Mayor Bill de Blasio has been getting serious blowback in trying to build affordable housing in the city. An upzoning bid shot down by the City Council in northern Manhattan, is the latest in a slew of community hurdles that he is facing in trying to increase the city’s stock of affordable housing units.
Sherman Plaza, a proposed 355 unit development in Inwood, requested an upzoning to build 15 stories instead of 14 – the zoning change would have make the project subject to de Blasio’s new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. In this case, it would have required that developers build at least 20 percent affordable housing for a family of three earning about $35,000 a year, or 40 percent of area median income.
But Ava Farkas, the executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing Coalition, said the 178 affordable housing units weren’t enough to offset the community impact of the upzoning. Farkas added that Sherman Plaza is just one of many examples of proposed affordable housing developments in the city where the quantity and depth of housing affordability offered were not enough to counter the threat of displacement for existing residents — especially given that residents have weak rent stabilization laws, and rezonings under de Blasio’s MIH will likely lead to skyrocketing property values.
“There are unintended consequences where the value of that housing stock is going to become much more valuable if the market heats up — more enticing for landlords to flip apartments and raise rents. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum; what is going to be the ripple effect for buildings next door that are rent stabilized? Without stronger rent laws, there isn’t enough protection for those rents to remain affordable.”
Her group organized over 100 community residents to protest the development in August; their City Council representative, Ydanis Rodriguez, led the City Council in voting against the development’s rezoning.
“Broadway and Sherman is not a good project for my district. I’m open to continue conversation with any developer. I first look and hear for the interests of our community and I don’t think that it was a good project for us,” said Ydanis Rodriguez, during a recent tenant resource meeting.
Farkas said the community’s worries about displacement are not unfounded – since 2007 Inwood has lost more than 5,600 rent regulated units according to the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. Also, over the last seven years the price that developers have been flipping apartments and buildings has risen by 96 percent. Inwood is not alone: Many of these same trends are echoed throughout communities where affordable developments are being proposed.
But Sherman Plaza developer Paul Travis, of Washington Square Developments, said under the MIH they were willing to offer 50 percent of their housing at below market rates.
“The affordable units were at 40 percent, 60 percent and 80 percent of AMI,” Travis said in a recent email. “That represents the diversity of Inwood; an average is an average, which means there is a range. There was certainly no testimony at the City Council (or anywhere else) that the opponents would support a project at lower AMI levels.”
But Councilman Rodriguez said the city rejected the rezoning because the developers couldn’t promise that 50 percent of the units would truly be affordable, and that there was a loophole, where it wouldn’t hold up in court under the MIH. Rodriguez said without offering 50 percent affordability, the community would be at a net loss.
Still, Travis said the community is at a loss, simply because a vocal minority loudly protested the development and in doing so forewent 178 valuable units of affordable housing.
“I think the problem is that the people who need affordable housing were not represented in the process. It is discouraging that a developer like ourselves, who I think was trying to do the right thing, will be disincentivized in the future to build the affordable housing Inwood- and the city- so desperately need. The end result will be a much less diverse city,” said Travis.
Indeed, developers say they can simply build market rate housing developments without re-zoning, outside of the mayor’s affordable housing program. That might not have the same profit margin, but is not as vulnerable to public opposition. In an email, Travis said he had no comment about the future of Sherman Plaza. Washington Square Development has owned the land since 2008 without building on it. The company it might not be profitable to do so without an added incentive like MIH. Did travis say this? Did someone? Or did they not comment on this? Tell us
And with Sherman Plaza developing on private land, and having to pay land costs – Farkas said it’s hard to see where they could have offered a deal with enough deeply affordable units to appease the community, and still been financially solvent.
But the lack of affordable housing remains a real issue. In a recent blog post by ADND Executive Director Benjamin Dulchin, he said his organization would support any development under de Blasio’s affordable housing plan that offers 100 percent affordable housing units. La Central in the Bronx, a project approved early this month, worked financially largely because it will be on free public land.
But Farkas said other developments, like the proposed rezoning of Jerome Avenue, which has also come under community criticism and a proposed rezoning in Inwood East of 10th Avenue might face similar fates to Sherman Plaza.
“Seeing that community can in the case of Sherman Plaza organize pushback and defeat a project is encouraging to other communities fighting the same battle in the same scale. And the future battle for Inwood, which is rezoning east of 10th Avenue,” said Farkas.
Three Affordable Housing Talking Points:
- There is a crisis of affordable housing in New York City, which will only be exacerbated as the city stands to gain about 800,000 new people by 2030. ANDH Executive Director, Benjamin Dulchin, said that any development willing to make 100 percent of its units affordable should be accepted by the community and constructed.
- Mayor Bill de Blasio constructed MIH as a tool to help him build 80,000 new units of affordable housing in the next 10 years. He’s also promised to help preserve 120,000 units of affordable housing, but critics say he hasn’t done enough to strengthen that legislation.
- So far the only development to successfully pass through the MIH is La Central, in Melrose Bronx. That development has almost 1,000 units of affordable housing and will also include a YMCA.