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Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what's coming + FAQ (pinned post)

Despite clashes in debate among mayoral rivals, a notable--and under-discussed--consensus on affordable housing investment and land use blueprint

Though last night's mayoral debate showed the eight major candidates clashing on policy and personality, it should be noted that, on the crucial--and underdiscussed--issue of land use, they're a lot closer to a consensus.
The blueprint, as showing in the tweet, involves an investment of at least $4 billion per year, including $1.5 billion for the New York City Housing Authority and $2.5 billion into rental and for-sale affordable units. That's twice the current commitment.

Beyond the investment consensus, there's also a consensus on some key housing policy issues (though of course their individual platforms differ).

I'll take a look at those platforms shortly,  but but would note that United for Housing--a coalition of some 90 groups ranging from affordable housing advocates to the Real Estate Board of New York to social service/church groups--has also gotten them to sign onto some principles that would increase supply and reduce City Council gridlock. And that might lead to contentiousness with a more left-wing City Council.

The United for Housing report was aired first in a 12/10/20 New York Times article headlined Housing Fights to Be Heard in the Mayoral Race, citing the 77-page report (bottom). As noted:
Some of the boldest proposals include converting struggling hotels and illegal basement apartments into permanent affordable housing, and pushing for more density in what were once considered untouchable neighborhoods like SoHo in Manhattan, Forest Hills in Queens, and Riverdale in the Bronx. 
Ending member deference

Among the proposals:
Create a framework for every community district to be part of the citywide housing plan with affordable housing supply goals. To move the dial on housing affordability and residential segregation, each neighborhood needs to be a partner in the housing plan, especially high-opportunity neighborhoods. The framework should establish a robust community engagement system to provide a structured opportunity for community districts to identify local housing needs, related community infrastructure needs and siting opportunities. Finally, this approach requires that the next Speaker demonstrate housing leadership in City Council, urging members to refrain from following local member deference when it prevents developments that further citywide affordable housing goals.
This would mark a significant change, since the Council has typically--but not always, given various other pressures--deferred to a member's policy. 

The argument

From the website:
New York City will elect a new mayor in 2021 – it must be a leader capable of steering our city out of the worst health and economic crisis we have seen in decades and towards recovery with a vision of racial equity and prosperity for all New Yorkers. Housing must be at the center of this plan for economic rebirth and social justice.
It cites 78,000+ homeless people, a NYCHA bill of $40 Billion in repairs, and 450,000 "severely rent burdened households," paying more than half their income on rent.

So that requires not just the investments noted but also a "racial equity strategy that starts to reverse centuries of racist housing policies and planning practices in New York City," including downzonings for more affluent areas.

New construction, including middle-income units

The report states:
New York City’s shortage of affordable housing requires a dedicated new construction program to help meet demand for affordable housing needed in each of New York’s five boroughs. Through capital investment, zoning and tax policy, the next mayor should forge partnerships with not only the affordable housing community but also the real estate industry, union representatives, religious leaders, the business community, philanthropy, and the wide range of nonprofit community organizations
The requires new, more nimble approval processes and a focus on housing for the lowest-income New Yorkers--but not just them:
While investment should be guided by data for housing need in establishing income and population targets for the next housing plan and these targets are likely to skew towards very low-income households, it is still important to maintain mixed income models. Such models prevent concentration of poverty codified in long-term regulatory agreement and they create financially sustainable operations. Two other successful models which are important to continue are supportive housing and senior housing. Supportive housing offers homeless individuals and families a pathway to success in permanent housing by providing on-site or off-site services aimed at supporting housing stability. Finally, senior housing provides needed affordable and accessible housing for New York’s aging population, which is projected to increase 40 percent between 2010 and 2040,59 often complemented by a resident coordinator who maximizes opportunities for independent living while fostering community.
Note that Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park was pitched as a mixed-income model, though the units have been skewed toward middle-income households compared to the original plan.

Affordable homeownership

That requires partnership with the state and expanded construction of new homeownership opportunities:
Previously, HPD aimed to produce 1,300 homeownership units per year, providing a subsidy ranging from $165K to $190K per unit (and a greater subsidy for single-family units). We believe HPD should increase the level of subsidy for owner-occupied units to 2,000 units per year. To do so, HPD can leverage a portion of the $2.5B in new construction spending to increase the subsidy per unit to $210K, to increase the affordability of construction, and utilize a variety of other strategies to increase homeownership opportunities, such as by expanding the utilization of community land trusts.

That might be reflected--who knows--in the long-promised, but never delivered, Atlantic Yards affordable condos. 

Tax policy

The report notes that tax abatements have been used to incentivize residential rental housing and affordable housing set-asides in market rate developments--as in 421-a. The report acknowledges that structuring a tax policy is difficult, and says an effective affordable housing tax policy must define the following:
  • How many units will it produce for homeless, ELI [extremely low income], and VLI New Yorkers?
  • How will it generate a greater share of new units in affluent, low-density “high opportunity” neighborhoods?
  • What fiscal impact will it exert on the City?
  • How it will balance the speed and ease of as-of-right entitlement with public benefits that will be suitable to a range of community needs?
How increase affordable housing density

The "non-budgetary solutions to increase density within New York City in high and low-income neighborhoods" include
Expand Mandatory Inclusionary Housing regulations outside of existing rezoned areas in order to maximize affordable housing. Require a percentage of all new private development projects (in zoning districts classified as R5 or higher) to consist of affordable housing. Evaluate options to maximize affordability even if fewer units can be generated in order to create deeply affordable housing in market rate settings.

Institute a citywide affordable housing zoning bonus, offering it as-of-right to enable affordable housing projects to achieve higher density and thereby effectively compete against market-rate development. The next mayor can do this by expanding the zoning benefit given to Affordable Independent Residence for Seniors (AIRS) developments.

Make Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) rules more flexible to promote affordable development. The next mayor should allow transfer of development rights across the property market and tax the transactions to capitalize an affordable housing development fund. Conduct analysis to determine appropriate parameters for greater flexibility to allow affordable housing projects specifically to transfer development rights across broader geographies, while implementing controls to avoid market distortions that could arise from unbridled TDR transactions. Any new TDR program for affordable housing should not be subject to the Real Property Transfer Tax.

Modify the historic district designation process to consider the impact on affordable housing production in NYC. Strengthening the city’s consideration of the potential for adverse effects on public and private development in a designated area will force the city and the Landmarks Preservation Commission to reckon with the broader, long-term suppression of new construction that a designation could cause.
These deserve more discussion--for example, does transfer of development rights "across broader geographies" mean across a borough?

The report recomments "prioritizing available public land and institutional land—including hospitals, libraries, faith-based organizations, etc.—to facilitate land disposition for affordable housing" in a more focused manner.

Empowering the IBO

The report recommends:
Empower the NYC Independent Budget Office to score relevant, proposed City Council legislation on its potential effect on the cost or timeline for developing affordable housing in NYC. The scores are intended to support councilmembers in decisions to increase affordable development subsidies accordingly so that affordable housing development does not suffer.
That's a perfectly reasonable idea. I'd also recommend--as I've written-that an agency like the IBO assess the value of increased development rights in private spot rezonings.

Other covage of the report

Gotham Gazette, 5/14/21, Homeownership Supply is the Affordable Housing Blind Spot in New York City

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