Housing plans clear City Council committee

housing-plans-clear-city-council-committee
Mark-Viverito and de Blasio. (William Alatriste for the New York City Council)
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A two-pronged plan to create more below-market-rate housing in New York City cleared a City Council committee vote on Thursday and is headed to the full body next week.

The council's land use committee voted 15-2, with one abstention, to approve Mayor Bill de Blasio's plans to enforce more residential construction for low- to moderate-income New Yorkers and ease the city's 55-year-old zoning code to enable that development.

"This is literally the best affordable housing plan of any city in the United States of America," Councilman David Greenfield, who chairs the committee, said during the hearing.

He also read aloud a seven-page letter the mayor penned to City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito outlining changes to his initial plan that he and the council secured during negotiations.

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The support marks a dramatic shift from the widespread opposition the proposals met when they were presented to the city's 59 community boards and five borough presidents last year. Nearly everyone struck them down in nonbonding votes.

Some administration officials privately admitted they were taken aback by the rejection, while others said they were expecting it.

Either way, the mayor and his team mobilized support for the two plans for months, established a 501(c)4 to run ads boosting the policies and engaged in intense negotiations with the council.

The legislative body altered the mayor's original plan significantly before announcing it had reached a deal on Monday.

One proposal, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, requires affordable housing from developers who get a city-issued rezoning. The other, Zoning for Quality and Affordability, rewrites the city's complex zoning code.

The two votes against the mandatory housing policy came from Brooklyn Democrats Jumaane Williams and Inez Barron, who both argued it does not demand enough affordable housing from developers. Manhattan Democrat Rosie Mendez abstained.

"As we move forward we have to break up the segregated communities that are in this city," Williams said.

"The plan is very good. It's true that it's the best in the country and it really helps communities and elected officials that actually welcome and want lower income in their district. But for communities that don't and have historically resisted it, it doesn't mandate that they do," he later added in an interview.

The council altered the plan to demand more low-income housing from developers.

Instead of the three options de Blasio was initially proposing, which vary in levels of subsidy and required amounts and types of affordable housing, the council introduced a fourth option to target families of three who make about $31,000 a year.

The administration and local council member would choose the final option a builder must use whenever a rezoning is approved.

The final four options range from requiring 20 percent of the apartments be reserved for families making 40 percent of the area median income to 30 percent of the total set aside for families earning 115 percent of the area median income. Some of the options require a small percentage of the total affordable apartments be even lower than those targets, but can be balanced out to reach an average.

The plan would exempt developments with up to 10 units, and those with 11-25 apartments could pay a fee to the city in lieu of building the housing.

Zoning for Quality and Affordability was altered to ensure a few neighborhoods would still be required to get parking lots whenever an affordable or senior development is built, though the mayor's initial parking regulation will still apply in most areas with nearby subway access. The idea is to free up parking lot space that the mayor and others say is underutilized to create more homes.

The council reduced allowable heights for senior homes in low-density residential areas — a particular issue in the outer boroughs — and exempted parts of Manhattan from additional height allowances for ground-floor retail.

Processes related to building nursing homes were strengthened to require more government input in certain neighborhoods.

The changes were tailored to individual council members and were made to ensure robust support for what had been a controversial proposal.

The two votes against the zoning policy came from Barron and Bronx Democrat Andy Cohen, who said he was most troubled by the process to enact it. Mendez abstained.

"The council made significant changes and improvements but there's really no opportunity to go back to your district, to discuss the changes with people. I mean, bills are literally still warm," Cohen said after his vote. "I just feel like there was not an opportunity to have a good dialogue with communities."