Can Mayor de Blasio achieve mandatory AND permanent affordable housing?

New York City Mayor de Blasio and the City Council have big plans to overhaul the city’s affordable housing laws. Under New York’s current inclusionary zoning plan, developers voluntarily include affordable housing in rezoned buildings (buildings that are taller or larger than is allowed under zoning law) in exchange for certain tax breaks and incentives. This is a typical method of increasing affordable housing, used in municipalities throughout the country, including the District of Columbia and San Francisco.

De Blasio wants to make affordable housing provisions mandatory in all new developments constructed in certain areas of the city as well as in other private developments seeking zoning changes. Developers can choose to include either 25 percent of units affordable to households earning 60 percent or less of the area median income (AMI) or 30 percent of units affordable to households earning 80 percent AMI ($46,620 or $62,150 for a family of three in NYC, respectively). This percentage of mandatory units is above and beyond what most cities demand; the normal range is 10 to 15 percent (Chicago clocks in at 10 percent and Seattle’s lauded new Housing and Livability Agenda requires only about 5 percent).

Further, under the proposed New York City plan, new units will be affordable for perpetuity. Unlike other affordable housing ordinances and financing options which phase out after an average of between 15 and 30 years, de Blasio wants permanently  affordable housing.

If  this bill passes without amendment, it will mark a fundamental shift in how we think about providing housing. This is a signal to other cities struggling with housing crises to reassess priorities, and move the provision of safe and adequate housing to the top of the list.

The Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning proposal is expected to be released for public review in September. It must then past scrutiny of Community Boards, Borough Presidents, Borough Boards, the City Planning Commission and City Council. The process will not be simple, but the results could be extraordinary. 

In the meantime, here are a few resources on inclusionary zoning and the benefits of mandatory versus voluntary requirements:

“Voluntary or Mandatory Inclusionary Housing? Production, Predictability, and Enforcement” -A 2003 report by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest that examines the efficacy of different inclusionary zoning programs.

“A primer on inclusionary zoning” -A thorough and clear description of different zoning policies, with examples. On the Coates’ Canons blog, a project by the School of Government at UNC Chapel Hill.

“Is Inclusionary Zoning the New Normal for High-Cost Places?” -An article by How Housing Matters that uses New York City’s proposed mandatory ordinance as a case study for inclusionary zoning nationwide.

“Inclusionary Zoning and Mixed-Income Communities” -A discussion by HUD on the history and effectiveness of inclusionary zoning, with a comparison on Chicago and New York City policies. It is two years old and both cities discussed have (or are in the process of) amending their policies, but the details are still relevant.

“Establish Inclusionary Zoning Requirements or Incentives” -Basically a compendium of multiple tool boxes, case studies, podcasts, reports, articles and data about inclusionary zoning. This is the most rabbit-hole of the resources in this list, but it also provides an incredible amount of information and is worth a look if you feel like losing a day in inclusionary zoning information mode.


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