Zoning Reform Will Boost Affordable Housing
by Jolie Milstein
Apr 22, 2015 | 12890 views | 0 0 comments | 541 541 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Claims at the Department of City Planning’s recent hearing in Queens that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s comprehensive rezoning plan will open the door to unlimited neighborhood growth are untrue.

The mayor’s Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposal will actually encourage the production of affordable housing and the construction of better quality buildings - reinvigorating existing neighborhoods and the communities that surround them.

The plan addresses the city’s envelope rules for contextual zones, which have changed little since 1987 when they were first adopted. Since then, housing has undergone a transformation, with the adoption of widely used design and construction standards that were unheard of 30 years ago.

New building techniques such as pre-fab and micro apartments give developers more innovative design options. And modern standards for live-work-play environments demand more retail at the ground floor.

Floor-to-floor heights for example, which used to be uniformly 8'8”, now tend to be more than nine feet because new buildings require additional infrastructure such as fire sprinklers and soundproofing. Those few inches make a big difference when multiplied in a multi-story building.

Current zoning rules limit the ability of developers to incorporate these new ideas into their plans. This is primarily because new buildings in many neighborhoods must stay within context of the surrounding community.

These contextual districts, as they are known, limit the three-dimensional proportions of a project – the so-called “building envelope” – dictating everything from a building’s height to the size and location of courts and yard space.

As a result, many developers are unable to make full use of the bulk, or floor area, permitted for their specific locations. This in turn limits the number of affordable housing units that can be built at that location.

Under the mayor’s proposal, greater flexibility would be added to decades-old rules, enabling developers of affordable and senior housing to use all of the space they are allotted. This would translate into creation of more affordable and more attractive housing in many neighborhoods across the city.

We understand that change creates fear of the unknown. But contrary to what some critics have charged, the mayor’s zoning plan would not allow development to change the nature of existing resident communities.

While the rules would permit slightly taller buildings, they would not permit the construction of high-rise apartment buildings in low-rise communities.

More importantly, these zoning improvements are vital if the mayor is to achieve his goal of preserving or creating 200,000 new affordable housing units over the next decade.

There is an acute shortage of affordable housing in our city and we need to use all the tools at our disposal to provide every New Yorker access to a safe, affordable home. These changes go a long way towards reaching that goal.

Jolie Milstein is president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing

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