Press Releases

For Immediate Release
May 26, 2016

Rachaele Raynoff - (212) 720-3471

City Planning Commission (CPC) Chairman Carl Weisbrod Gave The Following Keynote Address At The City & State Urban Development Forum On 5/26/16

Thank you to John Mascialino for the kind introduction and to City & State for inviting me. It is good to see so many of my friends and colleagues here.

I would also like to recognize the many elected officials who have joined us here today. I have had the distinct honor to collaborate with most of them. We have our differences from time to time – and there certainly is some truth to the adage, “where you stand depends on where you sit.” But all of us have a paramount objective to serve as best we can the people of this great city.

Let me begin today by taking a look back. I have had the great privilege of serving five different Mayors – first under John Lindsay. I started when urban America was trying to address a tsunami of social changes – some great, some not so great – that, to us at the time, seemed to arise out of nowhere: the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the sexual revolution, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the drug epidemic, the youth culture, the shift in power to community-based organizations funded by Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” – just to name a few. I was proud to be part of many of those movements – and I probably shouldn’t identify precisely which ones.

But collectively, these forces put enormous strains on city government. They added to the significant erosion of basic services, the 1970s fiscal crisis and a sharp decline in population. And, perhaps, most significantly, they were a catalyst for the decline in a federal commitment to urban America – a trend that has pretty much continued to today.

Mayor Lindsay was a lonely voice pleading for our national government to pay attention to the pressing needs of our cities.

Meanwhile, the emerging urban development policy in those years was “planned shrinkage” – to retreat from crime-ridden and abandoned neighborhoods, to focus principally on “saving” the central business districts, and to build defensively. Indeed, some of the worst architecture we live with to this day were designed to wall off those inside from the disagreeable aspects of urban life on the outside.

Fortunately, over the past half century our City has dramatically changed for the better. It is up to us to find solutions that address these challenges.

And the challenge of today is our unprecedented growth.

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates show our population surpassing 8.55 million in 2015, the largest population in the City’s history. We have added more than 375,000 people to the City since 2010 alone, which is like absorbing the city of Tampa. For the first time in memory, more people are coming here, more are staying here, and more are seeing it as a great place to raise a family. This is happening in all five boroughs.  

In the last five years, Brooklyn saw the largest increase, 132,000 people, followed by the Bronx, Queens and then Manhattan. Queens and Brooklyn are at their all-time population highs. The Bronx is now close to its historical 1970 high of nearly 1.5 million. Staten Island also saw gains of 1.2 percent, but its growth has recently slowed. Interestingly, although Manhattan is growing, its population is still more than 680,000 below its 1910 peak, a point we often forget when we hear about too much density.

But, the numbers are not the only interesting part of the story. Beyond general growth in size, our population is becoming more diverse.

Over three million of our eight and a half million residents are foreign-born, and about 40 percent of them arrived here in 2000 or later. Half of all New Yorkers now speak a language other than English at home.

Most notably, since 2010, our Asian and Hispanic populations have dramatically increased, accounting for more than 80 percent of the City’s population growth and over one-half of Brooklyn’s growth in the last five years. We now have over 2.4 million Hispanics, more than any other city in the United States. We are home to the largest Chinese population outside of Asia.

Our diverse economy attracts people of talent from everywhere. There are a lot of things about New York that make it attractive, but foremost among them, I believe, is that people from all over the world can feel at home here. A university seeking to attract, for example, a Sri Lankan professor, can point to our growing Sri Lankan community on Staten Island.  And we can do that for well over 100 different nationalities – more than any other city in the world.

As New Yorkers, we should be proud of this diversity. We should embrace it. After all, a diverse population brings the kind of economic growth and opportunity that the City was starved for in the 1970s.

And the City has never been stronger economically.

Jobs are at an all-time high, with almost 4.3 million jobs in the City as of February. Nearly 255,000 jobs have been added to the City since January 2014, the fastest two-year growth on record and the first time in the City’s history more than 100,000 jobs were added in two consecutive years. Unemployment is now slightly below 6%, the lowest since reaching nearly 10% in 2010.

The City’s economy continues to diversify, both the types of jobs and industries that are growing here and where those jobs are located. We have seen job gains in each of the five boroughs, and, in fact, at a faster rate outside Manhattan than within it.

But our incredible growth has brought with it a number of challenges. Namely, a serious affordability crisis.

A growing population is competing for a supply of housing that simply is not growing as quickly. As a result, rents are rising faster than incomes for most, making it even harder for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers to find affordable housing.

55% of renter households are “rent-burdened”, paying more than one-third of their income on rent. And a third of renter households are “extremely rent burdened,” which means at least half of their household income goes toward rent. This burden is just as acute for our seniors. We are also experiencing record homelessness. Over 55,000 people sleep in the City’s homeless shelters every night.

Housing is becoming less affordable in centrally located neighborhoods with strong access to jobs and other opportunities, where rising incomes are contributing to an increase in housing prices. This is also true in many neighborhoods where incomes are not rising, where increased competition for a limited amount of housing is pushing rents upward and contributing to overcrowding. In all these areas, we have a need for a greater supply of housing affordable to a wide range of New Yorkers. 

