End the Council's land-use veto: The path to a more affordable, fairer New York
Added 10-22-19 05:13:02am EST - “The oldest non-profit developer of affordable housing in New York City, Phipps Houses, wants approval to turn a parking lot in Sunnyside, Queens, into a 100% affordable apartment building. For a city where thousands of people are…” - Nydailynews.com
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The oldest non-profit developer of affordable housing in New York City, Phipps Houses, wants approval to turn a parking lot in Sunnyside, Queens, into a 100% affordable apartment building. For a city where thousands of people are homeless and thousands more struggle to pay the rent, approval of the project should be a breeze.
If only. Under the City Council’s longstanding practice of “member deference,” Council approval of any land-use change — like allowing affordable housing on a lot zoned for parking — turns on the opinion of the local member. In this case, that means the fate of the project is in the hands of Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose opposition doomed an efford by the same nonprofit to build affordable housing on the site three years ago.
In sinking the 2016 Phipps project, Van Bramer explained that the “only people [he] work[s] for are the people of [his] district.” Evidently, enough of those constituents preferred parking spots to affordable housing. As for those who’d love to live in Sunnyside if only they could afford it, or those who will soon be pushed out of the neighborhood due to rising rents: tough luck. They won’t be voting in the district.
Maybe it’s inevitable that people who’ve already secured their spot in a neighborhood will focus more on the downsides of neighborhood change than on the benefits of new affordable housing. And maybe we shouldn’t expect anything better from local councilmembers who depend on those same constituents to keep their jobs.
But we can, and should, end a City Council practice that ensures the narrow preferences of each member control all of the Council’s power over land use. Because the forces behind rising rents, gentrification, and homelessness don’t stop at Council district lines, our solutions can’t either.
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