With Boost in Affordable Housing, Harlem Rezoning Passes Council’s Smell Test

Buoyed by a set of concessions and modifications hammered out in the past few days, the Bloomberg administration’s plan to rezone 125th Street is set to sail through the City Council, as a key subcommittee voted to approve the plan today.

Key to winning support was a boost in the amount of affordable housing added to the proposal. The city’s original plan unveiled last year allowed for about 500 units or 20 percent of the total new housing to be considered affordable; in the accord reached today between local Council Member Inez Dickens and the city, 46 percent of the housing would be affordable.

This theme has made appearances before, as in an age of soaring property values the concept of affordable housing wins many friends, especially at the last minute. Columbia University agreed to a $150 million community benefits agreement, much of it for affordable housing, just before the vote on its contentious West Harlem rezoning; in the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning, the city boosted the amount of sub-market rate housing from about 20 percent to about 30 percent before the Council vote; and Sheldon Solow committed to hundreds of affordable units in seeking approval for his apartment complex planned to rise south of the United Nations.

It should be noted that the stated proportion of affordable housing in the 125th Street rezoning—46 percent—doesn’t tell the entire story, at least when compared to the 20 percent figure in the city’s original plan. In coming to that 46 percent, the city and Ms. Dickens expanded the boundaries of what was being considered, as the figure includes hundreds of new units planned to be built on city-owned land outside of the rezoning area, mostly on city-owned land. Many of these were already announced or in various stages of planning, including a large mixed-use project planned for East 125th Street, formerly known as Uptown New York.

Other affordable sites were not previously announced, including a 300-unit affordable housing development on Park Avenue and 131st Street.

The city made other concessions at the behest of the community and Ms. Dickens, whom City Planning Director Amanda Burden called “a fierce negotiator,” and added that of all the rezonings she has done, “this has been the most difficult [rezoning].”

Still, she seemed very pleased with the end result. “The rezoning will indeed frame the future of development on 125th Street—to protect its character, but to reclaim it again as Harlem’s center of arts, culture and entertainment,” Ms. Burden said.

Other details of the agreement include targeted affordable housing—900 of the estimated 1,785 affordable units would be aimed at families making no more than 60 percent of the area median income, or somewhere around $40,000 for a family of four. Heights of the buildings on the strip would be limited to 195 feet, more than 100 feet lower than originally proposed. And there are additional protections available for any small businesses that may be displaced.

There was one “no” vote on the Council subcommittee, by Tony Avella, who has blasted the plan as a change that will do irreparable harm to Harlem.

The full Council still needs to vote on the plan, though it is expected to follow the lead of the subcommittee.

With Boost in Affordable Housing, Harlem Rezoning Passes Council’s Smell Test