BY TRONE DOWD
Last week, the City Council was able to push through a new version of the long negotiated standard for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, passed with a majority margin of 42 to 5 and 40 to 6 respectively. The plan is being dubbed “the most aggressive affordable housing plan in the country.”
Following the news, the Queens Tribune had a chance to sit down with Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), chair of the Land-Use subcommittee on Zoning and Franchising, and discuss the landmark decision that will determine how affordable and sustainable the five boroughs will be in the coming years.
“I think that we negotiated,” Richards said. “We the Council obviously heard from community boards, we heard from our civic associations […] to ensure that we were getting accurate information. We knew that anytime you spoke of bringing more density into lower density communities there would be big issues.”
Richards thought one of the biggest problems with MIH and ZQA when it was first introduced by Mayor Bill de Blasio was the way it was explained.
“They were two huge proposals where all together you were just setting a zoning stage for the entire city, painting the city all with one brush,” Richards said. “There perhaps could have been some strategy around that.”
From there, Richards and the committee were able to take the feedback they were given and move forward with the new proposal. Specifically, he mentioned that that he kept in mind Queens residents upset by the potential of lower density neighborhoods being forced into becoming more crowded, thereby losing their character. Keeping these neighborhoods true to what they currently are was a focus for him, at the end of the day, affordable housing is an issue that the city needs to face now before it becomes more of a threat to working class families than it already is.
Without the push from City Council, Richards believed that the city would be facing an uncertain future when it comes to affordability.
“We are in a crisis,” Richards said. “It’s important to know that in a crisis, it’s not enough to say that we shouldn’t do anything. We know we need senior housing, we know we need affordable housing. If you build nothing, obviously there are limited places for people to go outside of homeless shelters. We have a lot of working class people in homeless shelters because they can’t afford the rent in their particular neighborhood. One of the things we often hear is push back from community boards when homeless shelters come in. So we can’t solve this housing crisis by saying that we’re going to do nothing. We understood that zoning was put in place to protect the character of certain neighborhoods and we think we’ve done a very good job.”
One of the more controversial parts had to do with parking. In the new affordable housing plan, developers can not reduce parking availability by building more market rate homes. Now, if a developer wants to get rid of parking lots because it is in a transit zone, they must build affordable housing on those grounds in its place.
“For the places where we’re giving a little bit density to for senior housing, those units are locked in for permanent affordable senior housing,” Richards clarified. These units will stay this was for a minimum of 30 years, with the City Housing & Preservation Development keeping programs in place to keep these rules that the Mayor now supports in place past that time.
The next move for the City Council is to communicate the changes that were made in the new approved plan to Community Boards throughout the five boroughs. He was confident that the new plan would be widely accepted.
“This was not a giveaway to the Mayor,” Richards said. “People could have easily voted it down, but I think that based on the changes we made, people were left a lot happier.”
Richards hopes that the new plan will curb what many fear will happen to New York City in the coming years.
“Whether you liked it or not, gentrification is coming. […] Jamaica Avenue is a place that we need to watch. There’s a lot more market rate interest there. Even as we accept and allow new people to come into our communities, how do we ensure that the people in the communities benefit and make sure that we are improving the quality of life for them, not just when the area is gentrified.
Reach Trone Dowd at (718) 357-7400 x123, firstname.lastname@example.org or @theloniusly