The Regional Plan Association wants tri-state legislators to phase out single family homes most New Yorkers can’t afford and turn them into apartments.
The RPA believes re-writing the zoning rules for the four million houses in the area would level the playing field to give more people a roof over their head.
“For our region to thrive equitably, state and local policy makers must create diverse, new, affordable housing options,” said Tom Wright, President and CEO, Regional Plan Association.
“Large single-family homes are misaligned with what many people today can afford or need. We can’t just build our way out of the problem. We need to comprehensively rethink our existing housing stock to meet the needs of a new generation.
“We have an opportunity to create a model for smart densification that minimizes the strain on infrastructure, and an obligation to undo the harm which exclusionary zoning has inflicted on communities of color.”
In a new report, entitled Be My Neighbor: Untapped Housing Solutions – ADUs and Conversions, the RPA calls on the governments of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut allow more Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), which are basement, garage and attic apartments, and offer financial incentives large single- and two-family houses to include additional units.
Calling the move “one of the best ways to reduce the impact of new housing, as they require minimal additional infrastructure” the RPA says the plan could create 500,000 new homes, including 100,000 in New York City.
According to the RPA, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed overcrowding as a major crisis in the tri-state metropolitan region.
Fundamentally, to self-quarantine, everyone needs a home. New York City alone created 363,000 more jobs than homes over the past two decades, and the region has been creating only one new housing unit for every two new jobs.
Even if job losses from COVID-19 temporarily reverse this trend, the Association believes the pandemic is driving us toward a wave of homelessness and foreclosures that will create an even greater need for affordable housing choices.
“In this economic crisis we are entering, ADUs provide a dual benefit: more affordable homes for those who need them and more income for homeowners who will struggle to pay their mortgage,” said the civic group, which believes its report highlights the connection between land use and racial and economic segregation.
Across the tri-state region, but most noticeably in the suburbs, municipalities have created exclusionary zoning codes where the only residential buildings allowed are large single-family detached houses.
In communities where detached single-family homes comprise more than 90 percent of the housing stock, the white population is 86 percent, with Black and Latinx representing less than two and six percent of the population, respectively.
The report argues that more flexible land use and zoning practices that allow and encourage ADUs and conversions could both help reduce racial segregation and expand housing opportunities for people of all incomes.
RPA’s report provides two sets of recommendations, both region-wide and specific to New York City, for the creation of new housing stock through ADUs and conversions:
Promote ADUs and conversions through New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut state legislation: Each state should establish policies that specify the rights of owners, provide guidelines for the creation of new housing units, and give financial and technical assistance to municipalities. In some cases, and with the proper oversight, these new units could contribute to local fair share obligations.
Make it easier to legalize and construct ADUs and make conversions through zoning code changes and local ordinances: Cities should not just update their zoning to facilitate the creation of ADUs and conversions, but offer incentives for good design and enact more flexible occupancy and dimensional requirements.
Create more flexible parking requirements: Off-street parking requirements make many ADUs and conversions impossible, so towns should allow more flexibility in parking requirements.
Provide technical assistance, financing, and information: Cities should offer assistance to owners creating ADUs or making conversions, and prioritize statewide financing programs, especially those targeting senior citizens.
New York City:
Allow housing conversions and ADUs in NYC by eliminating zoning requirements that exclusively require large detached single-family dwellings: Permitted land use in zoning districts R1, R1-1, R1-2, R2, R2A, and R2X should be expanded to include two-family dwellings; currently these districts only allow large detached single-family homes.
Reduce multifamily consolidations: Disincentivize the conversion of multifamily housing into single-family homes by continuing to tax the new unit as a multifamily property if the conversion would reduce its property taxes, and explore other zoning and building disincentives for consolidations.
Support New York City’s Basement Apartment Program expansion on a city-wide level, and look for opportunities for other ways to add ADUs: In addition to restoring the Basement Apartment Conversion pilot program and providing a detailed program for its citywide expansion, the City should reform other laws and building codes to ease conversions of attics, garages, and other spaces that could be converted and meet safety standards.
Rethink Off-Street Parking Requirements for two- and three-family homes: Even when allowed by zoning, additional off-street parking requirements often make ADUs and conversions impossible. Especially near transit, off-street parking requirements for added units should be modified.
The report has been widely welcome by government and civic groups with RuthAnne Visnauskas, Commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, saying the plan has the potential to expand the stock of affordable homes while making the best use of existing resources.
Matthew Murphy, Executive Director of the NYU Furman Center believes it could yield real benefits for renters and owners, while also creating jobs and stimulating growth.
Other supporters include the Municipal Art Society of New York, Long Island Builders Institute, Citizens Housing Planning Council NYC, Enterprise Community Partners, the American Planning Association New Jersey Chapter (APA NJ) and the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
Rebekah Morris, Senior Program Manager, Pratt Center for Community Development, said, “In a city and region in desperate need of housing, and with city policy that has long enabled much of small homes policy to remain exclusionary to low-income residents and residents of color, RPA’s policy analysis and call to action on allowing accessory dwelling units is timely and much needed. I encourage anyone that cares about equity, healthy homes, sustainability, housing justice and more to read this report and join the fight to bring ADUs to New York City and beyond.”
The report examines case studies in cities like Greenwich, CT; East Orange, NJ; North Hempstead and Islip, LI where state and local regulations make it easier to bring ADUs online and convert single-family homes.
It also outlines how cities across the country, from Minneapolis to Portland, have passed legislation that provides new frameworks for creating more housing and allowing for more flexible uses of single-family homes.