Housing crisis

Bureaucracy ‘status quo’ keeps NYC in perpetual housing crisis

Decades of red tape tied to archaic rules have fueled New York’s seemingly perpetual housing shortage – delaying construction of much-needed homes for up to six years on average per project, a damning new report reveals.

The searing assessment by the Citizens Budget Commission, a good government group, comes as rents have soared in the Big Apple and city leaders are again facing an apartment shortage.

“The status quo jeopardizes New York’s ability to create the jobs we need and the homes we need,” said CBC director Andrew Rein.

“We have an affordability problem now and if we don’t build and accelerate more housing, that affordability problem will get worse,” he added.

“If our development process is such that it increases the cost of building each apartment by $67,000, then the homes we build are more expensive.”

Massive shortages and soaring rents have forced some families to flee the city or live in unsafe illegal dwellings, many of which are underground and can easily be flooded during torrential rains, such as Hurricane Ida.

Rents have increased at a high rate in New York in 2022.
Bloomberg via Getty Images/Gabby Jones

Many of the laws and regulations highlighted in the CBC report were passed in the 1960s and 1970s as environmental and community activists sought to prevent the rise of a new generation of figures like Chief Robert Moses. of state construction whose controversial highway and bridge projects have cut through the neighborhoods of the Big Apple.

The report recommends a series of fixes, including:

  • Combine Borough President and Community Council project reviews into a single review.
  • Adjust state environmental laws to give faster reviews for housing projects located near public transportation; and for “infill” projects, where housing would replace a parking lot or something similar.
  • Seek a change to the city charter that would require the city council to veto housing developments approved by the planning commission, instead of allowing individual lawmakers to veto projects as is typically done.

New York City has averaged no more than 20,000 new homes and apartments per year in any given decade since the 1970s, which is the same decade when many environmental and planning restrictions came into effect. vigor.

The Big Apple’s inability to quickly build new housing became particularly evident during the 2010s. City officials only authorized 228,000 new homes and apartments in the five boroughs, even though the city created over 700,000 new jobs – a 3:1 lag.

One of the main reasons for this disparity is the lengthening of the planning and review requirements required for any rezoning, which is generally required for major new projects, the CBC determined.

new york apartment
There has been an average of no more than 20,000 new homes and apartments per year in New York.
Helayne Seidman

He found that it takes an average of 2.5 years for a zoning change – through the city’s lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) – to work its way through to through planning and environmental reviews required by city charter and state law.

Approved projects then face a slew of potential lawsuits under New York State’s strict environmental laws, which CBC says often add another two or three years of ULURP to the timeline of any project, even though most cases are dismissed.

The six years of planning and legal challenges can increase the cost of any project by about a third – 11 to 16 percent every two years, CBC estimates.

Bill de Blasio, then Mayor of New York
Bill de Blasio tried to tackle the housing problem during his administration.
AP/Brittany Newman

The result is that many projects don’t show up, and those that do and eventually get approval can be endlessly stalled as the city’s housing crisis worsens.

Then-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan called for the rezoning of 15 neighborhoods to provide new housing, but his administration only managed to get eight of them through the system.

Another example is the fight for the Elizabeth Street garden in Little Italy.

Authorities originally announced plans to turn city-owned land across the street into a housing complex for low-income seniors in 2013. At the time, the land was leased to a local art gallery for the storage.

New York Skyline
The Citizens Budget Committee made the revelations in its report.

But the neighborhood rebelled against the plan and convinced the store owner to regularly open the site to the public as a garden, which formed the basis of their campaign against the project.

The city council finally approved the development in 2019, but three years later construction has still not started as lawsuits have continued.