October 3, 2014
Law 360 quoted me in Looser Rules Pave Way For NYC Affordable Housing Projects (behind a paywall). It opens,
The commissioner of New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development detailed Wednesday how the agency will streamline the development process for affordable housing projects, allowing developers faced with new mandatory inclusionary zoning rules to breathe easier.
Since Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his ambitious plan to create or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in the city over the next 10 years, developers and their attorneys have been cautiously optimistic.
Many have seen the positive side of residential projects being allowed in places where they would not have been previously, thanks to planned zoning changes. But with those zoning changes comes a mandate to build an affordable component with any new development, and the administration has been adamant that there will be few — if any — new monetary incentives.
So when HPD Commissioner Vicki Been told attendees at a Citizens Budget Commission event Wednesday that sweeping changes are coming to the way the agency does business that will cut a lot of red tape and speed up the process, many developers and their attorneys were pleased.
“It was great to hear,” said John Kelly, an affordable housing expert and partner at Nixon Peabody LLP. “I think it’s the right first step, and it’s necessary if they’re really going to carry out the plan they want to do.”
Included in that first step will be significant changes to the two elements of the development process that experts say create the biggest bottlenecks: design review and clearance.
The design and architecture review will likely be completely overhauled, Been told the attendants at Wednesday’s meeting, and the HPD will shift to the self-certification system backed up by random audits that has seen success elsewhere in city government, including at the Department of Buildings.
These changes are expected to cut down on the waiting time that many developers often suffer through as they try to get a project off the ground, adding unnecessary costs and — perhaps most importantly for Been’s purposes — dissuading some from seeking out affordable housing opportunities.
HPD staff will still have a hand in reviewing projects, but the changes — which Been said will be explained in more detail soon — are expected to be significant.
“It’s exciting to start to see specifics of the plan, we’ve all been kind of waiting for that,” said Jennifer Dickson, senior planning and development specialist at Herrick Feinstein LLP.
But she noted that the process, even with the proposed tweaks, is extremely complex. As the city attempts to make affordable housing development more attractive and expand inclusionary zoning districts, a growing number of architects and developers with little experience in this arena will be joining the fray.
“I think they will be looking to the city agencies to continue to guide them,” Dickson said.
The specific extent to which HPD officials will remain involved in the process is one of many questions that remain unanswered. Another is exactly how the agency will ensure compliance with a new self-certification process, outside of random audits.
“The risk of self-certification is: What if people don’t certify well? There’s always a balance of government regulation between reducing red tape on one hand, and assuring people live up to the appropriate standards on the other,” said David Reiss, a real estate professor at Brooklyn Law School.| Permalink