in the zoning world,” and inquired as to how the Administration would ensure that the process is integrated across all of the involved agencies. Deputy Mayor Glen testified that the involved agencies report to her, and they are constantly coordinating with each other, holding regular meetings, and re-evaluating their approach as new issues arise.

In response to inquiries by Commission members Cheryl Cohen Effron and Larisa Ortiz, Deputy Mayor Glen noted that $36 million would be set aside in the operating budget to provide lawyers to tenants in rezoned neighborhoods who are being harassed by their landlords.

HPD Commissioner Vicki Been testified that the ZQA program would update the zoning resolution to allow for higher quality affordable housing without creating additional rights for developers to build market-rate housing.  Commissioner Been further testified that the MIH would be the “most rigorous” affordable housing initiative in the United States and stressed the importance of its provision of permanently affordable housing.

Commission member de la Uz questioned whether the affordable housing provided under the proposed ZQA and MIH could be made available to income levels below 60% AMI, which is where the greatest need is. Commissioner Been responded that this could be the ultimate outcome depending upon the needs of the individual neighborhood subject to rezoning, because each community will be fitted with a housing program suitable to their individual needs.

In response to Commission member Effron, Commissioner Been testified that HPD has put “tens of millions of dollars in the past few years into building up [its] technological infrastructure,” which has improved the tracking and enforcement of implemented affordable housing programs. Commissioner Been further noted that an anti-harassment task force has been established, which already led to several indictments and is currently involved with a number of active investigations.

Commission member Ortiz inquired as to what actual problem would be resolved by enabling the development of larger ground floor retail spaces. Commissioner Been testified that developers encounter problems locating quality retailers to occupy a unit with a 9-foot ceiling, and ensuring quality retailers occupy these spaces better serves the affected neighborhoods, while ensuring that “there’s cross-subsidy from the retail into the affordable units.”

Commissioner Been also testified on the “payment in lieu” provision of the MIH proposal, which provides developers that erect buildings with 11 to 25 residential units with the option to pay a fee instead of building on-site affordable housing. According to Commissioner Been, the money collected via the payment in lieu fee option would be deposited into a segregated fund designated for the respective Community Board to be used solely for constructing new affordable housing, or preserving or rehabilitating existing affordable housing. If the Community Board does not use the funds within ten years, then the funds would be used elsewhere in the respective borough exclusively for any of these three aforementioned purposes. “My legal team and the Law Department are working on restrictions to make sure that that money does stay segregated,” Commissioner Been testified, “and we’re confident that we can segregate it out and allow it to be used only for those purposes.”

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. noted the lack of respect shown to the Community Boards by giving them sixty days to review and vote on these proposals, which amounted to over 500 pages of text and would, if passed, “affect generations to come.” He brought up several unanswered questions, such as whether existing neighborhood schools would be able to hold an influx of new students and whether transportation would be impacted. Borough President Diaz Jr. testified further that the proposals would not adequately serve the goals of mixed-income communities. He recommended a neighborhood-specific approach be taken, because this approach has already proven successful in the Bronx and should be applied Citywide.

Council member Rosie Mendez testified primarily in opposition to the off-site affordable housing option, and noted that luxury apartments have been constructed in her district in exchange for off-site affordable housing constructed in other communities. Mendez was the only Council member who voted against MIH and ZQA at the Manhattan Borough Board, while all the other Council members who were present abstained.

Assembly member Deborah Glick testified that the ZQA’s purpose in facilitating Citywide increased height and bulk requirements ignores the unique nature of the City’s individual neighborhoods, especially its historic districts, and “erodes these neighborhoods as attractions for our film and tourist sectors.” “By definition,” she testified, “the text amendment would increase residential development and density throughout the City. To encourage the increase without updating the City Environmental Quality Review formula is absolutely negligent. Public infrastructure is already stressed, and most communities cannot support this increased density without reinforcement of public facilities.” She testified further that the proposals do not consider the need for additional open space, public transportation, and even school seats.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz testified that the reduced parking requirements would have a drastically negative effective on the borough of Queens since public transit only serves one-third of the borough, and most of its residents rely on their vehicles. According to Borough President Katz the lack of available parking near such transit zones is already an issue. “If you stop building parking spots, it doesn’t mean we’re going to stop using our cars,” said Borough President Katz, who responded to inquiry by Commission member Ortiz by noting that the parking issue at hand needs to be a localized decision based upon community needs.

