Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to unveil a new aspect of his affordable housing plan in the coming weeks—a mandate that developers build a specific number of units for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers when they seek formal city approval to rezone land for their projects.
The plan, outlined to Capital in advance of its rollout by administration and City Council officials, would require builders to set aside 25 percent of their units for affordable housing. The average unit would be rented to residents earning 60 percent of the area median income—a calculation that currently equals $46,620 for a family of three.
The policy, known as “mandatory inclusionary zoning” or “mandatory inclusionary housing,” would come with a second option—reserving 30 percent of all units at an average of 80 percent of the area median income, or $62,150 for a family of three.
The Department of City Planning, in concert with the local City Council member for a given development, would decide which option to choose—not the builder, the officials said.
“This affordable housing will be mandatory and it will be permanent,” de Blasio said in an email. “These are hard, new requirements that for the very first time set a floor for the affordable housing communities are owed in new development. We look forward to working with neighborhoods, elected officials and the Council to enact the strongest affordable housing requirements in the nation.”
The mandate would have no impact on whether developers qualify for the 421-a tax break, which also requires at least 25 percent of affordable housing in each project and provides a range of affordability levels for builders to select.
In conjunction with one of the two mandatory inclusionary options, the local Council member would also be empowered to allow a moderate-income affordable choice that does not entail a direct subsidy from the city. That alternative, according to the officials, would be restricted to middle-income areas.
The policy needs approval from the Council, with input from all 59 community boards.
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and a handful of members endorsed the plan.
“I fully support mandatory inclusionary housing as a critical new policy tool for creating affordable housing and building inclusive communities,” Mark-Viverito said in an email. “We have a long process ahead of us before the Council has to act and we will be listening very carefully, but after years of work on the part of many, this proposal is truly a defining moment in how we grow and develop as a City.”
By all accounts, mandatory inclusionary zoning will not be the primary driver of affordable housing creation, though when he was running for office, de Blasio estimated it would spur development on 50,000 units. At the time, the figure was viewed with broad skepticism.
In total, the mayor hopes to build 80,000 new units of affordable housing and preserve another 120,000 units by 2024—10 years from when he took office. He has so far created and preserved more than 20,000, in large part due to hundreds of millions of dollars in city subsidies for developers.
The new policy comes as de Blasio prepares to rezone large swaths of the city, beginning with the East New York section of Brooklyn.
He plans to formally begin the process for both that rezoning and the citywide policy in September.
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development has promised to finance 1,200 new affordable apartments during the first two years of East New York’s rezoning. In addition, the agency would require that all development receiving a city construction loan create housing that is predominantly affordable to families who earn less than 60 percent of the area median income. At least 25 percent of those units financed by H.P.D. would have to be reserved for families earning less than 40 percent, or $31,080 for a family of three, the officials said.
The administration anticipates at least half of all new residential units in that neighborhood will be affordable, when factoring in subsidies and this new program, if it’s approved.
The East New York rezoning has faced some opposition within the community.
Councilman Rafael Espinal, who represents most of the area, said in an email, “My goal has always been to make sure affordable housing in East New York and Cypress Hills is created for the residents that live here today. For years, we have been fighting to create policies to ensure that housing build in our neighborhoods is affordable and mandatory inclusionary zoning is a critical new tool to ensure permanent affordability and a tool which I welcome in areas set to be rezoned.”
Espinal has expressed concern that the affordable housing in his district will not be cheap enough for residents and is pressing the administration to require even lower-cost apartments.
Since taking office last year, de Blasio has required affordable housing in exchange for a rezoning from one developer, Alma Realty, which plans to build a facility called Astoria Cove in Queens.
As Capital previously reported, Alma, whose finances have long been questioned, is not planning to provide enough affordable housing to qualify for the 421-a tax break, the terms of which were revised in June and take effect in January, pending a final labor deal.