The Real Deal New York

Planning Commission passes de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposal 

Weisbrod recommends City Council provide more oversight on hardship appeals from developers

February 03, 2016 02:50PM
By Rich Bockmann

City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito

City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito

The City Planning Commission Wednesday approved its modified version of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposal with recommendations for the City Council, which will vote on the measure in the following weeks.

By a vote of 9 to 3 with one abstention, the commissioners approved the contentious component of the mayor’s signature affordable housing plan, which requires residential developers seeking significant increases in building density through rezonings to set aside either 25 or 30 percent of the project’s units for low-to-moderate income tenants.

“We have weighed the issues and acknowledged the trade offs and have made adjustments to the proposals so that we believe they will address our acute affordable housing needs while enhancing the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the city,” CPC Chair Carl Weisbrod said.

It’s a significant victory for the de Blasio administration, which has faced mounting opposition from a variety of stakeholders who argue the plan lacks clarity and doesn’t do enough to promote affordability, among other concerns.

Critics contend that the requirement to provide housing for families making less than $40,000 a year doesn’t go far enough. Those concerns were on display Wednesday morning’s session at 22 Reade Street.

“It is financially feasible in a number of New York City neighborhoods to require a new MIH option that reaches deeper levels of affordable housing so that more families earning less that $30,000 annually can have access to permanently affordable housing,” opined Michelle de la Uz, who abstained from voting.

“MIH’s goal is promoting economic diversity,” she added. “Well, let’s not stop halfway and leave some families in some communities out.”

Meanwhile, the city has already been asking developers to submit their rezoning applications under MIH’s guidelines. A growing list of proposed developments, including Washington Square Partners and Acadia Realty Trust’s planned 355-unit apartment building in Inwood, are already going through the land-review process.

The Planning Commission’s most significant modification to the proposal concerned the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s role in appeals developers can make to the Board of Standards and Appeals, which could waive MIH requirements for those who prove an economic hardship.

The BSA process has long been criticized as a loophole developers exploit to circumvent zoning laws, and many have taken aim at the lack of clarity the de Blasio administration’s MIH proposal provides on appeals.

The New York City Bar Association, for example, wrote a letter to Weisbrod late last month asking for clarification in the final in the final text on HPD’s role.

“HPD is expected to advise BSA in determining whether to grant the special permit,” the association’s leaders wrote. “If a developer and HPD disagree as to the strength of the market or sufficiency of subsidies to avoid a hardship, to what extent should, or could, BSA legally rely upon the expertise of HPD in such matters?”

The Planning Commission ultimately recommended that the City Council codify HPD’s role in the modified zoning text.

“This will ensure that the provision serves its limited function to provide relief in rare cases of hardship caused specifically by the MIH requirements,” Wesibrod said.

The proposal now goes on to the City Council, which will have 50 days to review it. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Vivitero has voiced support for the plan, though several Council members have indicated they don’t expect the plan to be approved in its current form.

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