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Manhattan’s Community Board 4 has released its new Affordable Housing Plan, days after a revelation that the city has 90,000 rent-stabilized units sitting vacant. If implemented in full, it would protect or build 14,692 units in the “financially prohibitive” West Side. The Board calls for action on illegal demolitions, evictions and Airbnbs, and wants major changes to development rules to stop affordable homes being segregated in new developments and given lower-quality fittings.
The document — the first update to MCB4’s Affordable Housing Plan since 2019 — also calls for major new tools to be deployed to make housing more affordable, and for affordable homes to be built with more than one bedroom. Among the areas it highlights to meet the need for more homes are 11th Avenue between W38th and W42nd Street, as well as above W42nd and the future redevelopment of Port Authority Bus Station.
There are 659 new affordable housing units currently in construction, with 519 additional units that have completed public review and 366 more under review, the Board’s plan reveals. Affordable homes are defined as being available to people earning between 0% and 165% of the area’s median income. In current dollar terms, that equates to $0 to $154,110 for a single household.
The board released the 160-page document as average monthly rents in Manhattan still sit above $5,000, while the median income in the borough is $93,400 — a figure which lays bare the stark unaffordability of the city to many of its residents. It will now try to persuade city leaders, including Mayor Eric Adams, the state and the Port Authority, to approve and implement the proposals.
“The CB4 Affordable Housing Plan provides the City, State, and developers with numerous opportunities to start building affordable housing now,” said Jeffrey LeFrancois, Chair of Manhattan Community Board 4. “If implemented, it would produce and preserve 14,692 affordable units. Only 6.3% of units are currently affordable in MCB4.”
He added, “The city must be bold to ensure the majority can strive here, and that our community continues to be a diverse neighborhood, anchored by the working class. I look forward to working with our leaders in government and the community to execute this plan.”
Board member Leslie Boghosian Murphy said: “When we mention ‘affordable housing’, many automatically think of very low income, public housing. The truth is, city living, and our district in particular, is becoming financially prohibitive for a greater range of people. The city has ignored the people who want to live here but can no longer do so.
“To bridge the very high income living with the very low, we need to create units for working class and middle class incomes. This creates a necessary balance for healthy neighborhoods. Neighborhoods need a wide range of affordable units, including working and middle class, to thrive and be economically viable. It helps our small businesses, our public schools and our overall quality of life. It is a purely urban economic equation. This thoughtful plan takes that balance into account and outlines our district’s needs.”
The plan outlines how:
- there is a dearth of affordable housing for low and middle-income households;
- potential housing sites have been stalled and stymied in city agency paperwork;
- developments are creating limited or lesser quality affordable homes;
- there is a need to source new locations for affordable units, prevent illegal eviction and demolition
- apartments being used as short-term rental/hotels are decimating the availability of existing affordable units despite a crackdown on illegal Airbnbs.
Using the Adams administration’s $22 billion housing plan as a framework, the MCB4 plan intends to address some of the West Side’s urgent housing concerns, calling for new tools to tackle the problems. It proposes that sites in bureaucratic limbo be transferred to the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) with partnership from “tenants, not-for-profit developers, and other stakeholders to identify specific public and private financing and begin the public review process to ready these sites for affordable housing development.”
In addition to bringing stalled projects back online, the MCB4 plan lists an active search for additional local housing possibilities, including incorporating a percentage of below-market-rate units into new city projects like Port Authority’s proposed expansion. While residential construction won’t be in the works until 2032, the plan recommends the addition of a second mixed-use tower on 9th Avenue between W40th and W41st Streets, saying 50% of its units should be affordable.
The plan highlights rezoning as a key strategy for green-lighting additional affordable units. In Hell’s Kitchen, it calls for the commercial strip of 11th Avenue between W38th and W42nd Street, as well as above W42nd Street, to be used for additional residential development: “This corridor however should be viewed as an extension of high-rise residential corridor which has been built along far West 42nd Street, with over 4,800 market rate and affordable apartments between 10th and 12th Avenues. MCB4 proposes to amend the Hudson Yards zoning text to reverse that order, allowing residential development as of right, with Inclusionary Housing Bonuses, to provide both market rate and affordable housing then to be followed by commercial development.”
And the board wants to address the quality of below-market-rate housing. Some West Side developers have bypassed “poor door” restrictions by creating separate addresses for affordable housing tenants who occupy a shared market-rate residential building, but MCB4’s plan proposes a mandatory requirement for developers to include affordable units on all floors of the building, include the same apartment furnishings such as light fixtures, appliances and the like as market-rate units and provide the same building amenities to all tenants.
“Permanent social assets are an investment in the City of New York and should be treated in a manner equal to any other investment. Inclusionary apartments should be truly integrated,” reads the plan. “Their location in buildings should be equally distributed among and on floors with market rate units, not relegated to secondary, less desirable spots. Their construction standards should be equal to, not less than, market rate units. Building amenities should be open to all, regardless of income status, not separated or inaccessible due to high user fees.”
The plan also advocates for expanded housing for families and seniors, proposing a mandate that 50 percent of new developments are two-bedroom-sized apartments or larger. “Most affordable housing units being built are studios and one bedrooms,” said MCB4 board member Leslie Boghosian Murphy. “Our city has failed at making living here affordable for families, weakening the economic vitality of our neighborhood. This plan provides for affordable housing across the board, including multi-bedroom units, in a thoughtful, detailed manner.”
The plan also acknowledges that New York’s increasing senior population will require additional supportive housing infrastructure. It warns that the number of New Yorkers aged over 65 will outnumber school-age children within 20 years. “The City of New York needs to provide resources to develop and preserve Senior housing. The resources needed include low cost land, capital subsidy and zoning revisions.”
And it calls for crackdowns on illegal demolition, eviction and short-term lets which have turned apartments into Airbnbs. In addition to proposing substantial fines and Stop Work Orders for building owners who create hazardous living conditions (as evidenced in the ongoing saga of 410 and 412 W46th Street), the board recommends assigning a specialized litigator to Community Board 4 to tackle the explosion of illegal short-term rentals.
“In the New York State Attorney General’s report of 2014 on Airbnb, Chelsea and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen were cited in the top three neighborhoods in the City with illegal hotel use,” read the plan. “The net result has been the loss of hundreds of rental apartments in MCD4. The City needs to continue to commit to preserving our rent-regulated housing through proactive enforcement against illegal hotel conversion.”
The MCB4 plan’s success — as with proposed housing solutions throughout the city — depends heavily on the buy-in of local block associations and housing advocacy groups.
Said Jeremiah Johnson, a housing advocate and member of the NYC New Liberals of the plan: “New York will never be an affordable city unless we figure out how to build a lot more housing quickly. Community Board 4’s plans have some good elements, but do not address this core issue strongly enough. Hell’s Kitchen added less than 400 homes a year over the last decade. We need a housing plan that focuses intensely on the most important issue – building housing supply fast and so that more people can have homes here.”
And as evidenced by years-long local conflict over the fate of affordable housing site The Lirio, the political battles and subsequent slowdowns of implementing affordable housing could provide less-than-immediate relief for struggling renters, with continued concerns and conflict over a need for additional supportive housing for New Yorkers dealing with mental health and addiction challenges. But as tenants continue to feel the squeeze, the one thing most New Yorkers are united on is a sense that something must change.
NY State should reenact the 421a program that requires developers to dedicate a percentage of apartments to low income people for a concession on their real estate tax. This is a great incentive for developers and will provide low income housing.
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