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Brad Lander Councilmember, Democrat AskThem Verified

What impact will the decline of market-rate housing have on affordable housing?

Mandatory inclusionary zoning would require developers to allot a certain percentage of a building's units as permanent affordable apartments in exchange for greater building heights and tax breaks.

Posted by maryam , of Brooklyn, NY

Brad Lander

Councilmember, Democrat 77 Questions 2 Answers

The urgent affordability challenge for New York City is to balance smart growth (that strengthens and preserves what’s best about our neighborhoods), tenant protections, and the creation and preservation of genuinely affordable housing. There's no silver bullet, but I believe mandatory inclusionary zoning is a key part of the policy mix to create and preserve affordable units. Based on the data, I don't believe mandatory inclusionary zoning will reduce overall housing production.

I'm a strongly "pro-growth" progressive, for reasons I outline here: http://21c4all.org/neighborhoods. While it can sometimes seem tempting, simply rejecting growth (e.g. through down-zoning) will not address the affordability crisis, improve our creaky infrastructure, or create economic opportunities. However, new growth must be shaped smartly – using far stronger policy tools than we’ve used in the past – if we want it to be inclusive and sustainable. To strengthen (rather than strain) the city's infrastructure. To improve (rather than undermine) livable neighborhoods. To leave room for blue-collar jobs, the new tech economy, arts and culture, and open space. And especially to preserve and create affordable housing, in diverse and livable neighborhoods (rather than drive gentrification and segregation).

Anyone who claims that simply allowing the development of more market-rate housing will create diverse neighborhoods that are affordable to a full range of families – including those who take care of our kids, work in our restaurants and stores and hotels, or clean our office buildings – hasn’t grappled with the data on “filtering” in the New York City housing market … and I suspect really isn’t being honest with themselves.

To achieve a more affordable city will take not only smarter growth, but a broad range of affordable housing tools (especially in light of declining Federal resources). I’m pleased that the de Blasio Administration has committed to putting forward their housing plan by May 1st, and I look very forward to working in partnership with them to make it real. I believe the plan will need to include: City subsidies to build and maintain housing at a range of incomes; strong rent regulations and tenant protections to prevent price-gouging and displacement; a fair-housing testing program to prevent racial and other discrimination; programs to bring “basement units” into the light; a new land bank to acquire and transfer vacant or blighted properties; and a much stronger plan to preserve NYCHA.

One key component of the strategy is mandatory inclusionary zoning (IZ) – a requirement that developers include some percentage of affordable units when they build new multi-family buildings. We already have a voluntary IZ program in place in New York City (thanks to an organizing campaign that I helped lead 10 years ago). As a recent study by my office shows, it has produced over 2,000 affordable units, but developers in most neighborhoods have simply chosen not to use it and instead, to build only market-rate units (http://www.bradlander.com/IZ).

Mandatory IZ is already in place in Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, and many more cities. It has the value of producing affordable units without public subsidy, but instead by requiring developers to factor some affordability into the price they pay for land. Comprehensive studies have not shown a significant, negative effect on housing prices or production (http://furmancenter.org/files/publications/IZ_impacts_10-19-09_1.pdf). While affordable unit production has been relatively modest where IZ is used on its own, in combination with other smart growth and affordable housing tools (including density bonuses and tax incentives), I believe it can produce and preserve a far more significant number of affordable units (and help us make smarter use of our scarce financial subsidies).

More than that: mandatory IZ can make sure that affordable units are created and preserved in the neighborhoods where new development is occurring – offering diverse neighborhoods rather than simply gleaming enclaves of wealth, and showing that we are serious about sharing the benefits of growth.

(Next time, I address the question: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb … or something else you all ask me at askthem.io. And I’m not ducking the horse carriage question. I just wanted to start with an easy one).

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