The affordable housing vision that Mayor de Blasio laid out Monday was as much a process as a plan.
It embraces two critiques of the Bloomberg administration—that despite funding 165,000 units of affordable housing it responded feebly to the housing crisis, and that in rezoning some 40 percent of the city it failed to pursue a comprehensive vision of what the city needed to get out of its land.
De Blasio’s remedy: a much larger affordable housing plan anchored by a commitment to rezone large swaths of the city through what is billed as a community-inclusive process.
“It will be a central pillar in the battle against inequality,” the mayor said of the plan on Monday in a speech that quoted both Fiorello La Guardia and Maya Angelou. Once implemented, he promised, “it will change the face of this city forever, and for the good of our people.”
Speed, not permanence
The blueprint for 200,000 units of affordable housing is split 60/40 between preservation and new construction.
Compared to the Bloomberg plan, it increases the number of units going to the very poor (those making less than 40 percent of area median income, or about $42,000 for a family of four.)
It also increases the number of units going to moderate income families, or those making 80 to 120 percent of AMI, roughly from $67,000 to $101,000 for a family of four. De Blasio’s team says they define housing need not by income, but by rent burden, and many households with relatively high incomes bear high rent burdens.
For that reason, their plan aims to provide more units to middle income families (those making up to $140,000) than to those with “extremely low incomes,” who make less than $25,000.
De Blasio will double the city’s capital commitment to housing and, even before new strategies get momentum, city agencies will look to streamline permitting and reduce other roadblocks to try to accelerate affordable housing production.
In fact, speed—not permanent affordability—is the plan’s focus.
“There are instances where we can reach permanent affordability, but the main thrust of this plan is to reach the most people as quickly as possible,” the mayor said. “So, if you look at the plan, it is oriented to getting to 200,000 units in 10 years. In many cases, that will not be with a permanent affordability guarantee, because the best way to get to the kind of numbers that will reach people now is to do it a different way.”
Among an array of ideas, the plan calls for evaluating existing tax breaks and subsidies to see if they’re effective enough, improving eviction prevention programs and looking for ways to get vacant land developed into housing. There’s an emphasis on right-sizing housing production to household sizes that need housing, like studios and three-bedrooms. And the housing plan is seen as an economic engine, creating opportunities for both union workers to get work and for new construction workers who’d get training and a gig.
Little new was said about the notion, raised and dropped by Bloomberg, of developing housing within public housing complexes—but City Hall did pledge to renew the priority that homeless shelter residents once had for public housing units.
Indeed, de Blasio’s plan roped together many of the elements of housing policy that are often treated separately: code enforcement, homeless shelter spending, supportive housing and rent stabilization are all addressed in the blueprint.
A denser city
But the plan clearly revolves around the mandatory inclusionary zoning plan that de Blasio called for in his campaign. This means that in rezonings that create medium- to high-density neighborhoods, developers will be required to create affordable housing. And that means that a planning process is about to play out in several neighborhoods around the city that the administration identifies as capable of supporting new housing.
“To become a more affordable city,” the housing plan reads, “we must become a denser city, and better plan for growth by staging investments in infrastructure and services that will make our neighborhoods more liveable. Such a place-based approach must be guided by early and regular input from the communities themselves.”
The city will soon begin 10 to 15 studies of potential rezonings—most likely new ones, as revisiting the Bloomberg-era ones doesn’t sound like something the de Blasio team is interested in. Only after those studies are done will City Planning actually start moving on rezoning any areas.
There’s no citywide formula for what the inclusionary housing would look like: It won’t be negotiated on a developer-by-developer basis, administration officials say, but will be tailored to each individual rezoning.
“Build, baby, build. Build tall, build high,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who joined de Blasio and other elected officials for the plan’s unveiling near a housing construction site in Brooklyn. “The jackhammers should be heard throughout this city.”
Not everyone will be as excited about new density, which after all is what triggered some of the big development fights of the Bloomberg years. But the de Blasio plan describes a process through communities will be consulted early. If actually implemented that way, that will look much more like the comprehensive planning approach that some have called for the city to use, where neighborhoods are asked to figure out how to support growth rather than simply told they will just have to accept it.
De Blasio feels communities will be receptive because they share his worry about where New York is headed.
“This is not the same discussion about the zoning process you might have had ten or twenty years ago, de Blasio said. “I experience this constantly. I get on a subway, I walk around my neighborhood, whatever it is, and people talk to me about being priced out. And they talk to me about their fear that they won’t be able to live in the neighborhood anymore. So I think there’s going to be an understanding as we embark on this plan that we need to create affordability everywhere.”
“That what’s happening is that the New York City we have known historically, where every kind of person could live here – that is really in danger right now,” the mayor continued. “And if we don’t do something very, very strong and bold, it won’t be that city anymore.”