Raising the Roof in NYC Can Help Fix Housing Shortage

It’s not breaking news that there is a housing affordability crisis in New York City. High rent burdens and pressures from gentrification have been well-documented in many of the city’s neighborhoods. At the same time, it sometimes seems like a new luxury high-rise goes up every week.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, building taller — or at least bigger — in areas like Midtown Manhattan and the Financial District might be part of the solution. RPA’s director of community planning and design, Moses Gates, weighed in an op-ed this week in Crain’s New York Business.

Today, areas like midtown, the financial district and downtown Brooklyn are already zoned at or near the maximum, which is 12 times the square-footage of the lot on which a building stands. With this restriction gone, the city could allow larger apartment buildings. Doing so would trigger the application of the city’s new, mandatory inclusionary-housing law, which requires affordable units. The result: more housing where it makes the most sense—near jobs, services and transit; less-segregated communities; and affordable homes in neighborhoods where the vast majority of New Yorkers have long been priced out. Instead of “Billionaires’ Row,” we could have “Everyone’s Row.”

So why can’t the city move forward with adding new heights to these already towering neighborhoods? According to current law, the city can’t remove zoning caps on these areas without approval from lawmakers in Albany. A bill introduced last month would allow the City of New York to make these changes without state-level oversight, but the bill has been tabled.

While changing height limits won’t solve all of the city’s housing problems, Gates says it is an important step in making the city and its diverse neighborhoods more inclusive.

“Development in our high-rise neighborhoods needs to benefit more than the small handful of people who can afford to buy what is currently being built. We have a chance to move away from fortresses for the rich and toward an inclusive and mixed-income urban core. We need to take it.”

Learn more about how changing these limits could affect the city’s housing crisis in Gates’s op-ed in Crain’s.