Preserving the past must be balanced with building for future

By Steven Spinola

The issue of landmarking and its relationship with New York’s need for additional housing, especially affordable housing, is receiving a great deal of attention.

REBNY’s recently released a report entitled Housing Production on NYC Landmarked Properties is an informative and important contribution to this crucial public policy discussion.

The report’s analysis concluded that that of all the new housing created citywide over the past decade, less than one half of one percent was within landmarked historic districts.

Between 2003 and 2012, 206,819 new residential units were constructed, and only 1,318 of those were constructed on landmarked properties.

The report makes clear that the prevalence of landmarked historic districts has effectively created unforeseen barriers to the creation of housing, including affordable units, in all five boroughs.

Elected officials, along with business and labor leaders, weighed in on the report’s findings. “Maintaining and increasing the city’s affordable housing stock is a priority I share with the de Blasio administration,” said NYC Council Landmarks Committee Chair Peter Koo.

“As this report shows, we must carefully consider the effects that landmarking has, particularly the designation of historic districts, on the creation of affordable housing units.”

“This study supports the concerns I have raised in recent Land Use Committee hearings that landmarks preservation and the lack of affordable housing cannot exist in a vacuum,” said Councilman David G. Greenfield, chair of NYC Council Committee on Land Use.

“I am confident that with the new leadership at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, we can strike the proper balance between building affordable housing while continuing to preserve the rich history of our city.”

Ten years of data shows that 27.71 percent of properties in Manhattan are landmarked, and three individual community districts in Brooklyn have over 25 percent of their properties landmarked.

In addition to this, only 100 housing units constructed on landmarked properties between 2003 and 2012 were affordable, and of those, 95 of them are in one project in the Bronx.

No affordable housing was built in the historic districts of Queens, Brooklyn, or Staten Island.

“Increasing the supply of affordable housing in New York is extremely important to working families, including our members,” said Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU.

“We hope the administration takes this study into account when it creates its plan to encourage responsible development and create more affordable housing in the city.”

What sets New York apart from other major cities is its ability to evolve and to grow. While it is, of course, very important to preserve buildings and districts that have architectural, historic or cultural significance, that are distinctive and that people from all over the world come to see, we must carefully balance the preservation of the best of our past while not making it virtually impossible for our city to meet the basic housing needs of its residents.

As Mayor de Blasio’s plan to create 80,000 new affordable housing units moves forward, it is imperative that we balance our city’s approach to designating landmarked properties and historic.

Richard T. Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress stated, that the “Building Congress believes that the first and greatest priority for the New Landmarks Commission Chair is to analyze and revamp the process surrounding the designation of historic districts. Part of that analysis, which should be done in close consultation with the City Planning Commission, must focus on the substantial cost to the City and its future when large chunks of the City are declared largely off-limits to economic development and new housing.”

At the end of the day, it is more important that we move forward as a city that preserves what is significant about its past without impairing its ability to address the essential needs of all New Yorkers.

In other REBNY news:


July 16 from 9:00am – 10:30am is REBNY’s Residential Ethics Course for New Members, a non-credit course required for new REBNY members. To register, visit REBNY.com, or contact ResidentialEthicsCourse@REBNY.com. The course will be held at the REBNY Mendik Education Center.


August 12-13 from 9:00am – 5:30pm is the Certified Buyer Representative (CBR) Course. This two-day course, a national trademarked designation of REALNET Learning Services, is facilitated by REBNY and is available to those who wish to differentiate themselves with advanced training in buyer representation. This course takes place in the REBNY Mendik Education Center.


August 14 is the annual REBNY Spring Golf & Tennis Outing at the North Shore Country Club in Glen Head, a fun-filled day during which attendees will be able to network with each other and have a good time. Golf is $425, tennis is $315 and includes singles and doubles brunch, all-day is $225, dinner-only is $150, and a swimming pool is available to all. Each package includes cocktails and dinner, and sponsorships are available. For more information, contact Kathleen Gibbs at 212-616-5246, or kgibbs@rebny.com.


August 20 from 9:00am – 10:30am is REBNY’s Residential Ethics Course for New Members, a non-credit course required for new REBNY members. To register, visit REBNY.com, or contact ResidentialEthicsCourse@REBNY.com.