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New York Mayor's Plan To Ease Housing Shortage Faces Opposition


New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan to take on the city's housing shortage. He wants to rezone some neighborhoods to allow more construction and to require developers to build more affordable housing. The plan is getting some stiff opposition from New Yorkers who think the new apartments will be beyond their reach. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

ANDY COHEN: This is a three-bedroom - OK - just vacated. It's a three-bedroom apartment.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Andy Cohen stands in a sunny vacant apartment in a building called the Bradford in Brooklyn. This neighborhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant, was once synonymous with crime and urban neglect, but a lot of young people have moved here in search of affordable rents, and the BRP companies where Cohen works saw an opportunity to build.

COHEN: You know, there'd been a lot of disinvestment, but the bones were there. And it was a close commute to Manhattan. And we just thought it was a good bed for development.

ZARROLI: BRP is a for-profit company, but many of the apartments it builds are set aside for low and moderate-income people with the help of tax credits and other government programs. Using developers like BRP, the de Blasio administration plans to build or preserve some 200,000 affordable apartments. Alicia Glen is the city's deputy mayor.

ALICIA GLEN: We've put together what has been characterized as the most ambitious and comprehensive affordable housing plan in the country by far.

ZARROLI: The plan would harness some of the intense development pressures sweeping the city. The mayor wants to rezone neighborhoods like these to make it easier for private developers to build. He would do this by modifying some of the zoning regulations that drive up costs, such as building height restrictions or the requirement that apartment buildings have underground garages. Jerilyn Perine of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, a think tank, says a lot of these regulations are obsolete.

JERILYN PERINE: The Department of City Planning now is really trying to sort of step back and say, there were things that were done, particularly in the mid-80s. They were good ideas. They were helpful then, but now we really need to make sure that we can add to our housing stock.

ZARROLI: In exchange, the city would force developers that want to build in New York to construct more affordable apartments, says Alicia Glen.

GLEN: It's both attacking it from a supply and demand perspective but then saying the market alone will not actually solve this problem. We need to aggressively subsidize and use every tool we have to make sure that we're bringing on enough affordable housing.

ZARROLI: But surprisingly, the plan has encountered opposition in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. Buildings like the Bradford are designed to house people of different income levels. The days when large projects were built to house huge groups of poor people are long gone. Again, Andy Cohen.

COHEN: We think, generally, it's better to have a mix of incomes living in, you know, a neighborhood rather than, you know, either a low or high income because you just get a more vibrant community.

ZARROLI: The Bradford houses some very poor people, but the largest group of tenants are moderate-income, which, in New York, can mean an annual salary of $120,000 for a family of four, and the rent they pay to live there can reach $2,400 a month. That puts it well out of reach for a lot of the neighborhood's poorest residents, people like Rachel Rivera, a mother of six who showed up at a town hall meeting in East New York to protest the mayor's plan. Rivera, who lives on disability, says local landlords are already pushing people out of their apartments to lure newcomers with higher incomes. She worries that there won't be enough apartments for people like her under the rezoning plan.

RACHEL RIVERA: What I'm worried about is that I get pushed out and I won't be able to afford these affordable housing that they're saying that they're going to put up.

ZARROLI: City officials are aware of concerns like Rivera's, but they say allowing a mix of incomes is the best way to make sure buildings stay economically viable. They also say that by replacing some of the city's low-rise neighborhoods with higher density apartment towers, they will ultimately be able to build more low-income housing. A wave of development pressure is washing over New York. The challenge is to channel that pressure to build the kind of city New Yorkers want. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.
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