Comments on City of Yes for Housing Opportunity Draft Scope
RE: City of Yes for Housing Opportunity Draft Scope of Work (CEQR No. 24DCP033Y)
Pratt Center for Community Development works for a more just, equitable and sustainable New York City through participatory planning, applied research, and policy advocacy in collaboration with community-based organizations. Our land use and housing justice work has included facilitating community-based neighborhood plans, research and advocacy for basement apartment legalization, and policy reports on strategies to ensure value created by city rezonings is captured for public good. We recognize City of Yes - Housing Opportunity as a large-scale package of zoning proposals that would affect neighborhoods across the city, and as such continue to engage with the public review process, including analyzing the proposals in consultation with our community partners, to assess its impact and provide feedback. The comments we submit here are focused on the Draft Scope of Work and Analytic Framework to guide the forthcoming environmental review, rather than the specifics of the many proposed zoning changes contained within the Proposed Action and their potential impacts.
1. We are concerned that the representative neighborhoods and prototypical sites will not allow for a robust and accurate analysis of the potential impacts of likely developments across racially segregated and gentrifying neighborhoods.
We recognize the challenge of assessing the potential impacts of a package of proposals with citywide impact and diverse and layered components. The Analytic Framework of identifying and studying prototypical sites and representative neighborhoods, as outlined in the Draft Scope of Work, follows CEQR Technical Manual guidelines for “generic actions.” The methodology for selecting those sites and neighborhoods, however, is unclear, particularly to ensure that the analysis includes neighborhoods with a range of racial, socioeconomic, and land and housing market conditions.
For instance, among Category 1: Medium- and High-Density Proposals prototypical analysis sites, Site 1-1 is a 100% affordable development on a vacant lot in Bushwick, and Sites 1-2-a and 1-3-a are multi-family developments with majority market-rate apartments and a portion of income-restricted or supportive housing units on the Upper East Side and Washington Heights, respectively. With rising land values and housing costs, Bushwick is likely to see majority market-rate developments under the UAP program; analyzing a 100% income-restricted project in that gentrifying neighborhood will not enable analysis of the potential displacement impacts in this and similar gentrifying neighborhoods. While Washington Heights shares some demographic and housing market similarities with Bushwick, they are not interchangeable, particularly with regard to industrial businesses, open space, and environmental conditions. In addition, while it may be likely that subsidies for non-profit, 100% income-restricted and supportive housing projects are directed to Bushwick than the Upper East Side, this runs counter to the city’s stated goals of addressing exclusion in white, wealthy neighborhoods. Finally, all prototypical sites are sited on vacant lots, and none address the likelihood that existing buildings with businesses and residents would likely be sold for redevelopment under the Proposed Action.
Among Category 2: Low-Density Basic proposals, prototypical sites were selected for Floral Park, Ozone Park, and Sheepshead Bay, two of which are largely white, two of which have higher median incomes than citywide, and all of which have higher homeownership rates than citywide. Given the declining rates of Black homeownership and risks to low- and moderate-income Black homeowners, the analysis should include at least one low-density neighborhood with higher rates of Black homeownership and large low-income renter populations such as Canarsie, Jamaica, or Edgemere. The scope also fails to include gentrifying low-density neighborhoods such as parts of Ridgewood or Flushing.
We also note that the proposed changes to dwelling unit factor (Section 1.2) do not appear to be represented in the prototypical sites. Category 1 calls for the removal of the dwelling unit factor in transit-rich areas, with the intent that micro-units or studio apartments will be created, with no guarantee of affordability, to allow for New Yorkers currently sharing larger units to vacate those units and move into these new, smaller units. However, it cannot be said that residents within these communities will be able to afford these units, and may increase gentrification pressures. The impacts of this change are not presently being evaluated as there is no relevant prototypical analysis presented in the draft scope of work.
The Draft Scope of Work should be revised to expand the number of prototypical analysis sites to represent a broader array of likely development types as a result of the numerous proposed changes, including on lots with existing buildings, across neighborhoods with a range of displacement risk and racial and socioeconomic demographics.
2. The Scope must encompass all zoning changes that would be required for a future basement and cellar apartment legalization program (including removing parking minimums for sub-grade apartments, allowing at least one accessory dwelling unit per residential lot, and excluding cellars from FAR calculations when converting to a legal dwelling unit) and their impact at scale. As a founding member of the Basement Apartments Safe for Everyone (BASE) coalition, we are committed to ensuring that tenants living in currently unregulated basement and cellar apartments are able to live in safe, affordable, legal homes. While we recognize that zoning is only one component of regulatory reform required to enable conversion of sub-grade apartments, the responsible agencies must ensure that the analytical framework includes a future citywide basement legalization program and fulfills the environmental review required under the law in order to enact such a program.
3. Earlier this year, the Municipal Art Society, Regional Plan Association, NYU’s Guarini Center, and Pratt Institute's Spatial Analysis and Visualization Initiative released SITE x SITE, a study and webtool of past development citywide which shows that the current soft site analysis framework in City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) does not capture the full extent of what is actually developed under land use actions, especially in areas outside of Manhattan. The current 5,000 square foot threshold prevents analysis of smaller sites, which their study shows were the majority of sites redeveloped after major land use changes. Because these sites were not included in the environmental analysis, the environmental impact of this development was not evaluated. As these proposals will have citywide impacts, it is important that the framework considers a lower lot size threshold which aligns more with the median lot sizes that have been developed that did not meet the CEQR minimum for analysis.
4. We are concerned that the Proposed Action is dependent on the renewal or replacement of the 421-a tax incentive and the related assumptions made in the Analytical Framework. While we recognize that the Scope assumes the existence of such a program in the With-Action conditions in order to assess the environmental impacts of maximum build-out under the proposals, we also note that this may overestimate the potential impact of the proposed changes on housing production and the underlying goals of the plan. The Proposed Action is based on the assumption that increased supply will lower rents across the city, and that income-restricted units will require a 421-a-like tax benefit; the public should also be provided with analysis of the potential impacts of changing zoning regulations without such a tax incentive, particularly as it relates to affordability levels and secondary displacement risks across neighborhoods. As such, the Scope should encompass With-Action conditions both with and without a 421-a renewal or replacement program.
Beyond these concerns regarding the analytical framework, we must note that the 421-a program failed to meaningfully deliver housing affordable to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers, and lacked enforcement of affordability regulations even among the apartments that targeted higher income New Yorkers. The City is asking the public to consider zoning changes that would allow housing production under a comparable program, rather than robust public investment and programs that target those low- and moderate-income New Yorkers who face the biggest supply shortage, largest rent burdens, and greatest risk of eviction and homelessness. Any zoning changes considered by the City as part of its housing affordability plans should be to advance low-income, permanently affordable housing backed by new public investments, not to advance the kind of housing produced under past inequitable tax incentive programs.
Resolving our housing crisis will require bold government action including deep investments in low-income housing, strong tenant protections, and comprehensive community-based planning. While zoning reform may be one component of a given housing program, it cannot on its own produce or preserve the deeply affordable housing low- and moderate-income New Yorkers need. Significant investments in non-speculative housing models and strong rent regulations and enforcement are needed to address the housing crisis. Pratt Center will continue to work with our community partners to advance these truly bold and effective approaches to the housing crisis, while also providing analysis and input on the City’s proposals to work towards the common goal of making NYC a more affordable, equitable and just city.