James Arnold, member of the volunteer Executive Council of AARP for the State of New York, testified that “61% of generation X and baby boomer voters have said that they are actually considering leaving New York City to retire somewhere else because of the lack of affordability.” Sharon Cromwell, the lead for new development at SEIU 32BJ, testified that SEIU 32BJ supports the proposals as part of Mayor de Blasio’s “larger comprehensive affordable housing strategy,” which includes subsidies allowing the construction of housing affordable to “people making as little as $18,000 per year, as well as aggressive tenant protection and affordable housing preservation programs.”

Calvin Gronnum, president and chief executive officer of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, noted that since the rezoning of Bedford-Stuyvesant in 2008, the cost of living and housing has risen dramatically in the affected neighborhoods, such that “people who have incomes between $40,000 and $90,000 are being shut out of the housing market.” It is the view of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation that “the City of New York has a responsibility to undo the public and private sector policies that have led to high levels of economic and racial segregation of housing in the City and in public education.” The Bedford-Stuyvesant rezoning in 2008 resulted in high-density housing built around Fulton Street, and as prices within the area began to rise, developers opted to build all market-rate housing rather than benefitting from the Voluntary Inclusionary Housing bonus. “What we’re seeing now is the growth of market-rate projects where we really had the opportunity to generate some diversity,” Gronnum testified.

Maritza Silva-Farrell, director of the Real Affordability For All coalition, testified that the proposed MIH and ZQA would fail to provide affordable housing to a large amount of low-income and moderate-income City residents. She noted further that the proposals do not require that developers establish higher job-quality standards, or criteria by which to measure these standards, as a pre-requisite to receiving a density bonus. “Good union construction jobs and affordable housing are two sides of the same coin,” Silva-Farrell testified.

The Historic District Council submitted testimony in opposition to the proposals. HDC testified that the proposed ZQA would allow developers to build more market-rate residential units, but would do nothing to protect existing affordable housing throughout the City. According to HDC, more than one million residential units in the City, or 47% of the City’s housing stock, is rent regulated. The ZQA’s could “incentivize demolition of existing housing in order to replace it with new developments” that would benefit from the ZQA’s higher density-allowance. HDC testified that the small, 100% rent-regulated residential buildings in the City should be protected from such demolition.

The hearing which was held at the National Museum for American Indian lasted over 13 hours, with more than 110 testifiers. The hearing ended shortly before 10 PM with no breaks. According to City Planning, every person who signed up to speak and who was present was given the opportunity to testify.

For those who did not testify at the hearing, written comments on the application may be sent up to the date of the Commission vote. You can submit written comments by email to or mail to:
 Calendar Information Office – 31st Floor, 
120 Broadway, New York NY 10271.

The Commission is expected to vote on the proposed MIH and ZQA in early 2016, after which the City Council will begin its review.

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

One thought on “City Planning Holds Thirteen-Hour Hearing on Citywide Affordable Housing Proposals

  1. It is imperative that the City Planning Commission hold a second hearing to allow those individuals and groups who were shut out of the December 16th hearing to testify before the Commissioners.
    On Dec. 16th, I arrived at 8:15 AM, waited over an hour to get in to the auditorium inside of the museum where the hearing was being held, and then did not get to testify until 6 PM. There were easily several hundred more testifiers who were turned away outside of the museum. One would think that the City Planning Commission would want to hear all opinions on such crucial changes as proposed by the ZQA and the MIH amendments.
    In fact, because of the impact that these proposals will have on the city for generations to come, hearings by the City Planning Commission should really have been held in all five boroughs. As usual, city government officials feel that the whole city revolves around Manhattan and not the other boroughs. And please do not refer to Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx as the “outer” boroughs. We are as much a part of the City of New York as our friends and neighbors in Manhattan and we deserve the same treatment and respect.

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