Next New York: Housing, April 26, 2013

Richard Anderson
Daniel Brodsky
Donald Capoccia
MaryAnne Gilmartin
Steven Spinola
Carol Willis

RICHARD ANDERSON: One thing that wasn’t mentioned was the cost of government review and approvals. New York is the only place in the country that has an industry profession called expediters, and we know why. Would not this be a fruitful area for a new mayor to get into – how can we streamline, how can we reduce the cost of government review and approvals in the overall development process?

DANIEL BRODSKY: That’s one of my favorite subjects. Constantly, when we confront the City about excessive bureaucracy, officials respond by saying that these are safety issues or corruption issues, so therefore we have to have more people and more processes. 

I think we all want to build safely and no one wants corruption. But, I think we also all want a more efficient government. 

. . .

CAROL WILLIS: I wonder if we could bring together the idea of density that Mark Ginsberg suggested with some other integrating of mixed-uses. When you densify neighborhoods by rezoning areas that need new housing and commercials uses, there could be a targeted community development approach that would cross agencies. Not just Housing (HPD) or the Department of Buildings (DOB), but as a City Planning initiative. 

DONALD CAPOCCIA: We have spent many billions across the city in a number of emerging and challenged neighborhoods. Some of those neighborhoods have done very well, and others haven’t performed to expectations. 

We have to take a close look at those neighborhoods that didn’t do as well and understand what is missing. When a public investment has been made in those neighborhoods, we now need to consider funding mixed-income and mixed-use projects aggressively, including providing for daycare centers and neighborhood retail. These are all components of a healthy neighborhood, which will ultimately attract market activity to these neighborhoods, as we have so clearly seen in Harlem, Downtown Brooklyn, and other locations that previously seemed unappealing.

STEVEN SPINOLA: I want to make two more suggestions. First, we have many buildings that are overbuilt in the city. There ought to be an automatic grandfathering of buildings to be able to knock down, modernize, and build anew. 

Second, there is no program right now for the conversion of obsolete office and industrial buildings to make them into housing, which is probably the most inexpensive way of doing it. 

We need to come up with a program that would mandate some low-income or middle-income housing for buildings throughout the city of New York that do not work anymore; they could be converted to create more housing.

MARYANNE GILMARTIN: The City’s housing programs presently incentivize based on unit count, not the size of the units themselves. Therefore, there is no incentive built into the system to create larger family units for middle- and low-income housing. We are looking at micro-units for market-rate housing, and I think that gets to the way that people want to live, work, and play in a mixed-use, dense environment. 

For affordable workforce housing and family housing, the housing needs to be suitable for families. We need to address the fact that there is no incentive to build larger family units on affordable housing. You are simply penalized in the layering in of incentives. If there is a wholesale look at the way incentives work in the next administration, which is an absolute need, then that will help to develop the kind of affordable housing that this city needs.