Open Forum: Know thy neighbor!

The Times recently published an article about zoning plans in its entirety. This particular piece, titled “Hold the Crunch: Condo Laws Could Support Neighborhood Growth,” raises a question that has bugged housing activists for…

Open Forum: Know thy neighbor!

The Times recently published an article about zoning plans in its entirety.

This particular piece, titled “Hold the Crunch: Condo Laws Could Support Neighborhood Growth,” raises a question that has bugged housing activists for years: Should Brooklyn and Queens zoning restrictions support continued residential development?

The answers, however, come down to their meaning, as you’ll see below.

Is it OK for a combination of zoning and development to foster growth and allow for supply to catch up to demand? The article’s interviewees think not.

Readers are divided. They see two communities — Brooklyn and Queens — torn between the desire to enable growth and protect neighborhoods, but also the struggle to accommodate the rising number of high-rise projects in dense spots like Williamsburg, Greenpoint and the South Bronx.

“The growth in the housing market has outpaced the space available,” said Anna Siegel, the deputy director of Housing Works. “There will be a point where the only way to solve it is for some form of density. But it’s the wrong way.”

Siegel’s perspective is echoed by many in the housing and development community, where developers have been writing multi-million-dollar contracts to expand or, for example, transform the historic Roosevelt Houses in East New York into homes with new commercial space on the roof.

In this post, we’ve answered reader questions:

Most important: If not zoning, then what exactly do we need to accommodate all this growth?

Our answer: State support. One source for an influx of state-backed housing for low-income residents is the new $6 billion, 10-year development plan that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week. In the plan, Cuomo says it’s a priority to build 1 million housing units, called affordable housing units, by the year 2030. He’s also promised to change how land is handed out, as required by state law. The current state law requires that for every available buildable lot of one acre or more, the local community board must require public benefits that aren’t bound by current zoning.

Helpful, however, was Mr. Cuomo’s promise to change how land is handed out: He’s going to withdraw from the agreement one of the two public benefits being required to be drawn from public money. This means the fees paid to the Department of Environmental Conservation for the permitting process could now go to affordable housing units. That should encourage faster construction of affordable apartments.

Even though the cost-of-living gap in Brooklyn and Queens is much smaller than Manhattan’s, the two boroughs are expected to house about 270,000 new residents by 2030, according to Citi Habitats.

NYC residents — homeowners and renters alike — like the idea of mixing low-cost housing. The advocates say keeping money in the pockets of local residents will increase its propensity to be spent in the community. When it’s spent locally, it is more likely to spur economic activity and are felt by people who will live there.

Readers see something else at stake, too: Property values in Queens and Brooklyn will go up once the new apartments are built. They point out that private development is supposed to pay for itself. That could be problematic for city and county governments in those areas as they try to control the cost of their housing services.

“If you’re trying to mitigate upward spirals of cost, by shifting the cost, you’re limiting affordability and increasing the cost of living,” said Lawrence Comerford, a real estate consultant based in Queens.

Get the next version of “The Gatekeeper” tomorrow.

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