BY LYNN EDMONDS
CITY HALL-The City Council voted 42-5 and 40-6 to approve the mayor’s ambitious affordable housing initiatives, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability on Tuesday.
The legislation, part of the Mayor’s flagship initiative to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing, had been expected to pass since March 14 when the City Council announced a negotiated version of the plan.
Designed to work in tandem, the policies will have developers in rezoned neighborhoods set anywhere between 20 to 30 percent of their units for affordable housing, targeted to households making between 40 and 115 percent of the City’s Annual Median Income. The plan also grants developers certain concessions on building height and parking requirements, mostly for building affordable and senior housing.
While the majority of Council members voted in favor of the zoning proposals, the meeting was derailed by an unusual instance of civil disobedience and a 20-minute break while an injured protester was removed by EMS.
The alphabetical vote had only gotten as far as Baron when protesters interrupted, shouting “City Council vote NO, MIH has got to go!”
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Brooklyn), who was presiding over the hearing, called the sergeant in arms to remove the protesters, which took longer than expected.
Observers said that four individuals had stuck their hands between their seats and glued them together so that they could not be removed.
On the City Council video feed, the protesters could not be seen, though one could be heard shouting, “You’re breaking my arm!”
The injured protester was down on the floor for over ten minutes and was eventually removed in a wheelchair and wearing an oxygen mask by EMS, after which the session resumed with Councilwoman Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) explaining her vote.
The largest concession in the MIH plan was changing it to include options affordable to households making 40 percent of the AMI. Previously, the cheapest housing targeted households making 60 percent of the AMI.
Changes to ZQA included increasing the square footage of senior affordable housing units and not letting developers waive parking requirements except where it concerned affordable housing.
The legislation will also be paired with an initiative called FRESH to incentivize supermarkets to open up shop in food deserts, areas where people lack access to healthy food.
Of the 14 Queens Council members, 12 voted yes on MIH and 11 voted yes on ZQA. Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) was excused for a medical absence and did not vote.
Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) was the only Queens representative who voted against both MIH and ZQA, while Vallone voted for MIH but against ZQA.
Donovan Richards (D-Far Rockaway), who shepherded the legislation through revisions as co-chair of the Land Use Committee, called it a “game changer,” and he joked that Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) had “put the sexy back in zoning.”
“We are holding developers responsible for solutions,” he said, rather than allowing them to be perpetrators of the affordability crisis.
He emphasized that this affordable housing was not build with the city’s dollar “but on the developer’s dime.”
“This is the strongest affordable housing program in the country,” he added.
For those who were still upset about the lack of required parking for senior housing – as many community boards in Queens were – Richards had a response for that: #seniorsbeforecars.
“I believe it’s more important for a senior to have a place to rest than a car,” he said.
Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) also spoke positively about the plan and the rigorous process he said they went through to get a better version. He said someone responded in writing to every single concern and stipulation that was brought forward to the community board.
“Over 2,000 seniors in my district are on waiting lists for affordable housing,” Van Bramer said, adding that doing nothing on this issue “is not going to do them any good.”
In an interview, Grodenchik said he voted against the plan because it reflected the will of his constituents.
“This was something that opposed by the four community board that I represent – they voted almost unanimously against it – and by every single civic in my district,” he said.
As for the revised version of the plan, “there really wasn’t the time to go back to the communities and talk to them about it,” Grodenchik said.
One question with the plan that remains is the extent to which it will be effective after tax exemption 421-a for developers was not renewed.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, email@example.com or @Ellinoamerikana