By LOUIS FLORES
Updated 16 November 2015 09:48 pm ⎪ In a brief meeting of the Queens Borough Board, chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz (D-Queens), the members voted overwhelmingly to reject two City Hall rezoning proposals being considered city-wide.
The Zoning for Quality and Affordability, or ZQA, would essentially allow developers to build larger buildings to accommodate affordable housing. The proposal to create Mandatory Inclusionary Housing zoning, or MIH, would require affordable housing as part of any new development over 10 units. The ZQA and MIH proposals are central to the affordable housing plan put forth by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over a span of ten (10) years.
In prior meetings of the Community Boards of Queens, the Community Boards had overwhelmingly rejected the proposals. Going into Monday evening's Queens Borough Board meeting, the outcome was never in doubt.
Patrick O’Brien, chair of Queens Community Board 2, expressed reservations about Mayor de Blasio's twin rezoning proposals during a discussion before votes were taken.
Mr. O'Brien complained about the lack of schools, public transportation, and medical facilities as impediments to further development in Queens, a sentiment that repeated, in part or in whole, by the chairs of other Community Boards present at the Queens Borough Board meeting. After stating that Queens doesn't have the infrastructure to support more development, Mr. O'Brien said of the rezoning plans, "It's fraught with danger for us," noting that he would vote to disapprove of the twin rezoning proposals, given the clear mandate of the votes cast at Queens Community Board 2 that were against the proposals.
Dolores Orr, chair of Queens Community Board 14, complained that there was an element of duplicity in the real impact of the twin rezoning proposals, saying, "Some of this is masked -- that is not for the middle class," repeating often-made criticisms about Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plan actually reaching the people, who are most rent-burdened in New York City. Ms. Orr said that the area median income, or AMI, targets of the MIH proposal were not seen as effective. Instead, Ms. Orr suggested, more effective proposals should consider the make-up of each community and each Community Board, factors, such as the number of nursing homes, public housing developments, Section 8 buildings, and retail mix of each respective community, before making custom proposals for that would support the construction of more affordable housing.
Under the MIH proposal, developers could build affordable housing apartments that would rent to families making 120 per cent. of AMI (or $93,240), even though families making almost six-figure incomes are not the families, who bear the worst rent burdens in New York City. According to statistics compiled and published by Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, 85 per cent of New Yorkers earning less than 50 per cent of AMI are rent burdened.
The City Councilmembers, who represent Queens, decided that they would abstain from voting on the twin rezoning proposals at the Queens Borough Board level, because they would be participating in further discussions at the New York City Council, as a separate body.
After the votes were taken by simple voice votes and the Borough Board meeting came to a conclusion, Borough President Katz made statements to the press.
"The next step is the Borough Board has voted to disapprove both amendments. And we look forward to discussing with the administration how we can improve these amendments, so that we can provide sufficient affordable housing in the City of New York."
In a separate interview with Progress Queens, Borough President Katz said, in her view, that the nature of the top-down direction of the rezoning amendments wasn't what caused the Borough Board to reject the proposals, saying, "I don't think that the issue is that it came down from City Hall," adding that, "I think the issue is whether or not there was enough maneuvering room in the proposals for the neighborhoods to actually put their stamp on the applications."
Qualifying her statements with examples, Borough President Katz said, "The issue really is once a Community Board gets a proposal, can they change it ? Is there room within the proposal to say we want more parking, we want less parking. We want lower AMI, we want higher AMI. We want more in percentage. And I think that's the issue."
The Queens Borough Board was the first such board to vote on Mayor de Blasio's twin rezoning proposals. In a press release issued after the conclusion of the Queens Borough Board meeting, Borough President Katz promised to circulate her own opinion and recommendations in a few days' time. Attached to the press release were the signed Queens Borough Board recommendations in respect of each of the rezoning proposals.
John Fisher, founder of TenantNet, a resource Web site for tenants, said that the New York City Councilmembers, who abstained from voting on the twin rezoning proposals at the Queens Borough Board, probably did so to avoid creating political conflict with Mayor de Blasio, who, in turn, is looking for votes from the New York City Council to approve the proposals. Since the votes by Community Boards are only advisory, the ultimate and binding determination as to the fate of the twin rezoning proposals rests with the City Council, setting up the possibility that the City Council may override the decisions of Community Boards that voted to oppose the proposals.
The last time the New York City Council overturned the will of the people was in 2008, when former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-West Village) strong-armed the City Council to repeal term limits, allowing former Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R-New York City) to run for office for a third term.
Mr. Fisher noted that Borough President Katz intimated that she would be negotiating with City Hall on how the twin rezoning proposals could still be approved.
Unless an advocacy group took to educating the public about the potential for the City Council to overturn the will of the Community Boards, Mr. Fisher predicted that it was difficult to determine if the City Council would face a similar backlash as that that was created after the overturning of term limits.
According to Mr. Fisher's political analysis, City Hall would either offer City Councilmembers sweeteners to earn their votes, or City Hall would offer terms to mitigate the impact of the twin rezoning proposals.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Fisher had separately sought to bring attention to the statements of other city officials, who had promised to sought to secure concessions to decrease the secondary tenant displacement expected to be caused by the twin rezoning proposals, an admission in itself, in Mr. Fisher's eyes, that the twin rezoning proposals are expected to create displacement.