New York City

Adrienne Adams makes her own bid for building new affordable housing

Following proposals made by Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams, the City Council Speaker unveiled her own complementary plan that prioritized equity, while still pushing for new units.

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams unveiled her proposal for building affordable housing Thursday.

New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams unveiled her proposal for building affordable housing Thursday. Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

New York’s top leaders have made it clear in recent weeks that building more affordable housing will be a major priority in the new year. They’ve set ambitious goals: Gov. Kathy Hochul, 800,000 units over the next decade. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, 500,000 in the city in the same timeframe. On Thursday, New York City Speaker Adrienne Adams responded with her own, complementary plan that prioritized equity, while still encouraging new production.

“We all agree that we are facing a dire housing crisis and it has to be addressed by building more housing through the city – even if we may focus on different aspects of it,” Adams told reporters at City Hall Thursday morning. “The focus of my housing agenda though is a fair housing framework that prioritizes equitable distribution of affordable housing developments so all communities contribute to solving the crisis.”

Median rents continue soaring upwards in the five boroughs, as has the number of people experiencing homelessness, exacerbated in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. New housing is getting built, but experts say it hasn’t moved at a rate to accommodate the demand – especially for homes at lower price points, where the vacancy rate is perilously low. While the New York City population grew by 630,000 people between 2010 and 2020, the city only built 200,000 new housing units, according to the City Council. The speaker made her announcement standing next to a poster showing census tracts where relatively little housing was built from 2010 to 2020. It served to send a clear message to her 50 members, and the city: the council wants to build new housing, and every district needs to pitch in. 

But it wasn’t immediately clear how the speaker planned to balance that citywide focus with an appreciation for the district level – and sometimes block-level – concerns of her 50 other members. From the densest Manhattan neighborhoods to pseudo-suburban areas, council members have often positioned themselves in opposition to new development, or at least done their best to shrink plans or reduce the number of units. Now, a “Citywide Fair Housing Framework” bill is the first point of the agenda, that would set neighborhood targets for housing production, based on factors like infrastructure capacity and residents’ risk of displacement. The bill hasn’t been introduced yet, and the speaker’s office declined to share a draft that could show how members would be encouraged – whether by carrot or by stick – to support new development. 

“It really isn’t about singling out any neighborhood. It’s really about the recognition of all of us having to do our part as a city to actually get a handle on this crisis,” Adams said. 

But Adams’ push for more housing may also conflict with her push for more community engagement. Along with the plan, the speaker released a “Planning and Land Use Guidelines & Application Toolkit” that seeks to improve the land use process with recommendations for council members, city agencies, developers and local communities. Goals like increasing housing production, affordability and equity are all detailed and the document touches on things like improving open space and streets and transition to green energy. 

It’s not the first time that a speaker tried to take a wider look at the city’s housing production. Former Speaker Corey Johnson introduced a comprehensive planning bill in late 2020, but the mayor’s office opposed the specifics, and it never passed. Adams never cosponsored that bill. She said her plan “takes a look at equitable distribution. And the former plan did not. There’s really no comparison between the two.”

Though it wasn’t immediately clear how her plan significantly differed. Johnson’s bill had a specifically named goal to “reduce and eliminate disparities across race, geography, and socioeconomic status in access to opportunity and the distribution of resources and development.”

It wasn’t just vibes – Adams’ plan also called for increasing staffing at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, among other housing related government agencies, in order to speed up production. She also calls on HPD to fund more housing units targeted to extremely low income households and advocates for the state to increase the cap on the floor area ratio for housing – something discussed in the “New” New York Panel’s report released Wednesday.

The speaker has recently touted the amount of new housing approved by her council. The plan would build on other recent projects granted upzonings, such as Innovation QNS in Astoria and the Bruckner Rezoning in the East Bronx. Over the past year, council members have approved over 40 projects to create more than 12,000 housing units – 60% of which are affordable. 

While Adams’ didn’t mention the mayor’s newly released “Get Stuff Built” plan during her announcement, much of the council’s approach builds on his, further signaling that there's a broad consensus among New York City leaders to build more affordable housing. One of the mayor’s key provisions in his plan – enacting a citywide zoning text amendment to remove some of the red tape around building new housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods – is also included in the speaker’s agenda.

When asked whether he and the speaker are on the same page on housing, Mayor Adams said the city wouldn’t have made the progress that it has over the last year in terms of affordable housing without her.

“We look forward to working side by side to her,” Mayor Adams said Thursday at an unrelated press conference. “We are on the same page that we’ve got to build more housing – that’s the only way we are going to deal with this housing crisis we are facing.”