Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will be New York's most pro-development mayor in decades.
To the untrained ear, de Blasio has run as a critic of developers, complaining that too many "luxury condos" are going up in New York. But he has also been clear that more development is a key to growing the city's economy and addressing the affordability crisis. And while many of the city's business elites are freaking out about de Blasio's "class warfare," he's maintained good links with (and raised a lot of money from) the real estate industry.
Last summer, de Blasio gave a speech to NYU's Wagner School of Public Service on fostering economic development in New York City. The speech is worth reading in full, but it's especially interesting for de Blasio's strong pro-development bias:
First and foremost, when given the choice to grow or to sit idle, we need to grow and we have to be aggressive about it. There are factors beyond our control — economic conditions, bureaucratic interference from afar — that can kill good projects. The things I value as a progressive — good jobs and affordable housing — cannot happen if projects stall or never materialize. If we aren’t doing everything possible as a City government to spur on development, even if valid compromises are included, we risk nothing getting built at all, and that is the worst possible outcome.
The problem with these sorts of upzonings is that they are often politically unpopular: Incumbent residents resist greater density because of the construction, noise, crowds and cars it brings to their neighborhoods. That's why Bloomberg focused his upzoning efforts on neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Long Island City where the prior use was light industrial and few residents were around to complain.
But the city is running out of well-located neighborhoods like this, and the loss of warehouse and similar space due to these neighborhoods' transformation has been driving up the cost of doing business here. The next round of upzonings will have to come in neighborhoods full of existing residents and all the political resistance they bring.
De Blasio will have a key advantage in getting those upzonings done: by tying upzonings to inclusionary housing and the affordable housing issue, he will be able to paint NIMBY opponents of density as opponents of affordable housing. The debate won't be over whether every part of New York should be given over to luxury condo towers; it will be about whether we can grow our way into housing affordability.
If he upzones aggressively with an inclusionary housing mandate, de Blasio will be able to meet much of his goal of 220,000 new or preserved units of affordable housing at no taxpayer expense. The development will generate fees, transfer taxes and property taxes that will pay for his other policy goals. In some neighborhoods, the city could even sell off the added development rights, as Bloomberg is proposing to do with his last zoning legacy: An upzoning of the office district near Grand Central Terminal in Midtown.