Using Zoning Laws to Protect Affordable Housing

After five years of negotiating with Mayor Mike Bloomberg's office, the New York City Council has approved extension of a zoning-law amendment aimed at protecting affordable housing units in several districts. Affected areas include the Garment District, West Chelsea and Hudson Yards – three areas that have seen a lot of new developments and increases…

After five years of negotiating with Mayor Mike Bloomberg's office, the New York City Council has approved extension of a zoning-law amendment aimed at protecting affordable housing units in several districts. Affected areas include the Garment District, West Chelsea and Hudson Yards – three areas that have seen a lot of new developments and increases in property prices.

The new zoning law prevails both landlords and developers from significantly changing more than twenty percent of existing units in multi-family buildings. Renovations and updates can be made, but can not significantly alter the unit's price.

Historically, when an apartment or townhome complex is renovated, the result is increased rental or purchase prices. The ability the charge higher prices is typically the motivating factor behind renovations and upgrades. While the city council does not want to interfere with a property owners right to make changes (or profits), it has also seen low-income people repeatedlyed forced to move out of renovated assets that they can no longer afford.

The Chelsea area, in particular, has become a popular place for new developments – both residential and commercial. City Council members were concerned that landlords – in an effort to capitalize on higher-end business – would renovate existing structures to the point that they would become unaffordable for current residents.

City Council members also hope the new zoning laws will preserve some of the older architecture in the affected districts. The new law extends an existing Special District amendment that was passed in 1974. It affects all multi-family buildings of three units or more that were built in 1974 or prior.