On May 9th I testified before the City’s Charter Revision Commission on the importance of changes to the land use review process. You can read my full testimony below, but the gist was:
- End the current practice of ad hoc rezonings at the behest of developers in favor of comprehensive city-wide planning.
- Ensure that these plans are sufficient to meet the City’s expected future growth, rather than simply being restatements of existing land use patterns.
- Ensure that these plans include enforceable mandates that every neighborhood include affordable housing sufficient to meet its needs.
Take a look and let me know what you think at Ben@voteben.nyc.
My name is Ben Wetzler. I’m an elected Democratic Party District Leader for the 76th Assembly District covering the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island. I’m here to testify in favor of changes to the city’s land use process outlined in the preliminary staff report and make suggestions for their improvement.
New York is in a crisis of housing affordability and it is an open secret that this is due to poor planning. This makes it ultimately a political, rather than an economic problem. Last year New York was dead last in per capita housing construction relative to other major cities. This failure to meet our needs has caused a crisis of homelessness, displacement, and overcrowding due to the lack of affordable housing.
As the staff report made clear, New York has no planning process to address this in a comprehensive way. Instead we have a system of ad hoc rezonings negotiated between the mayor, the city council, and developers which guarantee development decisions will be guided by politics rather than need, equity, or affordability. A 2010 analysis of zoning changes during Mayor Bloomberg’s first term by the Furman Center showed that the new housing made possible by City-initiated rezonings was nearly entirely offset by new restrictions put in place elsewhere, with new development being limited in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods and pushed into lower-income, predominantly minority ones. This reluctance to upzone wealthy neighborhoods has continued into Mayor De Blasio’s tenure.
I say this knowing that I represent one of the wealthiest communities in the City, and all other things being equal my constituents would probably prefer this practice continue, but if we are going to solve the housing crisis this disparate treatment by neighborhood must end, and I hope that in overhauling the planning process the commission will address this unfairness. I believe this can be done in the following ways:
First, the staff report called for clear instructions on how the myriad city planning documents relate to one another. The updated charter should require that these plans begin with the assumption that demand for new housing is not a function of the existing housing stock and therefore spills into other neighborhoods when it is not met. This is consistent with academic literature on housing affordability and would make clear that it is ultimately the city government’s responsibility when neighborhoods end up overcrowded, gentrified, or experience significant displacement when the city fails to adequately plan for growth, or does so unevenly between neighborhoods.
Second, the charter should mandate that the CPC initiate rezonings in any neighborhood that consistently fails to meet a fair share of the City’s anticipated housing need. It should further state that these rezonings shall go into effect within some reasonable amount of time if the council, community board, or borough president does not offer a comparable alternative. Community groups and their elected representatives should be an integral part of determining how their neighborhoods will grow, but they should not have the authority to simply say “no” and walk away from meeting city-wide needs. Allowing them to do so is incompatible with good planning and only ensures our crisis of affordability and our history of exclusion and gentrification will continue indefinitely.
Thank you for your time.