Residents split on SoHo/NoHo rezoning as CB2 holds public hearing

A view down Broadway in Soho. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Decades-long residents of SoHo and NoHo expressed skepticism toward the city’s plan to rezone the once-artist enclave as no more than a favor to real estate developers on Tuesday night. 

Manhattan’s Community Board 2 heard the concerns of dozens of opponents and supporters on Tuesday night of the proposal touted as a strategy to increase the number of affordable housing units via the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law.

According to the Department of City Planning, 19% of these housing units will fall within the scope of the city’s inclusionary housing mandates, equalling anywhere from about 621 to 940 units that will supposedly fall within the price range of low income New Yorkers, as released in a draft of the plan in October.

“DCP will carefully review all of the public comments and testimony we’ve received on planning for the future of SoHo and NoHo,” DCP spokesman Joe Marvilli said. “We have much more work to do and will have more to say regarding a proposal in the coming months. We look forward to continuing this important conversation with the community.”

But mandatory inclusionary housing has been viewed as less than a godsend with many developments still falling out of the price range of what would be considered the area median income by zip code rather than region. 

“I think it’s naive to think that to leave affordable housing… to developers to foster a new wave of affordable housing in NoHo and SoHo is an absolutely ridiculous concept and I can’t believe that anyone is so delusional that they can actually think developers will follow through. They’re going to get out of it in any way they can. That’s what they do, they’re there for profit,” one participant said.

Andrew Berman, the executive director of Village Preservation, has been an opponent to the rezoning plan on the basis that not only will buildings grow too tall, but also that big box store could drive out small business.

“There’s a really stunning lack of analysis of the sweeping impacts of the proposed plan, basic issues like how many certified artists live here, how many rent-stabilized or loft law units are located here, how many residents with average or below-average incomes live here, haven’t been answered. The city would have us believe that no one but rich people live here and that there are no potential displacement issues. That is not the case,” Berman said. “They say, quote, this neighborhood has roughly 40% homeownership… and that almost half of the rental units are priced below $2,000 a month. This means that if there are 8,000 SoHo/NoHo residents that 60% are renters or 4,800 people. Of that 4,800 people, more than half of them have rent for under $2,000 a month. Under $2,000 a month rent qualifies under the MIH program as affordable housing.”

But some long-time residents said the rezoning could result in young blood entering the neighborhood for those who did not establish themselves in the old days and that opposition would be damaging for the city as a whole.

“Denying affordable housing is a serious serious problem that communities are doing all over the city. It’s hurting us, and it’s hurting poor people, and it’s hurting working-class people who can’t find a place to live in New York City anymore,” one speaker said. “So, if this rezoning is rejected. It’s just going to be another opportunity squandered where New York, for reasons of parking, for reasons of contextual buildings, denies the next generation of people to come in.”

Some commentary came from outside of Manhattan, as well, in the form of people appealing to the community to support the plan in the hopes it will relieve further gentrification in the outer boroughs.

“I’m sorry I’m just going to be one of those people who accepts the premise that supply and demand matters,” one man from Brooklyn said. “We need to increase housing supply in this city if we want to achieve better levels of affordability and what better place in New York City to add some of that housing supply than SoHo. It’s a place that is rich in residential housing, it’s rich in jobs, and it’s rich in transit.”

Catch up on the draft scope of work released by DCP here.