Zoning for Housing Opportunity Amendment Aims to Address City’s Housing Shortage

The Zoning for Housing Opportunity text amendment may enable the creation of smaller units like the one above to provide more options for housing. Image Credit: Mayor’s Office

Still in its early stages, Mayor Adams’ proposed zoning text amendment aims to increase affordable housing in the city. On June 1, 2022, Mayor Adams announced his “City of Yes” plan consisting of three citywide zoning text amendments. One of these initiatives, “Zoning for Housing Opportunity,” addresses the city’s housing shortage. Although the text amendment has not yet been drafted, Mayor Adams listed four key housing proposals in his announcement.

Expand opportunities for affordable and supportive homes for New Yorkers by increasing the floor area ratio for all types of affordable housing, similar to the allowance already afforded to affordable housing for seniors

First, the amendment will increase the floor area ratio (FAR) for all types of affordable housing, similar to the higher floor area ratio already allowed in available housing for seniors. Floor area ratio is the main zoning regulation that controls building size. The larger the permitted FAR, the larger a building is allowed to be, helping to house more people. By granting all affordable housing developments a larger floor area ratio that’s already given to developments for seniors, this text amendment should increase the availability of affordable housing.

Created by the 2016 “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” law, an affordable housing developer can qualify for additional FAR than they would get as-of-right if they can prove that the building will be occupied by seniors. Each unit must have at least one resident over 62 years old, and a minimum of four percent of the building must be dedicated to shared facilities for residents such as dining rooms. The new text amendment would potentially allow affordable housing developments a larger FAR regardless of the age of the residents.

Broaden the acceptable variety of housing types and sizes, including studios, to accommodate a wider range of families and households

The text amendment also aims to broaden the types and sizes of affordable housing available to accommodate a wider variety of New Yorkers.

One solution is to make it easier to add accessory dwelling units to existing housing stock. One example is changing zoning laws to allow homeowners to convert their basements into accessory apartments. Low density districts that presently only allow for one or two family homes could, under this new zoning, have new dwelling units on the basement level as-of-right. The text amendment could also allow add-on dwelling units and bedrooms to other areas, such as rear extensions that are often restricted under current zoning law.

On the issue of housing sizes, Mayor Adams has stated that too much of the city’s present housing stock is made up of two or more bedrooms. In his Housing Blueprint released June 14, 2022, Adams called for zoning changes to create a larger supply of studios and one-bedroom apartments throughout the city, both market rate and affordable.

The Mayor’s preferred strategy would help meet the needs of single adults, who make up one-third of New Yorkers. By giving adults who wish to live alone more housing options, Adams hopes to free up larger units for families who cannot compete financially with multiple young professionals. Adams also aims to help seniors find affordable housing, and believes that like young adults, they could easily be housed in shared housing, accessory dwellings, or micro-units. Since these smaller living spaces are typically illegal or impossible under existing zoning regulations, we can anticipate that the text amendment will address the Mayor’s goals.

However, some may not agree with Adams’ approach. Advocates have long noted that affordable housing developments are already comprised mainly of studios and one-bedrooms, alienating larger families. One such example is an upcoming development in Wakefield. While Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson approved the application, she expressed concern that only 35 percent of units were two- or three-bedroom apartments, stating, “studio and one-bedroom apartments virtually block out a family’s need for housing.” In the future, Gibson said, her administration will only approve affordable housing developments when at least 40 percent of units can accommodate families.

If the Mayor’s strategy of prioritizing smaller units is similarly included in the text amendment, it will be interesting to see if the plan receives opposition from those like Gibson who want to see more units for larger families.

Ease conversions of underutilized commercial buildings into homes

Mayor Adams additionally intends to ease the conversion of unused commercial buildings into residential homes. Under the City’s Loft Law, only a select few zoning districts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens may convert existing commercial or manufacturing buildings into residences.

For commercial buildings that already can convert to residencies as-of-right the process is arduous. Applicants who choose to undergo the current residential conversion process must follow State and City Law and file up to 7 different forms with the Department of Buildings, and may require additional approval from other agencies. These obstacles also include compliance with zoning regulations for use, bulk, and applying for conversion with the City Planning Commission. The upcoming text amendments could explore ways to lessen zoning regulations to make it easier to create more affordable housing.

Reduce unnecessary parking requirements that add cost and take up space in buildings that could be used for additional homes

Lastly, Mayor Adams wants to lessen parking requirements for affordable housing developments. Mandated parking spots take up space that could be used for additional homes.

As the law stands, all apartments built after December 15, 1961 in R1-R8 districts must have accessory off-street parking spaces. For conversions and expansions, the zoning handbook generally requires one parking spot per new unit.

However, there are some affordable housing developments with less mandatory parking. As of 2016, the NYC Zoning Resolution reduces required parking in the Transit Zone. Current law allows the City Planning Commission to reduce or waive street parking requirements for developments in transit zones where at least 20 percent of units are affordable housing. The Commission must also find that reduced parking won’t cause congestion or other issues.

The Mayor noted in his Housing Blueprint that City Planning and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development “will expand on these efforts through plans to further reduce the amount of space that is required for vehicle storage, particularly in transit-rich neighborhoods.” Adams’ new housing plan repeatedly calls for “prioritizing people over parking” in order to create more homes. In the same vein, the text amendment will likely loosen current parking mandates.

Possible Debate

CityLand has spoken to local community leaders and citywide housing advocates who have expressed both support and concern for these text amendments.

Sarah Watson, interim executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, believes bold zoning reform is necessary to increase housing supply and spoke in favor of the Mayor’s proposals. “If we don’t respond to supply,” Watson stated, “then the pressures are just put on the existing market.” Not only does Watson believe zoning reforms will help solve the city’s housing shortage, she also points out that by changing existing regulations like those governing additional dwelling units, current homeowners will gain more freedom to use their land.

Conversely, possible text amendment opponents believe that any restrictions making affordable housing easier must not have a negative impact on the local communities, emphasizing that affected communities need a voice throughout the enactment process. These advocates added that the text amendments could expect significant debate at the Community Board and City Council levels. While some believe creating both market rate and affordable housing will help meet current demands, critics worry that building new housing will push out longtime residents who can’t afford rent prices regardless of affordability.

Next Steps

As of now, there is no timeline for when the drafted text amendments will be released and begin the public review process. Based on his four specific proposals, Mayor Adams’ main goal is to remove bureaucratic red tape and geographic restrictions to make it easier to develop affordable housing.

CityLand will give all sides a platform to express thoughts about the amendments once they are drafted, and will be releasing a detailed analysis of the Mayor’s new Housing Blueprint.

This article is part of CityLand‘s ongoing series about the proposed zoning text amendments announced on June 1st by Mayor Adams. 

By: Cassidy Strong (Cassidy is a CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2024.)



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