Debate Rages Over Plan For Six Blocks Of Affordable Housing In Yorkville Neighborhood

On the UES, a May 23rd meeting of CB 8’s Zoning and Development Committee revealed a deep community divide over a six-block rezoning plan for affordable housing. A few board members embraced the plan, while other members and local residents pushed back and devised various reasons for why they believe this simply won’t work in their neighborhood.

| 29 May 2023 | 09:06

Rita Popper was brimming with joy and pride at a May 23rd Zoom meeting of Community Board 8’s Zoning and Development Committee, a board of which she is a member. The reason? A proposal to rezone six blocks of the Yorkville area between E. 95th St. and E. 89th St. to establish a slew of affordable housing units, with a special permit allowing for added residential density.

“Affordable housing built entire built the entire Upper West Side,” Rita beamed, hoping to replicate those results on the opposite side of Central Park.

In her corner were board members Adam Wald–who was spearheading the proposal–and Craig Lader, the latter wanting to establish a resolution making the rezoning “the new priority of this committee.” Yet it quickly became apparent that a united approach would not prevail, as other ranking members such as Michele Birnbaum argued that such a proposal would not put developers first.

Elizabeth Ashby, who was running the meeting, chimed in that “We’re all for affordable housing—it’s apple pie. Yet the city has an awful problem of thinking about the consequences of their proposals.”

As if on cue, board member Marco Tamayo jumped into the fray to lacerate the proposal. “Who’s paying for that? Do you think the developer is going to pay for that? Absolutely not. They’re businesspeople–they don’t provide welfare for nobody.” Tamayo was worried that the rezoning would cost $52 million from what he described as an as of yet to-be-determined source.

Wald managed to talk Tamayo off the ledge by clarifying that the rezoning would be a part of a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing System. He noted that 25 percent of the units would be affordable, with the rest following market-pricing. This appeared to appease the disagreement between the two board members, at least for now.

Residents would not be so easily placated. Elaine Walsh questioned if affordable housing was even a feasible term, proclaiming that “we have a need for commercial [zoning] and manufacturing” in Yorkville. “It shouldn’t be affordable housing, it should be workforce housing,” she added, “and we should move away from a label none of us understand.”

Some residents took a more equivocal route, going to great length to emphasize that they did indeed support and understand the need for affordable housing–but that Yorkville was not the right location. Building height was a recurring theme, with Joseph O’Rouke saying that “I’m all for public housing—just move the height down.” This echoed an earlier comment by board member Ashby expressing her concerns about tall buildings.

Adam Wald, the introducer of the proposal (originally devised in February of 2022), appeared exasperated with the torrent of criticism his ambitious undertaking was receiving. “It’s the number one need [for constituents] according to district statements. Can anybody remember a single initiative that this board has put forth in 10 years to promote affordable housing?”

Time will tell if the proposal breaks the logjam, but it appeared stuck by entrenched community opposition right out of the gate.