NEW YORK (PIX11) — With New York City getting more expensive and rents in Manhattan topping $5,000, the path to building more historic levels of housing remains unclear and bogged down in red tape.
Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul hope to reform regulations and build hundreds of thousands of homes during the next decade, around 500,000 in the city alone.
However, how and where to do that in a way that benefits everyone remains open to questions.
It is in little-known NYC Council hearing rooms where you can find some answers.
Councilman Kevin Riley, a Bronx Democrat, chairs the subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and serves on the closely related Land Use committee.
“We have to work together, and it has to continue to be a collaborative effort. We have to work with developers, community board, elected officials to address this issue we have right now,” Riley said.
Last year the New York City Council did approve more than 40 projects to create about 12,000 units of housing— more than 7,000 were affordable.
It did so following an unwritten rule, each of the 51 local council members gets the ultimate say over which projects get greenlit in their community.
Generally, they use that power to extract demands from developers. This was on full display when two new progressive members of the city council made two very different decisions.
Harlem Council member Kristin Richardson Jordan essentially scuttled an effort to turn a block of 145th in Harlem featuring a vacant lot, an abandoned gas station and several storefronts into a more than 900-unit apartment building— half of which would be affordable.
However, Queens Councilwoman Tiffany Caban approved a major Astoria housing development after pressing to increase the number of affordable and higher bedroom count units to accommodate more local families.
Riley, speaking in general terms, defends this practice known as “member deference,” saying it’s responsive to community concerns.
“We don’t represent those districts. We represent the districts that we come from, so we don’t know the concerns or how those communities want to be redeveloped,” He said. “So it’s important and vital to listen to the council members who represent the area.”
Still, some Housing advocates said there is much more the city and state could be doing to ramp up production.
“With the depth and scale of the housing affordability crisis, we just need an all-hands of on deck all, comprehensive approach,” said Annemarie Gray.
Gray was a senior advisor for land use to the last two mayors and is currently the executive director of Open New York.
Open New York favors many reforms that historically have been politically difficult— like removing parking minimums in new buildings, ending all single-family zoning in New York City, and legalizing basement and garage apartments. However, the group also said there needs to be more up-zoning or allowing taller buildings, stronger tenant protections, and much more.
For context, the New York City goal of 500,000 homes in ten years, favored by the Mayor and others, would be almost 150-thousand more housing units built during the last two decades.