After Community Criticism, de Blasio Defends His Affordable Housing Plan

Zoning changes for Mayor Bill de Blasio's affordable housing plan are meeting resistance. (Photo: Getty Images).

Zoning changes for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan are meeting resistance. (Photo: Getty Images).

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans to re-zone parts of the city to build more affordable housing have met resistance at the community level—but he mounted a defense of the plan today, insisting it is necessary and pushing back against the notion that building new residential towers, even with affordable units, could hasten gentrification and price out New Yorkers in some neighborhoods.

“I am a veteran of these fights. They’re never easy,” Mr. de Blasio said during an unrelated press conference today at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan. “That being said, we’re going to spend a lot more time going out into these communities.”

Mr. de Blasio is seeking two changes to the city’s zoning in furtherance of his plan to save or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years. One would require developers who want to build any housing to include a mandatory component of below-market-rate rentals; the second would allow for taller building.

The plan hasn’t exactly been getting great press of late. Many of the city’s community boards and four out of five borough boards have voted against the plans. (The fifth borough board, in Staten Island, hasn’t voted yet but is also expected to shoot it down.)

After wrapping up questions about the creation of a Department of Veteran Services today, Mr. de Blasio, unprompted, told reporters he wanted to talk about his affordable housing plan. He touted three endorsements in recent days, from labor unions SEIU 32BJ, the Hotel Trades Council, and from the AARP, which represents senior citizens. He said they speak for two core groups in need of affordable housing: working families and aging New Yorkers.

“We’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t have a clear, strong plan,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Our plan is moving forward. It’s moving forward aggressively.”

He said the city would consider community input—but, as he has several times, downplayed the roles of community boards and borough boards and hinted at the boards’ tendencies toward NIMBY-ism.

“It is never a surprise when a community board opposes what it sees as development,” Mr. de Blasio said. “That is not a news flash in New York City.”

The community board votes are only advisory—the final decisions rests with the City Planning Commission and the City Council. But the conditions called for by the community and borough boards offer a glimpse into a wide array of concerns about the mayor’s plan—in Queens, not enough parking; in the Bronx, not enough infrastructure to support new buildings; in parts of Brooklyn, towers deemed too tall.

In Brooklyn’s East New York, targeted for early building efforts, residents have been especially skeptical about the plan. While developers will be required to build affordable units, residents question whether they will be affordable enough. And even if they are, many are worried that any kind of development of new, market-rate rentals—necessary to lure developers to build below-market units—will make the neighborhood more desirable, attract amenities and, in the end, make East New York more expensive.

“It’s going to happen anyway,” Mr. de Blasio responded, arguing that development and gentrification was coming to these neighborhoods with or without his affordable housing requirement. “If you don’t believe that, come with me to Bushwick. Come with me to Bed-Stuy. Come with me to areas of Park Slope that were long past changed before there ever was re-zoning.”

And the city shouldn’t shy away from making neighborhoods better, Mr. de Blaiso insisted, saying amenities shouldn’t be reserved for New Yorkers who are well-off.

“That goes against everything we believe in,” he said. “We’re supposed to help every neighborhood become stronger.”

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said that these concerns, and others, would be considered by the City Council during its negotiations with the mayor’s administration over the zoning plan. The current iteration, she said, “is not going to be what we end up voting on at the City Council, because there’s a lot of work left to do.”

She noted the Council has set aside “millions of dollars” more to help residents who believe they’re being pushed out of their rentals fight back with legal services.

Asked if the process has been more complicated than he’d thought it would be, Mr. de Blasio said no—he’d “been to this rodeo before.” But, returning to a now-common theme, the mayor said going forward he’d look to communicate about his plan more clearly.

“I think it’s very important that I go out to people and explain this vision,” he said. “And I think when I explain it to people there’s a lot of receptivity.”