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Weisbrod plays zone defense

City planning boss Carl Weisbrod told an audience of legal experts that thereʼs nothing unconstitutional about making developers build affordable homes in exchange for zoning perks.

“We’ve looked at this pretty carefully,” Weisbrod said in defense of the “most comprehensive, ambitious housing program in the country. “Clearly we are confident that it is constitutional as long as it’s part of a plan.ˮ

CARL WEISBROD
CARL WEISBROD

Speaking at the CityLaw Breakfast series about the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA), Weisbrod said, “It’s not an exaction. We understand that developers need to make a reasonable profit.

We understand that not just from the point of view of constitutionality, but we also understand that if there’s no profit to be had, developers just won’t build. So we have a real responsibility to make sure that this program works.

“Based on what we’ve seen around the county — court decisions and the like — we are quite confident that it is constitutional.”

Created in part to facilitate Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing program, MIH and ZQA would apply wherever a neighborhood is re-zoned to increase density, or permit residential development.

City Planning has been preparing a set of amendments that will be ready to enter the formal public review process in late September, along with a rezoning proposed in East New York, creating a template for all future rezonings in the city.
Weisbrod told the CityLaw Breakfast, “We’ve been very, very careful about how we’re applying it. We are meshing it with 421-a programs so that these two work together. Each one sort of helps the other.”

As for the new zoning regulations, Weisbrod believes they will better protect the integrity of New York neighborhoods.

“It’s not to make developers richer, it’s to make the ground floor work more efficiently,ˮ said the commissioner, noting that by raising the ground floor by upto five feet, “we think we’re going to create a much, much better pedestrian experience and a much better neighborhood experience.ˮ

Convinced the new regulations will help produce much more affordable housing, Weisbrod explained that developers will, essentially, have two options.
One, a developer can set aside 25 percent of the available floor area for households making 60 percent of AMI (Area Median Income), which is about $46,000 a year for a family of three.

Alternatively, a developer can set aside a higher amount, 30 percent, and target a slightly higher average affordable population at roughly 80 percent AMI, equal to a family earning about $62,000 a year.

Weisbrod said that it’s understandable the plans may appear a bit different than previous initiatives that were implemented in decades past. “Now we face a different challenge,” said Weisbrod. “We face, in many respects, a challenge of success. Our city is growing, it’s vibrant. People want to come here. Our population is at an all-time high. We project that it will reach nine million people by 2030. It’s already at an all-time high. We don’t have abandoned housing. We don’t have vacant land to the same extent that we did 20 years ago.

“We have to use the success of the city and the fact that our budget this time allows us to allocate money for housing,” he said.
The discussion was held at the New York Law School Event Center.

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