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City Says Denser Buildings Will Ease Affordable Housing Crisis

New York City

Floor-to-area ratio, affordable housing, office-to-residential conversions, City of Yes.

Many of New York's iconic prewar buildings could not be built under the current floor-to-area ratio cap.

March 29, 2024

Mayor Eric Adams has proposed lifting caps on the density of apartment buildings as a way to alleviate the city's affordable housing crisis. Enacted in 1961, the existing floor area ratio, or FAR, cap allows buildings up to 12 times the size of their lot. The Adams administration called on state lawmakers to eliminate the cap and proposed two new zoning districts in the city that would permit buildings to be constructed up to 15 and 18 times their lot size, while also including affordable housing, 6sqft reports.

For the proposed new zoning districts to move forward, state lawmakers must lift the FAR cap. Then, the city council would need to approve them as part of the City of Yes housing proposal; a vote is expected this fall.

As part of the mayor’s FAR proposal, new housing projects would be mandated to construct permanently affordable housing through Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), which requires that 20 to 30% of housing in a new development is affordable for New Yorkers earning between 40 and 80% of the area median income.

While some critics fear that raising the FAR cap will bring a deluge of faceless glass towers, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, along with other 10 representatives of Manhattan on the city council, penned a letter to the governor detailing the restrictive nature of the FAR cap. The letter states: “New York City used to create large apartment buildings. In fact, there are over 1,000 buildings in Manhattan alone, built before the cap went into effect in 1961, which exceed 12 FAR. These include such icons as The El Dorado on Central Park West and 825th 5th Avenue in Lenox Hill, both so celebrated that they are designated as landmarks. Neither could be built today because of the cap.”

In addition to the FAR proposal, Adams is continuing to urge state lawmakers to enact tools before the end of the legislative session that will make it easier for affordable housing development in the five boroughs. Measures include a new tax incentive to replace 421-a, a new tax incentive to promote office-to-residential conversions, and the legalization of basement and cellar apartments.

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