Monday, January 25, 2016

De Blasio's difference

For the last decade, the progressive left has been begging for a mandatory inclusionary housing program in New York City requiring that all new residential buildings include a quantity of affordable housing. The mayor has proposed exactly such a plan. The community boards and the progressive left have rejected it. Why?

First, compare the mayor's plan with the Bloomberg model of inclusionary zoning. Bloomberg rezoned 120 neighborhoods in the city. Each one contained significant upzonings -- greater allowances for larger buildings, a give-away to developers. In addition to the upzoning give-away, Bloomberg offered developers the option to build even more space if a portion included affordable housing. Usually the bonus -- the added market-rate housing that the developer could build above the affordable component -- wasn't enough for the developer to bother with, so they didn't.

However, affordable housing non profits, which manage the affordable housing component and get their funding for doing it, and whose mission is to create or promote the creation of affordable housing, were the advocates for the inclusionary program. So you'd see the irony of progressive community-based non profits selling development and upzoning to the communities with the promise that the affordable housing would benefit the community. Carefully not mentioned was that the development would raise real estate values, the market rate housing attract more money, and landlords, seeing an opportunity to cash in on the upscaling of the neighborhood, would harass tenants in a thousand ways, and the result would be community displacement and a net loss of affordable housing, particularly steep if the developers didn't even bother with the inclusionary bonus.

Of course, the affordable housing wasn't for the community in the first place. The housing was delegated by raffle, and the housing wasn't often affordable to the locals anyway. So this model of community stabilization or preservation was what I call the Invasion of the Body Snatchers model of community preservation. The community is replaced with other individuals who purport to be just like them with respect to income. But they are not the community. And since the housing isn't affordable to the prior community, it's not even Body Snatchers, it's just wholesale snatching.

Mandatory IZ doesn't solve this conflict between the creation of affordable housing through development and gentrification/displacement. That's one reason why the community boards haven't cottoned to it. But you'd think that the progressive non profits would still be advocating for it. And here's a big difference in the structure of the mayor's proposal. Instead of rezoning neighborhoods one by one, his proposal changes the zoning law itself, so the city would be upzoned automatically without any further process. Community boards would have little say and the non profits would be left out as well.

Under Bloomberg, it was possible for the communities to ask for additional perks in the form of funding for the non profits -- legal services to help evicted tenants, for example. Under de Blasio's proposal, there's no opportunity for the community to leverage such additional funding.

More important, the de Blasio proposal doesn't kick in until there's an upzoning, so in effect, his proposal is just as voluntary as the Bloomberg model. With a little difference: since developers, prior to any upzoning can develop now without including affordable housing, we should expect them to lose interest in upzonings. It has been well observed that mandatory inclusionary housing has this kind of dampening effect on development. We should expect to see the non profits still advocate for upzonings, and less upzoning advocacy from the developers.

The Bloomberg model placed the developer in the drivers' seat, drawing the non profits onto the developers' bus for the sake of the affordable housing and their legal services funding, while they all throw the community under the very bus they're driving. De Blasio's model takes the developer out of the driver's seat, leaving the non profits on a bus going nowhere.

The irony is even more stark -- we should expect to find that the only people advocating for upzoning, gentrification and displacement would be the progressive non profits under the new model.

No comments: