Welcome, once again, to the Land of No.
It’s a land where broad plans to build affordable housing, add density, or build higher are applauded, until a specific project comes to your neighborhood. It’s a land where saying “no” once could make it easier to say “no” again, and again.
It started with Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who opposed the first private application under NYC’s new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing zoning. Known as Sherman Plaza, the proposal would have created a 17-story complex with 175 affordable apartments in Inwood. Rodriguez said “no,” and the City Council followed.
Now, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer opposes a proposed project in Sunnyside with 200-plus units that are all designated affordable.
Van Bramer points to complaints about the developer regarding its management of the apartment complex across the street. But the developer, a nonprofit called Phipps Houses, says it’s up to date on maintenance and tenant concerns, and city officials say it’s well-respected.
Van Bramer’s other concerns, like height and the number of units for those at lower incomes, aren’t enough to vote down the project, and the developer says there’s room to negotiate on some issues. But Van Bramer says he doesn’t see any possibility of a “yes,” especially given his recent public spat with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Van Bramer is playing politics, and he’s wrong. But so, too, are council members who fall in line behind him to oppose the Sunnyside project, and others like it.
It’s easy to follow an ugly pattern and reject the proposals one by one. More council members should follow the lead of Ritchie Torres, the Bronx councilman who says he’ll back a 1,600-unit Phipps project in his district.
De Blasio should advocate more loudly for the affordable housing he says he wants. But it’s up to the City Council to take the lead.
There may be times when rejecting a project makes sense, for irrefutable reasons, like if it’s mostly unaffordable. But otherwise, city leaders should support worthy affordable housing developments, even in their neighborhoods, and start saying “yes.”