Success of pivotal housing plans hinges on program like 421a

In last week’s column, I explained the significance of the City Council’s vote to approve Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan – particularly, the Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIH) aspect of the plan.

The second tenet of the plan, Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA), is also poised to play a pivotal role in the future of our city’s housing market, and has the potential to positively impact New Yorkers for generations to come.

ZQA allows for taller building heights and less strict parking restrictions in rezoned neighborhoods in the effort to generate more senior and below-market-rate housing.

It defines affordable housing as units in which rents are restricted to 80% of the average median income (AMI), senior housing as housing in which 90% of the units are restricted to 80% AMI or below and occupied by at least one individual at least 62 years old, and provides additional recognition of government assisted and rent-restricted units above 80% AMI threshold for the purpose of parking reductions.

The reduced parking requirements only apply in designated Transit Zones where the availability of mass transit justifies this exemption.

ZQA also allows for a 5-foot as-of-right height increase for the use of quality commercial or community facility ground floor space in medium-high density contextual districts outside of the  Manhattan Core (south of 100th Street on the West side and south of 96th Street on the East side).

It also provides additional height for affordable and senior housing developments, limits the number of floors in medium to high density districts, eliminates rear yard setback requirements and reduces outer court size requirements, increases lot coverage on corner lots, reduces setback at maximum base height for buildings set back at grade, waives minimum unit size (with the exception of senior housing, which requires a minimum of 325 square feet), and makes density ratio consistent, slightly increasing density in some districts.

These changes are designed to promote the development of affordable housing as well as improvement the quality of the units produced.

In terms of parking requirements, ZQA completely eliminates parking requirements for affordable housing and senior housing within the designated Transit Zone the Department of City Planning is in the process of completing a map outlining the boundaries of the Transit Zones) and reduces the parking requirements for senior housing outside of the Transit Zone to 10%.

It also establishes a Board of Standards and Appeals special permit to waive or reduce parking requirements for certain eligible projects (including existing affordable housing projects within the Transit Zone).

This permit would also reduce parking requirements for existing senior housing projects outside of the Transit Zone, provided that any housing constructed on those lots are affordable.

More detailed information on ZQA’s additional provisions can be found on

ZQA is advantageous to the City for a number of reasons. It presents an opportunity for New York to continue to shape its neighborhoods to keep up with our increasing population and adjust for the incomes of its residents, and by making it easier to provide affordable senior housing and care facilities, and should make it possible for seniors to remain in their communities.

As is the case with MIH, ZQA would be most effective when paired with a program like the now-suspended 421a.

Without the 421a program, the City’s capacity to create affordable housing will be seriously curtailed and the affordable housing that will be built would require more city subsidy.

MIH and ZQA were intended to work with the 421a tax exemption program to maximize affordable housing production and the number of affordable units that can be built with direct city subsidy.

MIH and ZQA will have a greater impact on our city with a tax exemption program.  Zoning changes and a tax exemption from the city’s inequitable and financially crippling real property tax system are essential for the city to move forward with its goal to provide New Yorkers with the housing they both need and deserve.

One of the greatest challenges New York City faces is the need to create multi-family rental housing, particularly with significant below-market, or affordable, units throughout the five boroughs.

Such development simply isn’t possible without a tax abatement like 421-a.  We remained committed to working with stakeholders to enact a credible plan to produce such housing.