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John Petro

NYC Housing: Support Needed for Higher Density

City officials are coming under increased pressure from neighborhood residents to limit the height and scale of new buildings in their neighborhoods. But in one of the tightest housing markets in the country, these limits will come with the cost of escalating housing prices.

With one in four households paying more that fifty percent of their income in rent, the city's housing market has stretched New Yorkers to the limit of what they can afford. But why is housing in New York City so expensive? The primary reason is that there isn't enough housing to meet the tremendous demand. While the city's population grew by one million people since 1980, only 315,000 units were added to the city's housing stock.

With nearly every acre of the city already developed, the only way to add more housing, and to address the root cause of the city's affordability problem, is to build up. But recent rezonings in neighborhoods across the city prevent higher-density buildings. At the request of neighborhood residents and elected officials, these rezonings aim to preserve neighborhood character and prevent out-of-context development.

While there needs to be sensible limits to the height and scale of development in our neighborhoods--no one wants to see a 30 story building rise alongside two-story rowhomes--New Yorkers need to realize the impact that these limits have on housing affordability. The city estimates that we will need at least 265,000 new housing units by 2030 to prevent further tightening of the market. But if we want to take steps to make housing more affordable, we must add even more units.

The majority of this new housing should be built in neighborhoods that have good access to transit. At the same time, every neighborhood in the city should be expected to share the responsibility of accommodating more housing. We must also continue to expand our subway system to create new opportunities for transit oriented housing construction.

Without the capacity for wide-scale housing construction, New York City will become even more expensive and the quality of life for working New Yorkers will fall. While it is the responsibility of our elected officials to address the concerns of their constituents, it is every New Yorker's responsibility to protect the city's future.

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Posted at 1:33 PM, Nov 30, 2009 in Urban Affairs
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