Growth also exacerbates pressure on the City’s infrastructure, already strained by age and the impacts of Hurricane Sandy. Transit ridership is rising across the network, in every borough. Subway ridership is at its highest since 1948. Beyond just capacity, the City and region’s transportation infrastructure remains vulnerable to threats of climate change.

So what did the City set out to do?

Our immediate, intermediate and longer term planning efforts as a city center around four priorities: housing production and affordability; livability; economic development; resiliency and sustainability. I’d like to briefly highlight what we are doing to address each of these.

First, in 2014, Mayor de Blasio’s Housing New York plan set forth a number of initiatives to promote housing creation and affordability, with the central goal of creating 80,000 new and preserving 120,000 existing affordable housing units by 2024, as well as an additional 160,000 units of market rate housing over 10 years.

Since 2014, as Ed Koch might have asked, how are we doin’?

The City has committed significantly more resources to housing.

In its 2014 10-year Capital Plan, the City committed $8.2 billion to expanding our housing supply, which is about double that allocated over the previous 10 years.

Since 2014, we are on target. The City has financed the construction and preservation of over 40,000 units of affordable housing in all five boroughs. More than a third of which is for new construction. This includes 4,000 units of housing specifically for transitional populations and seniors.

The more than 21,000 units financed in 2015 represent the largest number of new affordable apartments during any year in the last 40 years.

To bolster this, we adopted a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, which was modified and passed by our partners at the City Council in March.

MIH requires that any time City Planning Commission and City Council actions create significant additional housing capacity – through either an area wide rezoning or private applications – 25% to 30% of new residential development must be affordable. This means thousands of new permanently affordable units. Permanently.

It is the most rigorous program of its kind for any major U.S. city and exemplifies New York City’s leadership in addressing critical social issues of all kinds.

MIH is one of the tools the City can use to build economically diverse neighborhoods where development and growth are on the upswing, be it through planning by the City or cross subsidies with the private sector – or both.  And, a compelling reason behind MIH is that the evidence is fairly clear that poor children who grow up in economically diverse neighborhoods tend to do better than those who don’t. We owe a path to upward mobility to our kids.   

We also undertook the most significant update to the City’s Zoning Resolution in 50 years.

Our partners at the City Council, also recently enacted Zoning for Quality and Affordability, or ZQA as it is more affectionately known. The comprehensive update modernizes our zoning code to make it easier to build good quality housing in the City, affordable to all New Yorkers, particularly our seniors.

Moreover, we are trying to make the philosophy and technicalities of zoning accessible and understandable to all.  I know how much you all enjoy reading the Zoning Resolution itself – a truly Talmudic document! But just in case, we will also rewrite the Zoning Handbook in time for the 1916 Zoning Resolution’s 100th birthday later this year. I’ve lived through most of those 100 years, so I especially welcome the emphasis in ZQA on seniors.

I would just like to underscore how important ZQA is for our seniors. Our senior population is projected to increase by 40 percent – or by 400,000 – over the next 25 years.

And right now, there is a seven year long waiting list for senior affordable housing. This is simply unacceptable.

By doing away with parking requirements for senior affordable housing, parking that usually went unused, we free up space and resources to create desperately needed housing units. Rather than have taxpayers subsidize unsightly, empty parking lots and garages, our public dollars can go towards funding more affordable housing, and permit more open space and other amenities for seniors.

ZQA also enables a range of senior facilities to be constructed, including Continuing Care Retirement Communities. None of these facilities exist in the City today, in part due to outdated regulations.  With the addition of new types of senior facilities to the City, an elderly couple aging at different paces can stay together, live in the same home, and not be forced to separate during their golden years.

ZQA also supports our mission to enhance the City’s livability. Now, residential buildings can better reflect neighborhood character, with façade articulation and courtyards. They will have ground floor space that better accommodates retail and community facilities, and enable other elements that provide visual variety and enliven the pedestrian experience. Design quality does not need to be sacrificed in order to achieve housing affordability. With smarter zoning, we can achieve both more affordable and higher-quality buildings. 

More broadly, the City has undertaken a more comprehensive approach to planning.

ZQA is a set of important but incremental changes that make zoning work better for affordable housing, but it hasn’t changed the permitted densities in any neighborhood. And we know that we cannot sacrifice the quality and livability of our neighborhoods for the sake of solving our housing crisis. As we look to create the new capacity necessary to meet both existing and future residents’ needs, the City has adopted a new and, we believe, improved approach to neighborhood planning.

We are working more proactively with neighborhoods and local representatives, as well as better coordinating priorities among government agencies to develop sound, ground-up frameworks for growth that align strategic planning priorities with individual community needs. And, I can say without a doubt that the collaboration among city agencies and commissioners is the closest and most productive I have experienced in any administration.

The Department of City Planning also set out to rebuild its partnership with the Office of Management and Budget and better align itself with the City’s 10-year capital planning process. We established a Capital Planning and Infrastructure Division, which blends fiscal responsibility and smart, strategic planning for making investments where we anticipate growth.

