Carl Weisbrod Gives Keynote Address at The New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH)
On March 6, 2015, The New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH) hosted a breakfast at which Carl Weisbrod, Director of the New York City Department of City Planning and Chairman of the New York City Planning Commission, discussed the Mayor’s affordable housing agenda. Formed in 1998, NYSAFAH is the trade association for New York’s affordable housing industry statewide.
Chairman Weisbrod discussed three major initiatives launched by the Department of City Planning to advance the Mayor’s affordable housing plan and address the city’s housing shortage. He remarked on the shortage of housing at all income levels and how this will be only become more acute as the population grows, projected to increase from 8.4 million to 9 million people by 2040.
These three initiatives broadly are: (1) neighborhood rezoning efforts, (2) mandatory inclusionary zoning rules, and (3) newly proposed zoning text amendments which will remove unnecessary obstacles to affordable housing development and better accommodate increased density on underbuilt sites. Weisbrod noted that as the City undertakes planning, it is focused not only on housing, but on the need for services, jobs, retail, and public investment in infrastructure in order to ensure livable, sustainable neighborhoods. This is community development in the broadest sense.
1. The initial round of comprehensive neighborhood planning and rezoning efforts are focused on East New York, Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, Long Island City and Flushing West in Queens, East Harlem in Manhattan, and Bay Street in Staten Island. Additional studies will be undertaken in the months ahead.
2. The mandatory inclusionary housing program is being developed. In every neighborhood rezoned to mid- and high-density and in private rezoning applications, affordable housing will be required through a mandatory inclusionary housing program. . The goal of this zoning is to ensure that the requirements are predictable,and as of right so that developers know the rules before they start a development.
3. The primary focus of the Chairman’s remarks are zoning text amendments to make it easier and less expensive to build affordable housing. These text amendments would apply citywide. Their goals are: to remove barriers that restrain construction and increase the cost of housing, create better quality housing, help spur the development of senior housing, and reduce unnecessary parking requirements.
“For many of us who have been involved with affordable housing development in New York City for decades, we are excited to see what changes are proposed to the regulatory framework governing affordable housing,” said Claire Haaga Altman, Director of Affordable and Supportive Housing Development Services at Capalino + Company. “There needs to be an in depth consideration of the issues involved, especially in senior housing development, and we hope to determine practical ways to spur the development of this very pressing housing need.”
1. Senior Housing
Weisbrod underscored the importance of focusing on senior housing given that there will be a 40% increase in the City’s over-65 years of age population between 2015 and 2041. Seniors have a variety of needs ranging from standard apartments that are affordable to specialized housing needs. The NYS Department of Health estimates that NYC has an 8700 bed nursing home shortage and has only half as many assisted living units as other counties in the State. When lotteries are conducted for senior housing developments, generally there are 60 applicants for every unit.
These zoning text amendments encompass a wider range of senior housing options from independent to assisted living to skilled nursing to continuing care retirement communities, as well as mixed models within buildings and mixed income models (affordable and market rate) in the same building. In addition to modernizing the definitions, the changes would eliminate density requirements and unit size limitations. The allowable building floor area would be the same as permitted by inclusionary zoning, and special permits that encumber, for example, nursing home development, would be eliminated.
2. Text amendments would modernize the rules that shape buildings.
The proposed text amendments would make the building envelopes more flexible in medium and high density districts to accommodate best practices for affordable construction and quality design. Additional flexibility would be provided for inclusionary housing and affordable senior housing to ensure that all of the permitted floor area can be accommodated.
The text amendments would eliminate parking for affordable and senior housing developments that are in areas proximate to mass transit in an area defined as a Transit Zone. They would:
- eliminate parking requirements for all new low income housing and inclusionary housing near transit;
- eliminate parking requirements for affordable senior housing and allow existing senior housing to reduce or eliminate their parking near mass transit allowing existing senior developments to eliminate their parking;
- discretionary review to permit new mixed income developments to reduce or eliminate parking requirements, and allow existing affordable developments to also reduce or eliminate their parking.
Outside the proposed Transit Zone, parking requirements for affordable housing would be simplified and reduced. Oarking requirements for senior housing would be reduced in medium-density districts, and eliminated in the high density districts.
Weisbrod noted that these text amendment proposals must go through a full Environmental Review and public review process. The scoping session for beginning the environmental review process will take place on March 25.
Weisbrod urged participation and support for these proposals. He noted that zoning rules are tools not an end in and of themselves – the goal here is creating vibrant neighborhoods with an adequate supply of housing for all New Yorkers.
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