RPA Supports Lifting the FAR 12.0 cap in New York City on Residential Development

March 26, 2018 

Dear Members of the New York State Legislature:

As you finalize the state budget this year, we are writing to urge you to address affordable housing challenges in New York City by lifting the current cap of 12.0 Floor Area Ratio on residential development in New York City.  Currently, the Senate’s budget would allow the City of New York the more flexibility to change zoning. Specific issues have been raised in the Assembly, specifically a letter circulated by Manhattan Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell. 

Our support for this change comes after comprehensive research. In February, RPA produced a detailed report on the merits of lifting the cap on residential development in New York City. The areas most likely to be affected are in the current high-rise districts of Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, and Long Island City.  These are the areas that New York City currently has no ability to require affordable housing, because there is no ability to increase residential density and trigger the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) law. Absent increasing residential density there is no ability to require affordable housing or mixed-income buildings in these high-rise areas. Below are some reasons we support removing the FAR 12 cap, and we hope you will find them useful as you negotiate a final budget.

  • These high-rise districts desperately need more opportunities for the working- and middle-class to find affordable housing. There are three times as many residents making over $200,000/year as the city as a whole, and there has been a continual and significant decrease in affordable housing in these areas. The continuing absence of sufficient affordable housing options in our high-rise areas leads to greater housing pressure in other areas of the city.
  • These high rise areas have disproportionate access to jobs, transportation and amenities. While these areas contain 9% of the population, they hold 36% of subway stations, 51% of the jobs, and the vast majority of signature cultural institutions and museums. The continuing absence of enough housing near jobs and amenities leads to longer commutes and more strain on our transportation system.
  • These areas have seen far more recent investment in infrastructure than anywhere else in New York City. They are home to every new subway station opened in New York City since 1989, as well as the two largest recent park investments, Brooklyn Bridge Park and the High Line. It is fundamentally inequitable to invest heavily in transportation and amenities in these areas, but not allow more capacity for housing growth in conjunction with these investments.
  • By going through the Uniform Land Use Review (ULURP) process, communities will be able to address concerns over non-contextual development. Residential FAR is NOT directly related to building height. Residential FAR in excess of 12.0 can also be accommodated through contextually designed buildings, or in some cases by shifting allowed hotel or office area to residential area in the same building envelope. Significant non-contextual development is happening currently. By going through the ULURP process, concerns over neighborhood context can be addressed in concurrence with creating more mixed-income housing opportunities through the ULURP process.
  • Our high-rise districts already have dozens of buildings, many of which are architecturally acclaimed landmarks, which are over 12.0 residential FAR because they predate this law. For instance, in Assemblymember O’Donnell’s district the El Dorado has a residential FAR of 15.3, the Masters Apartments an FAR of 15.13, and in a four-block stretch of West End Avenue between 91st and 95th streets (in the Riverside-West End Historic District) there are 9 buildings in excess of 12.0 residential FAR. Contextual development means allowing buildings at a similar scale to existing buildings, not a smaller scale.
  • Lifting the cap must be linked to production of more affordable housing. While the city would still retain zoning authority and changing any underlying zoning would need to proceed through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), concerns about the possible effects from transferable development rights and development on state-owned land remain. The state legislature also has the ability to address these concerns about requiring affordability directly, for instance by conditioning a higher FAR limit on a set amount of affordable housing, or explicitly stating that any buildings in excess of 12.0 residential FAR be subject to New York City’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law.

Sincerely, 

Moses Gates

Director of Community Planning and Design

Regional Plan Association