By Shay Alster AIA and David E Gross AIA,
Building affordable housing in New York City consists of many challenging factors. New York City architecture firm, GF55 Partners, has identified a few key practical issues in designing affordable housing:
1 – DO NOT ASSUME LAST YEAR’S ZONING IS RELEVANT
New York City zoning regulations continue to evolve and new regulations specifically to encourage Affordable Housing have recently been instituted.
A clear and effective zoning analysis is crucial to understanding a site’s potential (highest and best use), zoning process, permits, timelines, and costs. This can help assess the risk of economic loss by taking into account ordinances that allow maximum floor area (FAR) for Residential Affordable Housing.
For example, the Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) text amendment which was issued in March, 2016 reduces parking requirements, encourages better ground-floor retail spaces, supports residential units with adequate ceiling heights, and maintains the essential rules of “contextual” zoning districts and lower-density zoning districts. Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) creates a wider range of mandatory and permanent affordable housing and deepens affordability.
2 – COMPLIANCE WITH HOUSING PRESERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT (HPD) REQUIREMENTS
HPD has a goal to provide affordable housing for New Yorkers through a combination of loan programs, tax incentives, disposition of City-owned land, tax credits, and other development incentives alike. The architect’s familiarity with HPD’s design guidelines help to produce effective & efficient floor plans and unit layouts. It includes minimum net square foot areas, functional kitchen layouts, and better circulation. With these guidelines, it is the architect’s job to use all of the FAR and maximize the rentable / sellable floor area.
3 – UNDERSTAND AMI, UNIT MIX, AND DISTRIBUTION REQUIREMENTS
The architect’s understanding of the type of income program, unit mix, and operating costs is essential for proper project capitalization, unit distribution and rent determination. The architect works directly with the developer to strategically determine the distribution of the square foot areas, affordable housing units in the building, and assignment of units to different income levels.
4 – BUILDING AFFORDABLE AND FINDING A PLACE TO MAKE ARCHITECTURE
Building affordable means being strategic with where you spend your money and using building materials creatively. Constructing an affordable housing building efficiently is essential to meet a limited budget. The architect’s and consultant’s selection of affordable materials, fixtures, and building systems are as important as making sure that the construction set is tailored with affordable details which make a significant impact on the bottom line. Affordable housing can be high quality architecture with creative juxtaposition of materials, contextual design, and massing that helps weave it into an area’s urban fabric.
5 – BUILDING GREEN
Understanding HPD’s Enterprise Green Communities Criteria (EGCC) is critical to knowing how to design a building to meet it. It helps achieve deeper affordability through lowered utility bills and healthier living environments. Available (NYSERDA) state funds and NYC energy code have their own requirements that must be met. Green building materials and energy efficient systems will result in higher construction costs up-front. However, this will be balanced with long term savings and building operations.
6 – THE RIGHT TEAM – COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND CONSULTANTS
To reach a building’s maximum potential, the community’s needs & concerns should be heard and considered. Expanded outreach, neighborhood engagement, and addressing feedback should be integrated into a building’s planning by the design consultants.
7 – ABILITY TO NAVIGATE BUREAUCRACTIC POLITICAL WATERS
An architect who knows the rules can help their client navigate many different program requirements. Financing programs and origination (city/state) trigger different handicapped code requirements which affect the design and needs in the units. Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) units are required to follow stricter handicapped (ADA) codes with more generous clearances that also address hearing and visual impaired persons.
The Active Design Guidelines provide architects with a manual of strategies for creating healthier spaces for people. Other thresholds, guidelines and criteria are important to be familiar with so that the planning and design of a building are addressed early on.
8 – INCLUSIONARY HOUSING
The Inclusionary Housing Program (IHP) offers a floor area bonus in exchange for creating or preserving affordable housing. Financial incentives through FAR bonuses, FRESH Program, and community facilities promote increased low-income housing while revitalizing the neighborhood.
It is important for the architect to understand how Inclusionary Housing zoning rules and requirements work in order to enjoy the benefits that the program has to offer.