Very soon two new zoning laws are going to be voted on by the City Council – Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA). These laws were ostensibly developed by the DeBlasio administration to increase the amount of affordable housing in NYC. The proposed laws, however, are, quite literally, a trojan horse for gentrification. If MIH and ZQA were to pass, and they are likely to do so, the potential land value across the city will increase immediately. The passage of these laws will prompt land developers to start buying up parcels of land that were previously deemed not profitable. In fact, in anticipation of MIH and ZQA, this process has already begun and, unfortunately, East New York is Ground Zero.
Developers have the primary goal of squeezing as much money out of their land as possible. Because of various regulations, the amount of money a developer can make off of a particular parcel of land is limited. Therefore, the developer is forced to mobilize political will in order to change the regulations and laws limiting their profits. There are a number of ways to do this – one of the main tactics is through rezoning. With rezoning, a developer gains the ability to build bigger and more upscale buildings on the parcels they own. In turn, this allows them to pack more people into a limited amount of space (e.g. by building taller) and charge higher rents (e.g. by creating luxury condos and selling them to rich people). The golden equation for developers is more people + higher rents = higher profits. As rezoning takes place, old buildings owned by individuals and occupied by working class folks are demolished and new buildings owned by developers are put in their place; in the rezoned neighborhoods, land values begin to increase, leading to gentrification and ultimately, displacement
More precisely: MIH and ZQA will allow for more rapid “up-zoning” (i.e. the ability to build larger and more profitable kinds of developments) across the entire city. As part of the deal, developers will be forced to make a certain portion of their developments “affordable” (which in reality aren’t actually affordable to most working class people). Politicians only like to talk about this “affordable” component, when in fact MIH and ZQA have very little to do with affordable housing and are really aimed at generating profits. To garner public support for this plan, the DeBlasio administration has devised a very savvy and insincere media campaign: he aims to create 200,000 affordable housing units over the next decade. What DeBlasio doesn’t tell us, however, is how many housing units will become unaffordable as a result of the gentrification brought on by MIH and ZQA. Undoubtedly, the gentrification caused by MIH and ZQA will lead to rapid rent increases in neighborhoods across the city – the 182,000 residents living in East New York, for example, are guaranteed to see their rent increase across the board if rezoning passes in their neighborhood. For what? A few hundred supposedly affordable units? Units which will likely be marketed to out of town folks, anyway?
In the end, the DeBlasio administration would like us to believe that trading our neighborhoods for a meager amount of affordable housing is worth it, but history has shown us that the words of politicians should not be trusted blindly. Every single politician in New York, from DeBlasio to Ruban Diaz, knows that MIH and ZQA are intended to increase land value and profits for developers and, in turn, produce higher tax revenues and capital investment for Borough Presidents. As an added bonus, DeBlasio gets to pretend that he’s the Mayor who saved affordable housing. It’s our contention that history will tell a different story, and we hope that this story is told sooner, rather than later.
A NOTE ON ZONING: The way city zoning law works is as follows: there is large zoning document, which has very detailed descriptions and regulations for what types of buildings can be built in various areas called “zones”. Each neighborhood in New York City is designated as a specific zone. For example, the R5 zone allows buildings that are 30 feet tall and the R6 zone allows for buildings that are up to 60 feet tall. If a developer wants to change the law, they can either change what is allowed in the R5 and R6 zones (higher allowed building heights), in general (zoning text amendment) or they can change what zone a neighborhood is designated as (map amendment). MIH and ZQA are zoning text amendments, whereas the rezoning in East New York is a map amendment (which will be one of the first zoning map amendments that will use regulations from the zoning text post-MIH and ZQA