Levine Says He Supports City of Yes Housing Overhaul, but is Pushing for Some Alterations

Levine deemed the zoning text amendment necessary for combatting NYC’s housing shortage, but on July 9 he offered some additions and alterations for a few of its provisions. Stronger opposition has bubbled up from a community coalition and City Council Member Christopher Marte.

| 09 Jul 2024 | 05:33

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine has given his stamp of approval, albeit with some recommended additions, to the “City of Yes” housing amendment that Mayor Eric Adams and Planning Commissioner Dan Garodnick unveiled in April.

“With [some] proposed enhancements, we can make an already great plan even more powerful in delivering the affordable housing New Yorkers desperately need,” Levine said on July 9.

Essentially a citywide zoning overhaul meant to incentivize the mass building of new housing units, the “City of Yes” is being spearheaded by the city’s Department of City Planning, and is currently undergoing community review. It will be voted on by the NY City Council at some point in the fall.

Levine called the broader “City of Yes” amendment a “transformative initiative that addresses many critical aspects of our housing crisis.” He also cited an “anemic” housing production rate that is “sending rents skyrocketing” and “forcing families out of the five boroughs.” Some “current” zoning hindrances that Levine believes exist, and that the “City of Yes” amendment will fix, include: hurdles to converting vacant offices into residential apartments, the prioritization of parking over housing, and restrictions on new housing near transit hubs and businesses.

Levine spoke approvingly of the “Universal Affordable Preference” (UAP) element of the amendment, which allows developers to build higher density buildings if they’re at least 20 percent affordable. One standout addition that he wants to make to UAP, however, is ensuring that supportive housing has space set aside for programming.

Despite his push to convert unused office space into residential housing, Levine also notably wants a sunset date on the “City of Yes” provision that would incentivize this. He also wants more clear guidelines around these office-to-residential conversions in the city’s historic districts. Finally, he specified that the converted buildings should have amenities including “large” trash rooms and bicycle storage space.

When it comes to deemphasizing parking in housing development, as the “City of Yes” aims to do, Levine wants to ensure that there is some sort of alternative infrastructure for both car owners and other transit users. He proposed that city agencies continue to focus on developing “bike and pedestrian” infrastructure, but also that the Department of Transportation take point on creating a “municipal parking program.”

The amendment’s incentives to add housing infill on campuses, which has become a flashpoint for its opponents, was also addressed by BP Levine. He wants unspecified “mitigations for the loss of well-used open space on campuses.” He also wants “ample consultation” with NYCHA residents when it comes to campus infill.

Levine’s proposed infill alterations may be a subtle response to City Council Christopher Marte’s concerns with the zoning amendment. Marte, who represents a chunk of Lower Manhattan, recently held a town hall where he outlined his objections; one such worry was that the “beautiful land” that NYCHA residents enjoyed would be ruined by infill.

Some of Marte’s other concerns, such as the possibility that developers would overemphasize studio apartments under the “City of Yes” rules, don’t seem to similarly irk Levine. Instead, Levine believes that creating “smaller, more affordable apartments” will provide a “pathway” to stability for many New Yorkers.

Marte, of course, isn’t the only individual with quibbles about the “City of Yes” amendment. No group seems to oppose the amendment as forcefully as the Alliance for a Human-Scale City, a community coalition that calls for greater regulation of real estate developers. Lynne Ellsworth, a member of that coalition, recently sent out a newsletter which posited that the “City of Yes” should instead be called the “City of Mess”.

”It’s firehose strategy to reform hands out favors to big commercial property owners and big real estate in general and gives both the Mayor and the libertarian-infected Department of City Planning way too much discretionary power,” Ellsworth wrote. “It further weakens and eliminates the already marginalized role of the citizenry via fewer and less important public hearings and frequently [takes] out community boards from the equation.”

It’s unclear if Levine’s alterations will appease the amendment’s fervent opponents.