Outdated Law Stands in Way of Creating More Affordable Housing

Outdated Law Stands in Way of Creating More Affordable Housing

Regional Plan Association Calls on New York State to Lift the Residential Floor Area Ratio Cap to Give Local Communities More Control Over Their Zoning Study finds nearly 150 census districts within the five boroughs where this change would unlock potential to create more affordable housing by triggering Mandatory Inclusionary Housing

NEW YORK, NY – Following on its recent Fourth Regional Plan, which called for expanding housing supply to make the region more affordable Regional Plan Association (RPA) has released a report entitled “Creating more affordable housing in New York City’s high-rise area: The case for lifting the FAR cap,” which calls on the State to lift a 67-year old law that caps residential “floor area ratio” or FAR at 12.0. 

Lifting the cap is a necessary first step in giving local communities the power to decide whether or not to change their zoning to allow the creation of more mixed-income housing subject to the City’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Law. These zoning changes would still have to follow local rules and processes to take effect.

The report finds that there are many high-rise neighborhoods in New York with the infrastructure and amenities to support more housing.

Specifically the report identifies 149 census tracts (excluding ones which are entirely historic districts) that make up less than 5% of land in NYC, and are home to 9% of the population, but have access to a disproportionate share of employment opportunities, urban infrastructure and amenities that would have potential to add more affordable housing if the FAR cap was removed.

These tracts:

  • Contain just over half (51%) of all the jobs in New York City.
  • Are within a half-mile of over 1/3 (36%) of the subway stops in the city.
  • All but two tracts are served by Citi Bike.
  • And 98% are rated as “Walker’s Paradise” by Walkscore®, meaning a large amount of stores and amenities are within walking distance.
  • All are within a half-mile walk of a park.
  • These areas have also been the recipient of much of the recent large-scale infrastructure investments in New York City, such as Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Second Avenue Subway

"This cap is blocking the way to better urban design, more needed homes, and more mixed-income neighborhoods” said Moses Gates, Director of Community Planning and Design for Regional Plan Association.

"Removing this cap will create more affordable housing opportunities in neighborhoods which are out of reach to most New Yorkers” said Rachel Fee, Executive Director of the New York Housing Conference.

The report recommends repealing the law instituting a 12.0 limit on residential Floor Area Ratio, in order to enable upzoning for MIH in areas already with maximum residential zoning in conjunction with the following recommendations:

  • Department of City Planning (DCP) should conduct a Zoning Audit to address any unintended consequences and make sure any buildings with residential FAR beyond 12.0 would be a product of ULURP & subject to MIH
  • DCP working with architecture and planning professionals as well as community stakeholders should issue design guidelines for any higher-density district
  • The City should protect commercial and community facility uses when needed
  • The City should also explore legislative changes to ensure properly-sized apartments are the result of any upzonings

The full report is available here: http://library.rpa.org/pdf/RPA-12-FAR.pdf.

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About Regional Plan Association

Regional Plan Association is an independent, not-for-profit civic organization that develops and promotes ideas to improve the economic health, environmental resiliency and quality of life of the New York metropolitan area. We conduct research on transportation, land use, housing, good governance and the environment. We advise cities, communities and public agencies. And we advocate for change that will contribute to the prosperity of all residents of the region. Since the 1920s, RPA has produced four landmark plans for the region, the most recent was released in November 2017. For more information, please visit www.rpa.org or fourthplan.org.