In the largest city zoning change since 1961, Mayor Bill de Blasio successfully pushed for the City Council to pass two major initiatives last week — Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability.
But how will these changes affect Brooklyn’s residents, historic areas, and transitioning neighborhoods like East New York? Brownstoner talked to a handful of experts to help understand what you can expect.
How will the zoning changes affect historic neighborhoods?
Some residents were concerned the zoning changes could ruin the character of the borough’s unprotected historic nabes — areas in Bed Stuy, PLG, Crown Heights South, Carroll Gardens, Sunset Park, and East New York, for example — by encouraging too-tall, out-of-context development. (The rezoning will have a limited effect on designated areas, because developments and alterations there must be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission anyway.)
It is important to note that the new zoning’s height increases are only allowed for developments that include affordable housing. This affordable housing requirement is a major compromise that should help rein in the practice of tearing down historic buildings for new development.
However, Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council, told Brownstoner that the zoning changes “certainly are not going to help retain the character of Brooklyn’s historic neighborhoods.” He continued:
Shorn of everything else, this is an upzoning meant to encourage denser development. Whether or not that is a laudable goal can be reasonably debated but ultimately, it is only because of the strong opposition of community groups that the upzoning is as measured as it is. That does not transform the plan into one for preservation.
Will the zoning changes actually encourage developers to build more affordable housing?
The whole point driving these changes was to maximize the creation of affordable housing in new developments across the city. But if the new requirements are too harsh on developers, they could throttle the financial incentive to build. In some areas, the numbers work out — in others, land values will need to catch up, according to one affordable housing developer we spoke with.
David Kramer, Developer at Hudson Companies, told Brownstoner that the going rents in East New York aren’t currently high enough to attract unsubsidized development:
As land is rezoned, it’s typically a windfall for the land owner, so it’s perfectly appropriate that some of the windfall benefits the city through increasing the supply of affordable housing. East New York is probably not the poster child for MIH since the housing economics of the area make market rate housing very challenging. But some day, whether in East New York or other neighborhoods which don’t have as much market-rate housing today, the time will come when MIH will serve as an incredible resource for the supply of affordable housing without additional capital subsidies from the City.
How else will the rezoning affect neighborhoods like East New York?
One of the first areas up for a possible rezoning under the new regulations, East New York will be a proving ground for de Blasio’s changes. But residents have expressed fears that the proposed rezoning will hasten gentrification and displacement of current residents.
However, the City Council member for the neighborhood, Rafael Espinal Jr., fought to win deeper affordability levels in the new legislation. The City Council did everything it could to make the rents for affordable units as low as possible, he told Brownstoner:
Now, any new development that is built in East New York must produce at least 20 percent of affordable units for families making $30,000 per year. In the past, developments in rezoned lots were not required to build affordable units, which is something we have witnessed in Park Slope’s 4th Avenue.
Here’s a quick recap of the details of the new plans.
Mandatory Inclusionary Housing requires developers to set aside 20 to 30 percent of all new building for permanently affordable units in all developments that take advantage of a rezoning.
Zoning for Quality and Affordability alters the text of the zoning code, changing the limits placed on the size and shape of buildings by allowing them to be taller, easing setback restrictions, and other amendments. In medium- and high-density areas, the new zoning will:
- Allow residential buildings to be taller if they have a taller ground floor
- Allow affordable residential buildings to be taller — usually by just one or two more stories
- Allow some street-level setbacks from the sidewalk rather than only flat facades
- Make parking optional for many new affordable buildings in transit-accessible areas
Last year, Brooklyn’s community boards mostly rejected the plans, as did the borough president and Brooklyn Borough Board — many citing issues of affordability and fears that implementing the plans would hasten displacement and lead to the construction of non-contextual buildings. But then, the City Planning Commission approved MIH and ZQA in February 2016. In the official binding vote, the City Council approved both proposals on March 22, 2016.