Local Assemblymember Harvey Epstein wrote the following op-ed.
With the Soho/Noho Neighborhood Plan pushed by Mayor de Blasio stuck in legal limbo and mired by community opposition, it's time we reevaluate upzoning as a tool for creating affordable housing.
In 2019, the Democratically controlled legislature partnered with advocates to pass the statewide Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (HSTPA), the strongest tenant protection in decades. The bill closed many of the loopholes that led to a loss of affordable housing over the years preceding, especially in "high opportunity" neighborhoods in Manhattan.
But now, the de Blasio approach of upzoning –– changing the existing zoning to allow for more height and density –– undermines the work we did to protect renters in the HSTPA by incentivizing the demolition of existing rent-regulated affordable housing, one of the few ways rent-regulated units can still be lost.
Upzonings imperil small older apartment buildings, which suddenly become vulnerable to demolition when an upzoning incentivizes their replacement with new buildings two or three times the size or more. Older, smaller, affordable buildings could be replaced with new buildings required by mandatory inclusionary housing to offer rents as high as 75 percent market rate. It's unlikely many current tenants could afford a unit in the buildings that would be allowed due to an upzoning.
Today, every day New Yorkers foot the bill for three units of luxury housing for every one unit of not very deeply affordable housing, often in wildly out-of-scale new buildings that may be replacing existing affordable housing and residents. It’s a bad deal for New Yorkers.
The need for a more affordable and equitable city is especially great right now, and every neighborhood needs to take part in that effort. We should eliminate as-of-right development and require all new residential developments to designate a greater than 25 percent share of units as affordable. Linking affordability and upzonings forces a false choice. Affordability shouldn't be dependent upon upzonings, which inherently endanger existing housing in neighborhoods, including affordable housing with longtime and often lower-income residents.
We should also be directly subsidizing and funding the construction of truly affordable housing in NYC that doesn't depend on the whims of the market and private for-profit developers all across the city, not just in less well-off neighborhoods.
With these policy changes, we can protect existing affordable housing, create new affordable housing, and do it in a way that’s compatible with neighborhood character and doesn't create a flood of new luxury housing that does more harm than good in terms of making our neighborhoods equitable, affordable, and diverse.
Assemblymember Harvey Epstein represents the 74th District, which includes parts of Manhattan's east side.