March 26, 2014
NYU’s Furman Center released a report, Unlocking the Right to Build: Designing a More Flexible System for Transferring Development Rights. While its title does not reflect it, the report is really about increasing the supply of affordable housing in New York City. It opens,
New York City faces a severe shortage of affordable housing. . . . Addressing this shortage of affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges facing the new de Blasio administration. The city’s affordable housing policy will undoubtedly require many strategies, from preserving the existing stock of affordable units to encouraging the construction of new affordable units. Over the past decades, the city has managed to subsidize the development of new affordable units in part by providing developers with land the city had acquired when owners abandoned properties or lost them through tax foreclosures during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. Almost none of that land remains available, and the high cost of privately owned land poses significant barriers to the production of new affordable housing.
In this brief, we explore the potential of one strategy the city could use to encourage the production of affordable housing despite the high cost of land: allowing the transfer of unused development rights. As we describe in further detail below, the city’s zoning ordinance currently allows owners of buildings that are underbuilt to transfer their unused development capacity (often referred to as transferable development rights or TDRs) to another lot in certain circumstances. (1-2, footnotes omitted)
The report estimates that buildings below 59th Street in Manhattan that cannot use all of their development rights because of landmark restrictions could generate sufficient TDRs to produce about 7,000 affordable housing units. That number would be a significant step toward Mayor de Blasio’s goal of producing or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing, so there is no doubt that this policy is worth a look. And the fact that one of the authors of the report, Vicki Been, is now the Commissioner of NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development will ensure that it does get such a look!
The report acknowledges that loosening the restrictions on TDRs has downsides as well, such as the possible construction of big buildings that are out context of neighboring properties. But the report is intended as a “first step” in the exploration of an innovative land use policy. (19) And it certainly is a step in the right direction.| Permalink