Print More

As Gifford Miller runs for mayor as a housing reformer and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum runs ads touting results, a pricey project they commissioned to address the city’s affordable housing crisis will stay under wraps until after the election that determines whether they remain in public office.

The study, completed in May and released by the public advocate to City Limits just last week, recommends opening up commercial strips in low-rise outer-borough neighborhoods for condominium apartment building construction–a measure the study acknowledges could prove controversial.

As City Limits reported last year, Miller added $400,000 to the public advocate’s budget “to develop an affordable housing prototype that can be implemented by city agencies.” The Public Advocate then hired Baruch College’s Newman Real Estate Institute, a center advised by property developers, attorneys and brokers. Their mission: Identify market-based strategies to produce housing affordable to low- and moderate-income households. At the time, the Bloomberg administration had yet to embrace inclusionary zoning, and Gotbaum’s staff indicated that the Public Advocate and Speaker believed the mayor’s affordable housing plans were inadequate.

Baruch’s in-depth briefing explores the benefits of rezoning 14 major commercial thoroughfares in the outer boroughs–including Coney Island Avenue, Northern Boulevard, and Webster and Third avenues–to create boulevards lined with condominiums. Also evaluated for potential rezoning are nine manufacturing districts. The authors note that not all these changes would be embraced by residents of these communities. In the case of Queens Boulevard, for example, the study predicts that “The residents of the effected [sic] neighborhoods would usually be well-organized, with the ability to bring to bear considerable financial and political resources” to oppose rezoning.

As in Williamsburg and the far West Side, developers would receive zoning incentives to include below-market housing–10 percent for families earning less than about $37,000 a year, 10 percent less than $75,000, and 10 percent less than $113,000. The study’s financial model assumes that the below-market apartments are smaller and located in less desirable parts of a building than market-rate units, and the lowest-income owners are presumed to borrow the entire purchase price of their home, for a total monthly payment of $1,300.

Originally slated to go public last fall, the report was finished in May but has not yet been released. It is slated to be the subject of a late October conference at Baruch, according to Gotbaum spokesperson Anat Jacobson. By then, Miller will be a lame duck on the Council, and it will be up to the next Speaker to figure out what to do with the highly technical document.

“With term limits, part of the purpose of the study was to make sure there was a transition between legislators,” explained Bill Traylor, a former HPD deputy commissioner who helped generate the financial models. “The intent was to create a handbook showing incentives.” For now, said council spokesperson Sarah Mikutel, “It’s going to be given to all council members, to give them options to fight for affordable housing.”

–Alyssa Katz