Mayor Bill de Blasio’s inclusionary housing and rezoning program could change Rockaway and not for the better, critics charge.
Commentary from onrockaway.com
Nearly three years after then-mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio first mentioned Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (or Zoning) as the linchpin of his affordable housing plan, the debate on this policy has reached a fever pitch not only in Rockaway, but throughout the city, according to Nick Powell, writing in City and State, a popular political blog.
Supporters of the policy have hailed Mandatory Inclusionary as the single most effective tool for creating affordable housing en masse. Detractors, which include nearly every city community board, a host of housing advocates and several City Council members, counter that the mandated Area Median Income levels are not low enough for low-income New Yorkers who need housing and who fear being priced out of their gentrifying neighborhoods.
Locals say that the Rockaway peninsula, with its recent economic growth, its growing restaurant and housing scene, the return of the boardwalk this Memorial Day and the commuter ferry service planned for return in 2017, can easily become one of those area destined for gentrification and the exclusion of its most vulnerable residents.
Powell writes that mandatory Inclusionary, at least as currently designed, is not the panacea for affordable housing development that the administration would have you think. In fact, one city housing official already knows that.
Vicki Been, the commissioner of the city Department of Housing and Preservation, was one of the authors of a 2008 study on Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning. The study examined the policy in three different cities – Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. – and found that Inclusionary Zoning policies have had varied success in producing affordable units on a grand scale.
He says that the most successful Inclusionary Zoning policies, such as in San Francisco, also have the most flexibility baked in, especially regarding how densely housing developers can build. If the city wanted to get past the Mandatory Inclusionary impasse, especially in predominantly low-income neighborhoods like East New York, why not allow developers to double the amount of density in return for double the amount of city subsidies? Rents in East New York would be significantly more affordable, and developers regardless will be hard-pressed to find families willing to pay market rate to live in a neighborhood situated so deep in Brooklyn, toward the end of the L train line.
The answer, he writes, is that the city has foolishly locked itself into its 200,000 affordable-unit goal over 10 years, going against the advice of many housing experts and advocates. If de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen and his housing team set a more realistic goal – closer to the 165,000-plus affordable units built during the Bloomberg administration – the city would have more flexibility to add subsidies to certain developments and reach deeper levels of affordability in the low-income neighborhoods being rezoned. The 200,000-unit goal limits the amount of subsidy to spread across the city.
To the extent that Mandatory Inclusionary Housing will likely only generate a fraction of the 80,000 affordable units the mayor wants to build, it makes sense to maximize the affordability under that policy, and stave off fears of gentrification in the process. Building 30,000 fewer new affordable units in exchange for lower rents seems like more than a fair trade.
But de Blasio is fond of setting hard benchmarks, and it seems unlikely that he will back off the 200,000-unit number just to satisfy some angry community boards, Powell says. Instead, look for the administration to soften some of their AMI targets to placate Council members who have to sign off on the plan, and move forward with the plan more or less unchanged.
Powell does not address Rockaway directly, but Community Board 14 voted against the mayor’s plan for two reasons, the first and foremost being that the plan does not mandate off-street parking at either senior citizens housing of low income housing under the theory that most of the people who live in housing that addresses seniors and low-income residents do not have automobiles and use public transportation to get around.
The mayor believes that those living within a half-mile of a subway or bus line does not need private transportation. Since the great majority of those who live in Rockaway, where the A-Line runs down the spine of the peninsula and in most places it is five or six blocks wide, nearly everybody in Rockaway fills the bill for what the mayor considers a no need for parking zone. Most locals would disagree.
Secondly, and perhaps less important to our local residents, the board took a look at the rents for the planned “affordable” housing units in Rockaway and decided that they were too high for those now living on the peninsula either in substandard housing or in the public housing units that dot the peninsula.
Is Powell right? Will de Blasio get his way by tweaking the Annual Median Income (AMI) targets to get the community and its City Council representatives to buy into his plan?
That remains to be seen. With a contentious community board and one of the few Republican City Councilmen in Rockaway, the mayor’s chances are less than they are in other, more progressive communities.