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New York’s Likely Mayor Wants to Add Homes to ‘Sacred Cow’ Neighborhoods


  • New York City’s likely mayor wants to solve the housing crisis with denser buildings in rich neighborhoods.
  • Eric Adams’ strategy is a major change from decades of zoning for more housing in poorer areas.
  • Upzoning in “sacred cows” like SoHo and other wealthy areas can even the playing field for homebuyers, he told Ezra Klein.

New Yorkers in posh neighborhoods like SoHo may end up getting a lot more neighbors if Eric Adams has his way.

After a slim victory in the Democratic primary during the spring, Adams is cruising toward becoming New York’s second Black mayor ever and first since David Dinkins in the early ’90s. The current Brooklyn borough president has carved out a reputation for being friendly to the real-estate industry, and he sounded very pro-development in a recent podcast appearance.

Adams says he’s offering a change from the policies that entrenched segregation and gentrification under his predecessors.

For years, the city government’s solution to skyhigh real-estate prices has been to upzone — construct denser residential buildings — in “affordable” areas, but it’s clear now that the upzoning fix hasn’t worked, Adams said in a recent appearance on Ezra Klein’s New York Times podcast.

Adams did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Upzoning in poorer areas did little to actually improve those neighborhoods, while housing remained unattainable in much of the city. The neighborhoods that did improve as a result of upzoning saw poorer residents displaced, Adams said — a trend that’s come to be known as gentrification.

Instead of building affordable housing in poorer areas, the government should try to level the playing field and target the wealthiest neighborhoods, he added. 

“I say we need to look at the entire city,” Adams said. “We need to look at those sacred cows like SoHo and other parts of the city where we used these methods to keep out groups. We must all share the affordable housing crisis.”

He said, for example, that upzoning should also apply to neighborhoods “from 34th Street down to 14th Street, from 9th Avenue over to Park Avenue,” which would affect the affluent neighborhoods of Chelsea and Gramercy Park, as well as Union Square.

Adams’ plan hopes to improve more than just New York home affordability. The housing solution “must solve a multitude of problems,” including access to schools and grocers, the Democratic candidate said. The lack of affordable housing is central to the city’s inequality, and bringing affordable units to market can counter the unevenness that’s emerged through the pandemic recovery, Adams said.

“We’re going to integrate access to healthy food, to good transportation,” he said. “We are extremely segregated as a city, and our housing plays a major role in that segregation.”

Upzoning in wealthy neighborhoods is just one part of Adams’ housing plan. The likely mayor aims to repurpose government office buildings for affordable housing, as well as allow private offices and hotels to convert into residential buildings. A planned collection of regulatory changes could also create hundreds of thousands of affordable apartments by permitting basement units and single-room apartments, according to Adams’ campaign website

Changes are afoot in housing policy beyond New York. Berkeley, California, voted earlier this year to ban single-family residential zoning and pave the way for duplexes on such lots. The Bay Area city introduced the restrictive zoning practice in 1916 but now serves as a first-mover in progressive zoning reform.

“Part of Berkeley’s efforts is acknowledging that what happened was wrong and that we’re learning from our past mistakes and we’re trying to correct them,” Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín told Insider in September.

California has since followed suit. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill to eliminate single-family zoning in September, making it just the second state to ban the practice.

Adams’ extensive fundraising from the city’s real-estate industry has been reported on by The City and The New York Times, and his mayorship may open more neighborhoods for development than New York has seen in decades. What will the neighbors think?



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