Innovative mixed-use zonings could create more affordable housing and at the same time increase jobs in the city’s growing manufacturing sector if land-use policies could be changed, city officials say.
Carl Weisbrod, Director of New York City’s Department of City Planning, has been explicit about his vision for mixed-use zonings to aid the city in reaching the goal of creating 200,000 units of affordable housing produced over the next 10 years.
And Weisbrod agrees that the new zonings could allow the city’s manufacturers to pay affordable rents to coexist with other businesses in emerging industries and prosper from the increased population density the rezonings would create, an idea put forth by Adam Friedman of the Pratt Center for Community Development.
“In my view, some manufacturing, high tech businesses are not incompatible with workforce housing,” said Weisbrod in a speech at the Municipal Art Society earlier this year. “The challenge is not compatibility of uses. We can figure that out. The challenge is as Adam Friedman points out…disparities in land values, what different uses can afford to pay,” Weisbrod said.
Friedman outlined his idea of creating Design and Production Innovation Districts that include mixed-space and uses in an essay called, “Innovative Jobs” presented to the MAS where Weisbrod delivered the keynote speech for the society’s conference on “Ideas for New York’s New Leadership” in May.
Friedman writes that the previous Bloomberg administration was right to recognize the high-tech design and engineering sectors as important emerging industries that could spur economic growth in the city. But now those industries must be linked to the production and manufacturing businesses that could bring their product to market and increase jobs in those industrial sectors, Friedman states.
“An Innovation District would contain a diversity of spaces for both the high-tech and creative sectors that stimulate product development and commercialization, as well as space for larger-scale production to capture the full job creation potential,” Friedman states.
Friedman acknowledges, though, that city planners will have challenges in designing these mixed-use spaces, especially when considering residential real estate as well. He states, “The picture is even more complicated by the aesthetics of the industrial space and appeal of walk- to-work communities, which combine to prime the market for residential conversions that could price out [businesses and commercial spaces].”
But Weisbrod seems keen on taking the opportunity to create what he has referred to as “workforce housing” – rather, affordable housing – within rezoned mixed-use geographic areas. It is in these areas that manufacturing could afford to coexist with the tech companies that can pay higher rents.
Advocates for manufacturing, however, don’t see any situation where affordable housing could be located within the city’s industrial business zones without a disprution.
“It won’t work,” said Leah Archibald, director of the East Williamsburg Valley Industrial Development Corporation. Archibald said that even light manufacturing, the kind the Weisbrod has suggested could be compatible with affordable housing, still produces too much for a quiet residential neighborhood.
“Even light manufacturing like woodworking, people are still spraying polyurethane, which makes smells, and there’s still trucks in and out, delivering materials and then taking finished goods away. There’s still a lot of trucks and smells and noises and sounds and vibrations,” Archibald said. “Ultimately I think it would be a nuisance for people who are living there.”
Affordable-housing and industrial jobs advocates have found common ground on this issue, both expressing opposition to the administration’s proposal to add affordable housing to industrial business zones at a city hall rally in June.
Archibald did express her support for affordable housing, however. “I’m for affordable housing,” she said, adding that she believes there is a lack of affordable housing in North Brooklyn. “But no housing is affordable without a job,” she stressed.
“There aren’t that many IBZs left. There’s not that much land in New York City that’s devoted for manufacturing. It’s imperative that we retain the industrial business zones as is so that we have some sort of a decent stab at growing industrial jobs,” Archibald said.
But the city administration doesn’t see growth in industrial jobs happening without expanding the areas that the businesses can operate. To accommodate growth in the manufacturing sector, Weisbrod said in a keynote speech at the Only Brooklyn Real Estate Summit in May, “the public and the private sector must join forces to find appropriate geographic areas for these businesses and to revise our land use policies accordingly.”
Weisbrod added, “We must continue to welcome manufacturing innovation, and work jointly with businesses and communities to ensure that our neighborhoods are vibrant mixed-use communities providing both jobs and housing options for all income groups.”
The DCP and Bill de Blasio’s administration are currently proceeding on an affordable housing plan that builds on what the Bloomberg administration produced. 80,000 units of the 200,000 proposed by de Blasio are slated to be new affordable housing and 120,000 units will be preserved affordable housing.
In total the program will cost $41 billion with $8.2 billion in city funds and $6.7 billion of that amount in city capital funds. The program is to address the city’s growing population, which currently stands at 8.4 million people and is expected to reach 9 million by 2040.
1.1 million households are “rent stressed,” as Weisbrod said in a speech hosted by the Center for New York City Law at New York Law School in September. “The need for more housing is acute. The challenge is really overwhelming,” Weisbrod said. “We have to recognize that we have to become a denser city.”