Lawmakers are expected to vote on the rezoning later this week. A 22-item “Points of Agreement” package includes pledges to develop more affordable housing outside the rezoning area—on city-owned land at 388 Hudson St. and an NYPD parking lot at 324 East 5th St.—and outlines new rules for the neighborhoods’ unique artist residences.
As a contentious plan to upzone a swath of SoHo and NoHo heads to a binding Council vote this week, city officials have released a package of additional housing and arts commitments to sweeten the deal.
The 22-item “Points of Agreement” package, a customary addendum to neighborhood-level rezonings, includes pledges to develop more affordable housing outside the rezoning area and outlines new rules for the neighborhoods’ unique artist residences.
The affordable housing would specifically rise on city-owned land at 388 Hudson St. and an NYPD parking lot at 324 East 5th St., both outside the 56-block rezoning area. Opponents of a separate plan to turn the Elizabeth Street Garden into an affordable housing complex have cited 388 Hudson as an alternate site, but local Councilmember Margaret Chin said the city needs both developments (including the senior housing planned to replace the green space.)
“All along, I’ve been saying [388 Hudson] should be an additional site,” Chin said in an interview Sunday. “And in this rezoning, we got the city to commit to put out an RFP [request for proposals] for 100 percent affordable housing.”
Deputy Mayor Vicki Been sent the final points of agreement to Chin, Speaker Corey Johnson and Manhattan Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who represents the northern portion of the proposed rezoning area, on Dec. 9 following weeks of negotiations between the lawmakers and mayor’s office.
Chin said she was happy with the overall package, which also includes pledges to “explore the feasibility” of building affordable housing on federally owned properties in Lower Manhattan, and to prioritize use of the city’s Affordable Housing Fund—to which developers of certain small-scale projects can contribute in lieu of building affordable units themselves—for the two neighborhoods. In addition, the points of agreement package funds improvements at Sara D. Roosevelt Park and earmarks money for a study on how to make Canal Street safer and easier to navigate for pedestrians.
“You try to get whatever you can get from the administration because they want it to get done,” Chin said. “So you are pushing, pushing, pushing, and this is the time to push hard and get it because you have the leverage.”
“We are creating opportunities for affordable housing for more people to live in this neighborhood,” she added.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of City Planning (DCP) introduced its application in May to update the land use rules for SoHo and NoHo, where much of the property is zoned for manufacturing but nonetheless used as housing via unique artist arrangements, or as retail space through one-off variances. City officials estimate that the rezoning will add about 3,000 new units to the neighborhood, including 900 apartments priced at a percentage of area median income for New Yorkers who would otherwise be unable to afford living there.
A modified version of the plan approved by the City Council’s Land Use Committee reduces some residential density but would allow for more deeply affordable housing than the city’s original application. The latest proposal would also ban college dorms, cap the size of restaurant space and reduce commercial density—addressing a concern that the rezoning would ease development of offices rather than needed housing.
The application received unanimous approval from the Land Use Committee on Dec. 9, paving the way for a full Council vote on Wednesday.
Chin, who leaves office at the end of the year after three terms in the Council, said she hopes the city will act on opportunities for additional affordable housing around the neighborhoods.
During negotiations over the Points of Agreement with officials from the mayor’s office, Chin specifically recommended adding commitments to build affordable housing on a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) site on Pike Street between Madison and Henry streets, an MTA-owned plot near Confucius Plaza, a federally-owned parking lot at 2 Howard St. and a defunct East Broadway hotel set to become a homeless shelter.
The final package includes a commitment to work with the federal government in an effort to build affordable housing at the Howard Street site, as well as on the site of post offices at 350 Canal St. and 93 Park Ave. South. City Hall declined to include the other sites Chin proposed in the final agreement packages, with officials explaining in an email that the DEP site was too heavily used, the Confucius Plaza site requires negotiations with the local Mitchell-Llama residents and discussions were still underway over the East Broadway hotel.
“I wanted more affordable housing and there were other sites I gave to the city, but because of difficulties they can’t commit right now,” Chin said.
Rivera, who is set to begin a new term in the Council Jan. 1 and is among those running for Speaker, said the affordable housing commitments are the most important part of the points of the agreement package, as well as the overall rezoning.
“Of course, no plan is perfect, but I think we’ve come to strike the right balance,” she said. “I want to make sure the affordable housing is built. We’re in a housing crisis and it’s urgent.”
The agreement also details a plan to codify the process and fees for converting the neighborhood’s unique live-work spaces for artists into residential units. Owners of the residences, known as Joint Live-Work Quarters for Artists (JLWQA), will be able to pay a conversion fee—proposed at $100 per square foot—which would allow non certified artists to live there without penalty and can be tacked onto the purchase price of a unit for new non-artist buyers.
The city counts 1,636 JLWQAs in SoHo and NoHo, but DCP and the Department of Buildings declined to give an estimate for how much revenue the optional conversions might generate, because not all owners will pursue the residential change-over. Conversion fees will go toward a fund that will distribute grants to artists and cultural organizations in Lower Manhattan’s Community Districts 1, 2 and 3.
Last month, Chin introduced a piece of legislation that would force new JLWQA owners to register their property with the city—no agency currently maintains a complete database of these units—and dramatically increase fines on non-certified artists living in the spaces to $15,000 for a first offense, followed by $25,000 fines for a subsequent failure to pay the conversion fee. Enforcement largely depends on residents reporting their non-artist neighbors.
The JLWQA designation was created in 1971 after artists who had turned the neighborhoods’ unused manufacturing spaces into studios and residences fought to legalize the arrangements. Their work in the 1960s and 70s transformed SoHo and NoHo into world-famous communities. The two neighborhoods have more recently become among the priciest in the city, with units selling for millions of dollars inside buildings renowned for their cast iron facades.
Pro-housing groups have hailed the rezoning as a mechanism for adding density and some affordable homes to one of New York City’s whitest and wealthiest areas. Previous rezonings pursued by the de Blasio Administration targeted lower-income neighborhoods, like East New York and the Jerome Avenue corridor, and created homes unaffordable to many existing residents.
But opponents of the plan, like Manhattan Community Board 2, local state lawmakers and neighborhood preservationists, have consistently attacked what they characterize as hollow affordable housing pledges. Critics like Village Preservation Executive Director Andrew Berman have pointed to the city’s failure to uphold its commitments in previous rezonings and say they fear developers will simply tear down rent-stabilized apartments.
The rezoning is “likely to produce little if any affordable housing, and is almost surgically designed to discourage the construction of affordable housing, and the modifications made by the City Council will do little to change that,” Berman said in a statement following the land use committee vote last week. “What it will do is create huge incentives for destroying hundreds of units of affordable rent-regulated housing in the rezoning area.”
The points of agreement package features a specific commitment to fund the salaries of three new Loft Board attorneys to help loft tenants who want to obtain residential certificates of occupancy. There is also a provision to contract with a nonprofit legal service provider to conduct tenant outreach and inform residents’ of their housing rights.
Throughout the process opponents have cautioned against trusting the city when it comes to major land use plans.
“Soho-Noho deserve true affordable housing,” said incoming Councilmember Christopher Marte at a hearing last month. “But not at the expense of overdevelopment and displacement.”