“Allowing new housing development—in conjunction with other measures to protect tenants and make New York more affordable—is how our city can survive and thrive in the years to come.”

HNY site on 127th

Jarrett Murphy

An affordable housing construction site on 127th Street in Manhattan, pictured in 2019.

The recent news that New York City is on track to build just 11,000 new homes in all of 2023—less than half of 2022’s total, and a fraction of what is needed—underscores the depths of our city’s housing crisis. I know that change can be daunting, and it’s understandable that some community members may feel unsettled by new developments and rezoning efforts.

However, empathy for these concerns must be balanced with the stark reality of our situation. Believe me when I say that housing is the top issue on my constituents’ minds—of all the phone calls, emails and letters my office receives, nothing else comes close. That’s why I hope the city approves a proposal to build desperately-needed housing on an industrial site owned by the Arrow Linen Supply Company in Windsor Terrace.

In the Brooklyn neighborhoods I represent, housing has become scarcer and less affordable for lots of reasons in the past few years. Pandemic-era tenant protections have lapsed. Sluggish and more costly development, exacerbated by inflation and supply chain woes, have led to fewer new construction starts. Deed theft—a pernicious crime that robs longtime residents of their property—forces Black families out of their homes. Smaller units that could house more than one family are often combined to make a single, larger home. And many apartments, including rent-regulated and affordable ones, simply sit vacant.

New York needs a comprehensive, “all-of-the-above” approach to relieving the enormous pressures felt by renters and owners alike. Last year, Gov. Kathy Hochul laid out a comprehensive plan to increase the supply of housing across the state, especially here in New York City. The plan wasn’t perfect; I might have omitted some elements while strengthening others, but it was at least a starting point for further conversations. I was disappointed we couldn’t reach an agreement in 2023, but we must renew those conversations this session.

It’s clear that massively expanding housing supply, combined with strong tenant protections like Good Cause Eviction, will increase affordability for everyone and relieve pressure on already-scarce housing. That’s why I support a proposed rezoning of Arrow Linen’s building in my district, which could allow at least 244 new housing units to be built on an industrial site located in one of the least affordable neighborhoods in the city.

In the past, many rezonings have focused on lower-income communities of color, raising legitimate concerns about affordability and gentrification. This has led to uneven growth across my district. Between 2010 and 2020, over 3,300 new housing units were added in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and Crown Heights North gained more than 4,100. In Windsor Terrace, that figure is just 268, and in six of those years the neighborhood actually suffered a net loss of housing.

So when an opportunity comes to allow more people to live in neighborhoods south of Prospect Park, we should seize it. Giving more people of every race and income level the chance to live on nearly 300,000 square feet of available real estate feels like a no-brainer.

The proposed site on Prospect Avenue is within easy walking distance of multiple public transportation options and new protected bike infrastructure, and is only a few blocks from Prospect Park. And the community hosts some of the most desirable public schools in the city, in a district where enrollment has declined in recent years. Besides the income-restricted affordable housing included in the proposal, even the market-rate housing proposed on the site would alleviate some of the pressures of gentrification and displacement in other parts of Brooklyn.

I’ve heard the perspectives of a handful of community members who raise concerns about the proposed height of the project disrupting the character of a largely low-rise neighborhood. I’m open to changes in the size or scale of the proposal, but the simple fact is: we simply can no longer concentrate new development in lower-income neighborhoods while ignoring the need for housing everywhere else. We must step up and do our part in ensuring that there is sufficient housing for all.

New York faces a massive affordability crisis that threatens to shrink our population, which in turn will shrink our tax base and lead to further service cuts. Allowing new housing development—in conjunction with other measures to protect tenants and make New York more affordable—is how our city can survive and thrive in the years to come. If we want to build for the future, we must overcome our fear of heights.

Zellnor Myrie is a member of the New York State Senate representing Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Windsor Terrace.