Published in April 2006, this paper tells the story of housing policy in New York City over the past 30 years. The report describes the city’s unprecedented efforts to rebuild its housing stock during the late 1980s and 1990s and analyzes the specific features of the New York City’s 10-year plan that made these efforts so successful. In addition, the report describes New York City’s current housing environment and policy challenges.
The difficulty of developing housing in New York City is as legendary as its cost. The city has had a vacancy rate under 5% — the legislative threshold defining a housing “emergency”—for more than 55 years. More than one commission or blue ribbon panel has identified government regulation as one of the primary causes of the housing problem. Since 2000, however, an opportunity presented itself to finally make some progress in reducing the cost of housing construction. Removing regulatory barriers to housing development caught the interest of two mayors—Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg—and their respective housing commissioners.
Advocates of growth management and smart growth often propose policies that raise housing prices, thereby making housing less affordable to many households trying to buy or rent homes. Such policies include urban growth boundaries, zoning restrictions on multi-family housing, utility district lines, building permit caps, and even construction moratoria. Does this mean there is an inherent conflict between growth management and smart growth on the one hand, and creating more affordable housing on the other? Or can growth management and smart growth promote policies that help increase the supply of affordable housing?