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A citywide effort to require affordable housing in new market-rate developments came one step closer to fruition November 12, with the introduction of a key zoning amendment. Filed by Brooklyn Councilmember David Yassky and Community Board 1, which encompasses several North Brooklyn neighborhoods facing redevelopment, the amendment would enable the creation of “Affordable Housing Zoning Districts” throughout New York City.

The new designation would apply to any new project of 10 units or more on land being converted from manufacturing to residential use or upzoned for higher densities. The percentage of units required would depend on their level of affordability, which could be anywhere from 50 to 120 percent of the area’s median income. And, unlike existing incentive plans, providing below-market units within an AHZD would be mandatory.

This “inclusionary zoning” approach, already in use in cities such as Boston and Sacramento and in voluntary programs in parts of New York, would help ensure that neighborhoods in transition don’t price out existing residents.

That’s a major concern for residents of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, which have industrial waterfront areas the Bloomberg administration plans to rezone [see “The Growth Dividend” September/October 2003]. The city’s proposal opens the door to high-rise residential development that the administration contends will include housing for all income levels, but some say it doesn’t do enough to ensure affordability.

“In this hot housing market, the city cannot assume that developers will use government subsidy for affordable units, when landowners can make so much more by building market-rate housing,” said Yassky. “It’s a risk Greenpoint-Williamsburg residents can’t afford to take.”

It’s unclear how the Department of City Planning will handle the AHZD proposal. When Yassky pushed for inclusionary zoning in Park Slope last spring, the city balked. Department press secretary Rachaele Raynoff would not comment on the AHZD specifically, but voiced skepticism about inclusionary zoning. She stressed that affordable housing was an “absolute priority” for her agency, but that the city already has “existing tools that we believe will generate affordable housing”-namely, the mayor’s incentives.

That’s not enough for Neil Sheehan, who coordinates the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Clergy Cluster, an advocacy network of 11 Roman Catholic parishes backing the adoption of an AHZD. “Without it, we become what? Soho or some urban gentry community,” said Sheehan. “Hispanic and Polish Greenpoint is gone, Hispanic Williamsburg is gone.”

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