Zoning for Quality and Affordability

Update June 22, 2016

The City Council approved with modifications the Zoning for Quality and Affordability text amendment, also known as ZQA, on March 22, 2016. This represents one of the most significant updates to the Zoning Resolution in decades.

The online version of the Zoning Resolution is fully updated to reflect the text amendment, and information on the City Council modifications can be found under the Public Review tab.

For your reference, City Planning has produced a detailed PDF Document overview of all the zoning changes included in the approved version for practitioners and the general public.


Our city is growing. Our population is at an all-time high, having just, according to Census Bureau mid-decade estimates, passed the 8.5 million level for the first time. In addition to our four-century tradition of welcoming people from all over the globe, we have an obligation to meet the needs of our growing and increasingly diverse population of seniors, which is projected to increase by 400,000 over the next 25 years. The gap between the demand for and supply of housing is vast, and housing in New York City is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

As part of Housing New York, Mayor de Blasio’s ten-year housing plan, the City has committed $8.2 billion to subsidize affordable housing for New Yorkers, including housing for people making as little as $18,150. This is double what was deployed on affordable housing in the previous decade, and will produce more than quadruple the amount of housing at the very lowest incomes. The City is also beefing up its anti-displacement efforts to protect tenants in existing housing. The crisis we face demands that we use every tool at our disposal.

A key issue identified in Housing New York is the need to modernize obscure and outdated zoning rules that have not kept pace with best practices for residential design and construction . These rules impede the production of new affordable housing, and contribute to the years-long waitlists faced by some 200,000 seniors in need of affordable apartments.

Following the release of Housing New York, the Department of City Planning, working with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, communities, nonprofit housing groups, architects, developers, and other practitioners, identified a set of zoning barriers that constrain new housing creation and add unnecessary costs, and strategies to address them.

The goals of Housing New York include making the city more affordable to a wide range of New Yorkers and fostering diverse, livable communities with buildings that contribute to the character and quality of neighborhoods. We do not see these goals as in conflict – it is essential that we achieve both.

What is ZQA aiming to achieve?

Zoning establishes limits on the use, size, and shape of buildings, with numerous zoning districts mapped in the city’s diverse neighborhoods to reflect their varying density and character. These limits help give shape to neighborhoods and predictability to their future. But sometimes they also have unintended consequences, discouraging the very types of outcomes they were intended to encourage. ZQA addresses several ways in which these regulations, drafted a generation ago, have in practice discouraged the affordability and quality of recent buildings.


  • Make it easier to provide the range of affordable senior housing and care facilities needed to meet the varied needs of an aging population, and to help seniors remain in their communities
  • Enable Inclusionary Housing buildings, which provide mixed-income housing, to construct quality buildings that fit the full amount of housing they are allowed under zoning today
  • Reduce unnecessarily high costs of building transit-accessible affordable housing, and make taxpayer dollars go further toward meeting our affordable housing goals


  • Change rules that lead to flat, dull apartment buildings, to accommodate and encourage façade articulation, courtyards, and other elements that provide visual variety and make the pedestrian experience more interesting
  • Encourage better ground-floor retail spaces and residential units with adequate ceiling heights
  • Maintain rules that work well today, including the essential rules of “contextual” zoning districts and lower-density zoning districts
Pre-ZQA Rules - Curren Street
With ZQA - Commercial Street


What kind of changes are included in ZQA, and what areas are affected?

ZQA is tailored to address issues specific to different neighborhood contexts:

In medium-and high-density zoning districts, key changes :

  • Allow residential buildings in many parts of the city limited additional height if they provide a taller ground floor
  • Allow limited additional height – no more than one or two stories, in over 95% of cases – to fit the additional floor area allowed for buildings providing affordable senior housing or Inclusionary Housing, in areas that have been designated for it
  • Introduce a limit on the number of stories for buildings, to ensure that additional stories cannot be squeezed in within these heights
  • Allow buildings a few feet of room to set back from the sidewalk and provide garden areas in front of the building
  • Allow a spectrum of affordable senior housing and care facilities – ranging from independent living to State-licensed facilities like assisted living and nursing care – alone or in combination
  • Make parking optional for new affordable housing units in designated transit-accessible areas
Pre-ZQA Rules - R7A District
With ZQA - R7A District

In low-density districts that allow multifamily housing, key changes :

  • Allow a spectrum of affordable senior housing and care facilities, as described above
  • Modify zoning that was designed to fit walkup buildings, and allow greater opportunities for affordable senior apartments to be built in a building served by an  elevator

In neighborhoods zoned for multifamily housing, that are proximate to public transportation and where car ownership rates are low, designate a Transit Zone.  Within the Transit Zone:

  • Make building off-street parking spaces optional for new affordable and affordable senior housing developments
  • Allow existing parking for affordable senior housing to be converted into other uses, including green space, amenity space for residents, or more affordable housing
  • Introduce into the zoning text discretionary actions to allow for the removal of existing parking for affordable housing, or for the reduction of parking for new moderate income housing.

Coordinated plan, targeted initiatives

The ZQA changes are part of a set of coordinated initiatives under Housing New York:

  • They align zoning regulations with the Housing New York goals of promoting housing production and affordability and more livable neighborhoods
  • They are designed to work together with the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, and to aid the strategic use of City subsidies to create new affordable housing for New Yorkers at a range of low- and moderate-incomes
  • They will support the goals of current and future PLACES neighborhood planning initiatives

The zoning changes are carefully targeted:

  • They do not allow any additional market-rate floor area, or encourage tear-downs
  • They do not eliminate any contextual zoning district, or re-map any zoning district
  • They do not reduce or alter the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s oversight of landmarked buildings or historic districts
  • They do not change as-of-right residential rules in one- and two-family districts.
  • They do not reduce the amount of green or open spaces required for buildings
  • They do not produce dramatic changes in development in any neighborhood

For More Information
Additional information on New York City’s zoning districts is available on the DCP website in the following pages: