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Charter Revision can open new doors for affordable housing

The ongoing review of the New York City Charter is an opportunity to make smart changes to our Land Use process and make it easier to deliver affordable housing to a city in desperate need. With nearly half of all New York City households rent burdened, the Commission should consider steps to make the Land Use process more efficient and better equipped to meet the needs of New Yorkers.

The City Council Charter Revision Commission’s broad mandate is to conduct an in-depth review of our city’s Charter, the administrative code governing the city, delivering its recommendations to the public in November 2019 after it completes its review.

The last time such a comprehensive revision was completed was in 1989, presenting a unique opportunity for the Commission to revisit the Land Use guidelines that shape development in New York City. Much has changed in the 30 years since the last revision, and the Charter must be updated to reflect those changes – including our crippling housing crisis.

First, the NYC Council Charter Revision Commission should commit to a policy of “do no harm,” by rejecting suggestions that would further burden or greatly extend the length of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process. This includes rejecting any recommendations to add additional time-consuming steps, to subject more projects to ULURP or to give Community Boards full veto power over projects before them.

The community input process is a vital one, as it allows developers and community stakeholders to share ideas, get feedback and shape the project with issues of affordability, community facilities, open space and design in mind. This must be protected. However, the current ULURP process is incredibly time consuming and costly for the development team.
To further slow that process would delay the delivery of affordable housing and would disproportionally impact small and emerging developers who may not have the resources to carry them through a lengthier process with heightened staffing and consultant costs.
In fact, given our affordable housing crisis, the Commission should consider expediting the ULURP review for projects that are 100 percent affordable and subject to regulatory agreement. These are the projects that New Yorkers need
the most—supportive and senior housing, for example—and the City should be incentivizing them though a faster, but still careful, meaningful, review.
It is critical to balance efficient, timely development with robust public input. This is not an appeal for developers to have carte blanche without serious community feedback. Nor should we, as a City, allow provincial, sometimes NIMBY concerns to block critically-needed affordable housing.
Finding this balance is difficult, but the Commission must keep it in mind as it considers changes to Land Use this year.

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