Testimony to the City Planning Commission on the Jamaica Plan
Pratt Center for Community Development
May 23, 2007
Chair Burden, members of the City Planning Commission, thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony today. My name is Brad Lander and I am the director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, a university-based center that works for a more just, equitable, and sustainable city for all New Yorkers by helping communities to plan for and realize their future.
The Pratt Center was honored to work with Community Board 12's Ad Hoc Committee on the Jamaica Plan. We have deep respect for their work, and all of the time, research, and passion they have put into this effort. We encourage you to give serious consideration to their position, which we believe reflects strong sentiments within the community. Our testimony today, however, is our own.
In general, the Pratt Center supports the City's approach to balanced rezonings that allow for a mix of neighborhood preservation with targeted growth in business centers, and along major transportation and transit corridors. In a city projected to grow by nearly 1 million people by 2030, in a borough where recent and future growth are adding tremendous economic and social vitality, and in the face of an intense affordable housing crisis that is squeezing hundreds of thousands of Queens residents, we need to find appropriate places for growth and development.
We believe that the City's plan for Jamaica offers a reasonable balance of preservation and growth, and we support its adoption with modifications. At the same time, for that growth to truly work for this community, significant modifications are in order. We urge the Commission to modify the plan to:
Incorporate inclusionary zoning, as per the City's proposed affordable housing alternative -- to offer a 33% density bonus (but with no additional height bonus) for 20% affordable units -- on all privately-owned sites where upzoning is taking place, including those areas being upzoned to R6A.
Require 50% affordable housing on any public or urban renewal sites that the City takes through eminent domain and/or offers through RFPs.
Pilot a new "displacement mitigation tax credit" to protect tenants in small buildings from being displaced by rising rents, a significant problem identified in the DEIS.
Guarantee living wage jobs, employment, and business opportunities to Jamaica residents on economic development projects on public or urban renewal sites.
Do more to address critical infrastructure, transportation, parking and school needs that already exist in Jamaica, and that growth will strain further unless concrete action is taken.
Create and Preserve Affordable Housing
The need to create new and to preserve existing affordable housing in Jamaica is obvious. Over the past three years across New York City, real incomes have fallen, while rents have risen significantly. According to the Jamaica Plan DEIS, in the total study area, median household incomes have dropped almost 16% from $47,478 in 1989 to $39,940 in 1999. Yet home values, especially 1 and 2-family residences have had a sharp increased of 77%. Between 1991 and 2004, one-family home prices increased from $189,500 to $335,000; two-family home values increased by 89 percent, and small walk-up apartments increased by over 100% from $254,000 and $517,0001. This trend has significantly increased the housing cost burden on Jamaica households, particularly for working families such as health care workers, salespeople, office clerks, cooks, and day care workers.
We need to create more affordable units to address this need, and the downtown areas and transit corridors identified in the Jamaica Plan are appropriate locations to do so. In addition, we need to preserve the affordable housing that already exists. While we think of Jamaica as a homeownership community, nearly two-thirds of the housing units (65%) in Jamaica are rentals, mostly in small homes. According to the DEIS, 43% of tenant households (5,246) in the project area are vulnerable to indirect residential displacement because the units are located in small buildings not protected by tenant laws.
To create and preserve affordable housing, we urge three modifications to the Jamaica Plan:
Incorporate inclusionary zoning -- offering a 33% density bonus (but with no height bonus) for 20% affordable housing -- on all privately-owned sites where upzoning is taking place, including those areas being upzoned to R6A. We support the City's affordable housing alternative, which would apply an inclusionary zoning bonus to encourage developers to build affordable housing. This program has now been applied in Queens, along Queens Boulevard in Woodside, as well as in Manhattan and Brooklyn. We believe it is a strong incentive for the creation of affordable housing. We would urge that inclusionary zoning be extended to those areas being upzoned to R6A as well.
Require 50% affordable housing on any public sites, or sites within the urban renewal zone that the City takes through eminent domain and/or offers through RFP. To create more development opportunities, the Plan includes the designation of Jamaica Gateway Urban Renewal Area (JGURA) of three blocks around the Air Train Station in Downtown Jamaica. The JGURA plan projects a total of 2.1 million sq. ft. of commercial development and 206 new residential units. And on the City-owned parking site at 168th Street and Jamaica Avenue the DEIS projects a total of 133,000 sq. ft. of commercial development, 2,000 sq. ft. of community facility and 135 new residential units. These sites would most likely be developed through RFPs by EDC. We support the Ad Hoc's Committee's and Queens for Affordable Housing recommendations that require that one half of the units (50%) to be affordable to low and moderate-low income families. For these sites, the City should require that:
At least 20% of the units should be affordable to low-income families earning up to 50% of area median income ($35,450 for a family of 4).
30% of the units should be affordable to families earning between 50% and 80% of area median income (up to $56,720 for a family of 4).
The affordable housing units created must be affordable in perpetuity. This will prevent the crises of expiring affordable units that exist in many programs.
Pilot new tools, such as a "displacement mitigation tax credit" to protect tenants in small buildings from being displaced by rising rents, a significant problem identified in the DEIS. To address the risk of secondary displacement identified in the DEIS, we recommend that the City pilot a new "displacement mitigation tax credit" to benefit landlords who continue to rent to low-income tenants at affordable rents. This would give an owner a property tax credit worth 50% of the difference between the affordable rent they are charging and the market-rate rent they could get if they kicked out the existing tenants. This would encourage landlords to be good neighbors, help enable tenants to stay in this community as it grows, and provide a very cost-efficient way for the City to preserve affordable housing.
The Pratt Center also encourages the adoption of provisions for all economic development sites that are City-owned, taken through urban renewal, or disposed through City RFPs, in order to maximize economic opportunities for local residents:
Finally, we are concerned that the plan as it currently exists does not do enough to provide a solid infrastructure for growth. When the City is proposing significant new development, especially in the face of local concerns, it is imperative that the plan provide adequate physical and social infrastructure. We hope that more can be done to address the community's genuine concerns.
With these modifications, we believe that the Jamaica Plan can help to make this an even greater community in the years and decades to come. Again, thank you for this opportunity to testify.
1 Jamaica Plan DEIS, Chapter 3: Socioeconomic Conditions, pages 3-13 through 3-18