News Press

Op-ed: City of Yes: A first step toward a more affordable New York

April 24, 2024


Crain’s New York Business
By Kathryn Wylde

There’s no two ways about it: New York has become an unaffordable city. The cost of living and doing business has risen so dramatically in the past decade that we are now tied with Geneva as the third most expensive city in the world, behind only Singapore and Zurich.

While New York City cannot solve this crisis on its own, one important step it can take is modernizing its aging zoning rules that were created over sixty years ago for a very different city and have come to hold it back.  The Adams Administration is taking up this challenge, starting with a package of fifty-three proposals collectively described as “City of Yes.” The purpose is to make it faster, easier, and less expensive to build affordable housing, create jobs, and reduce our city’s carbon footprint.

The good news is that the City Council has already enacted the first part of this package, City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality, which will help the city achieve its carbon reduction goals by incentivizing such activities as use of electric vehicles and installation of solar power systems and green roofs.

Under Council consideration now is “City of Yes for Economic Opportunity,” which would replace outdated and onerous 1960s-era regulations with clear and sensible rules that allow small businesses and entrepreneurs to expand and adapt to changing customer demands. Obsolete and unnecessary restrictions on business operations and growth will be removed. New locations will be open to “clean” industrial uses such as life science laboratories, sound stages, new forms of urban agriculture, and advanced manufacturing. As New York City works to emerge from the pandemic and overcome a stubbornly elevated storefront vacancy rate, these commonsense economic reforms are more important than ever, and the Council should move quickly to pass them.

With ”City of Yes for Housing Opportunity,” the Adams administration is confronting New York City’s housing affordability crisis head-on by updating restrictive zoning laws that limit housing production. For example, the plan would provide more flexibility in the design and size of new apartments, encourage the conversion of underused buildings like offices into housing, and increase density allowances for buildings with affordable housing. It will make it easier to build modest apartment buildings in lower-density areas, and eliminate costly parking requirements that are unnecessary in a city with great access to public transit. Combined together, these measures can significantly ease our housing shortage.

Many factors that have made the city less affordable are beyond our local control. Inflation, high interest rates, and pandemic-related upheaval in the global supply chain have contributed to rising costs. But there are actions we can take right here to make our city more affordable, and updating antiquated zoning is a great place to start. When the city’s own rules and regulations are hampering housing production and economic growth, it’s time for a rewrite and that’s exactly what “City of Yes” offers. We want a more affordable city and it’s time to take whatever actions are within our power to achieve it.