Bronx renters spend approximately 45 percent of their annual income on housing costs. Bronx homeowners spend approximately 37 percent of their annual income on housing costs. Yes, we need to build more affordable housing, but we must do it thoughtfully.
Affordable housing can be constructed without overbuilding. In order to do so, there must be flexibility to incorporate community planning and mindfulness of infrastructure and public services.
In more than a decade on Community Board 8, I have seen many projects come in as of right. That means a developer can construct a project without any further zoning approvals, giving the neighboring area little input on the building.
In 2016, the city council passed — and the mayor signed into law — two major zoning text amendments known as zoning for quality and affordability (or ZQA), and mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH). Every community board in the Bronx voted against these zoning changes.
While the zoning revisions were presented to communities as a tool to create additional affordable housing, the product of these zoning modifications was to create as-of-right bulkier and larger buildings without additional infrastructure, essential services, or community advice. It was the antithesis of community-based planning.
Each new building constructed in our community has an effect on its neighbors. While we must continue to look at local zoning and propose changes that fit community needs, a zoning change is a multi-year process. We could, however, require developers of new buildings over a certain size to present its plan to the local community board prior to issuance of an initial zoning approval of the buildings department.
This would afford the community an opportunity to work with developers to address concerns and propose alternate plans. In cooperation with each other, new designs can be put forward, perhaps with variances supported by the community.
While this Point/Counterpoint is framed under the parameters of new construction, it is noted that the city and state must do a better job in creating and maintaining affordable housing with creative and strategic use of financial subsidies.
For example, seniors are in dire need of additional programs to help afford their current homes, or transition them to residences that meet their physical, emotional and quality-of-life needs.
The transition of some seniors to smaller, more manageable housing, could also free up larger apartments that could be added to the housing market.
In addition, history has shown that the most stable type of affordable housing is through home ownership. Subsidies toward limited equity co-ops and condos, similar to the Mitchell Lama Program, must be part of a calculated plan to increase affordable home ownership.
In 2019, the council passed Intro 1004, which established a pilot program to legalize basement apartments in East New York. In tandem, it established funding for homeowners who wanted to legalize their basements by seeking out low-interest loans to finance construction costs in order to meet the amended building and fire codes under the program.
This idea should be expanded citywide to increase housing stock and to give small, and often struggling homeowners, a stream of additional income.
In order to maintain stability in our city’s housing market and economy, we must continue to create affordable housing with more thought, foresight, and community input.
The author is a candidate for city council.