HPD’s Carol Clark on Affordable Housing Development and Historic Preservation

Carol Clark

Carol Clark, Assistant Commissioner for Land Use and Local Governmental Affairs with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, serves as one of the agency’s vital ambassadors to the City Council. The Council must review HPD’s affordable housing development initiatives that involve the disposition of City-owned properties or the grant of tax exemptions. Clark arrived at HPD ten years ago with an extensive background in architecture, historic preservation, planning, and real estate development.

Architectural base. Clark grew up in the suburbs outside Detroit, Michigan. As a child on family trips to the city, she was captivated by the architecture of downtown Detroit’s skyscrapers. Clark’s interest in architecture led her to study architectural history at the University of Michigan. As an undergraduate, Clark became aware of the emerging efforts to restore and adaptively reuse historic buildings. When Clark learned that Columbia University offered the nation’s first graduate program in historic preservation, she knew a move to New York City would soon follow. Columbia accepted Clark, and she moved to the City in 1975. 

Career in public service. Clark earned a master’s degree, and then served as the Associate Director for the non-profit New York Landmarks Conservancy. She left after six years to return to Columbia as a Charles H. Revson Fellow, where she broadened her academic base through courses in real estate, law, and urban planning.

Over the next twenty years, Clark held several non-profit and public sector positions. She worked on real estate transactions for the Trust for Public Land, and as a strategic planner for the precursor to the City’s Economic Development Corporation. In 1988, Clark served on the Municipal Art Society’s Historic City Committee convened to study the efficacy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Clark later became the Director of the Municipal Art Society’s Planning Center, which in its 1990 Historic District Zoning study, examined misalignments between historic district character and City zoning regulations. Clark believes that the City, through many of its neighborhood rezonings over the last decade, has effectively addressed this issue.

Clark in 1990 accepted an intergovernmental relations position at the Department of City Planning. Her arrival coincided with the expansion of the City Planning Commission due to the 1989 City Charter. Clark later served as the Executive Director of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. In 1998, as President of the Brooklyn Historical Society, Clark oversaw the complete renovation of the Society’s George B. Post-designed headquarters.

Transition to housing. Clark joined HPD in 2002. HPD utilizes a broad range of programs to create affordable housing opportunities in new construction projects and to preserve affordability in existing buildings. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s New Housing Marketplace Plan provides a flexible framework for HPD to carry out its mission. Under the Plan, HPD initially emphasized the construction of new affordable units. When the economy stalled, however, HPD shifted the emphasis to the preservation component. Clark worked alongside City Planning to increase the affordable housing potential of major City rezonings, such as the Hudson Yards and Greenpoint/Williamsburg rezoning plans. As a result, a variety of incentives are available for developers to create new affordable housing as the economy becomes more robust.

Clark is a fixture at the Council, where she appears on behalf of HPD to testify at committee hearings. Clark explains that her role is to facilitate the City Council’s review of HPD projects. She communicates with Council members to ensure that all of the stakeholders understand the complex details of each project. Clark thinks it is important to consider the human element of HPD’s mission. A vital aspect of this mission has been to return tax-foreclosed buildings to privately-owned entities, including neighborhood-based not-for-profit sponsors. Clark also finds it rewarding to work on HPD projects that transform distressed parcels into supportive housing.

Value of preservation. Clark continues to pursue her interest in historic preservation as an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Clark laments that people have a tendency to take their surroundings for granted. Many of us, Clark says, often do not realize that the environment we inhabit contains rich history, nor do we understand the many layers of architectural, cultural, or historical significance that are embodied in that environment. For Clark, the value of historic preservation is that it helps create an essential sense of place by providing a connection between past and present generations. The economic value of preservation is also noteworthy, Clark says, because a large part of the City’s attraction to tourists rests on the preservation of City landmarks and its distinctive neighborhoods.

Return to Detroit. In April, Clark plans to attend the Society of Architectural Historians annual conference in Detroit. She is excited that many of her friends in the architecture world will get to see the same impressive skyscrapers that caught her eye as a child. — Frank St. Jacques

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