Mandatory Inclusionary Housing New York-compressed Photo: Retrofresh!/Flickr

Earlier this month, the New York City Housing Council overwhelmingly approved two key tenets of Mayor de Blasio’s $41 billion affordable housing plan: Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA).

The vote was a tenuous one, with significant affordability and usage changes happening just days before the decision.

Mayor de Blasio’s plan required detailed zoning changes, building requirements and concessions in order to provide thousands of new units of affordable housing. MIH sets aside a proportion of new units in a development for affordable apartments, and units are rented to families earning a determined percent of the area’s median income. Alternatively under MIH, developers may reserve a proportion of units for tenants who earn a certain percentage of the area’s median income. ZQA complements MIH with limits on the use, size and footprints of buildings, to promote a neighborhood’s character and diversity.

Plans quickly came under fire as most community boards and four out of five borough boards came out strongly against the mayor’s plans, citing density and affordability issues.

Community advocates argued that the term “affordable” was still unattainable for many New Yorkers, and successfully lobbied to change certain qualifying income brackets. The Housing Council updated MIH with a deeper affordability option requiring 20 percent of units designated affordable for residents making 40 percent of the area median income.

The Historic Districts Association was one group lobbying to change the program’s scope, saying “New Yorkers deserve affordable housing without upzoning the entire city.” The Council responded to this criticism by amending density requirements. The new plans no longer permit increased building heights in Manhattan below Harlem.

In light of the intense public debate, it’s not likely that this vote signals a consensus or mandate for future generations. In fact, some are already planning a legal challenge to the Housing Council’s actions. Still, the council is proud of its progress.

“We throw around the word historic a lot, and I really want to restate this: this is a historic day that will have an impact on New Yorkers and their lives for decades to come,” said Councilmember David Greenfield, Chair of the Committee on Land Use.

He stressed that the plan was responsive to concerns about income qualifications. “When communities across the city said we could do better in affordability, we did just that.”

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