We created the Neighborhood Development Fund, a $1 Billion set-aside in the 10-Year Capital Plan, to support necessary public investments in community facilities and infrastructure, exclusively in neighborhoods where we are undertaking comprehensive plans. This is in addition to the $8.2 Billion allocated to directly subsidize affordable housing.  

East New York is the first of our neighborhoods to be rezoned, but this is not just a rezoning.

Here, we put this new comprehensive approach into practice. The City has made commitments to bring affordable housing, economic development opportunities, a 1,000-seat school, enhanced open space and other investments to an approximately 190-block area in the East New York, Cypress Hills and Ocean Hill neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Zoning changes, which increase housing capacity in the area, layered with expanded programs and services and capital investments, will help achieve our shared vision of a thriving and sustainable neighborhood. The development of thousands of units of housing, together with the first application of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, will help cushion the threat posed by rising rents and displacement we have seen in so many communities where we have failed to act. Council Member Rafael Espinal, who represents the vast majority of the area, is a tough advocate for his community, but was always direct with us on what was needed. He deserves a lot of credit for what has been accomplished in East New York.

This is the first of many neighborhood planning studies. City Planning is also working on neighborhood studies in each of the other four boroughs, some announced, some not yet announced. We look forward to continued collaboration with communities and local Council Members in those areas.

So, since January 2014, we have accomplished much, but there is more work to do.

City Council’s affirmative vote on MIH, ZQA and East New York is, in the words of Mayor de Blasio, “a watershed moment when we turned the tide to keep our city a place for everyone,” notably for both low- and middle-income New Yorkers. But, our work did not and does not stop here.

The year ahead will be busy as we apply the important modifications made by the City Council and the City Planning Commission into future planning initiatives, and account for these historic changes in the many private applications that come through our door, particularly from hot, higher income neighborhoods, which must also absorb and subsidize more affordable housing, and that is one area where MIH is really going to take off. We have thousands of units that will be subject to MIH in our private application pipeline right now.

We do not believe that there is one standard model for neighborhood planning, but we do think there is an ethos for planning that requires us to work from the ground-up with communities, elected officials and others. The community planning process must be tailored to the current and future needs of each neighborhood, the people who live there now and the people who will live there in years to come. That’s why fostering vibrant neighborhoods does not end with our incremental zoning text amendments or improvements to the housing stock.

We cherish the character of our neighborhoods and the people who animate them. Yet we also have an obligation to accommodate people of diverse backgrounds, incomes and talents who want to come here, raise their families here and age gracefully here.  That’s our DNA.  It is a moral obligation, but it is also a practical one – because if we fail to make room for all New Yorkers, we will all bear the costs.

We will cannot close our doors and not embrace growth. To not embrace growth and welcome people to live here is antithetical to what we are as a city.  

So we must remain committed to ensuring that the City’s growth and economic growth is inclusive.

Diversity is important not only to our population and culture, but also to our economy. The diversification of the City’s economy has made us less reliant on financial services and – we believe – less vulnerable to the effects of economic downturns. This has long been an objective of our economic development strategy and now it’s being realized. But it also brings changing needs for commercial space, and a requirement to cultivate a workforce with a range of skills to provide all New Yorkers with the opportunity to thrive.

First — we want to provide the foundation that helps growing companies to flourish — which includes access to things like suitable workspace, high speed broadband, and ready access to capital.

Second — the City is investing in specific sectors that have the greatest potential to grow the jobs of tomorrow, but may need our support to nudge the private market.

And, third we want to ensure that New Yorkers from all backgrounds share in economic opportunity by creating and expanding programs that better connect people to jobs and career pathways, and supporting the evolving economy of our industrial areas.

The growth of population and jobs in all five boroughs underscores the need to better plan for bringing people to jobs and jobs to people. This promotes equitable growth, and reduces pressure on our transit infrastructure.

One way we are doing this is by investing more money. Last October, the City committed $2.5 billion, its largest ever contribution, to the 5-year MTA capital plan. In return, we anticipate that the City will have somewhat greater input to the MTA’s planning process.

And, our rezoning of the Vanderbilt Corridor provided an additional $200 million for transit and public realm improvements. Building on the work of the East Midtown Steering Committee led by Council Member Garodnick and Manhattan Borough President Brewer, the rezoning of East Midtown is a top planning priority and we are committed to introducing a proposal into the formal public review process by the end of this year. We will see even more private sector contributions to upgrading our transit infrastructure in the year ahead.

Lastly, we cannot do this alone. This involves the region.

It was not very long ago when the City viewed its relationship with the region as a zero-sum game. We saw ourselves in competition with the region. When we lost a person or a job to the suburbs, the loss was seen as a net loss. And when we gained a person or job from the suburbs, that gain was a net gain. Times and circumstances have changed. The City’s population and jobs are growing and are at all-time highs. The region, for the most part, stagnates. And this weakness in the rest of the region is, in my view, actually a constraint on our continued growth and our quality of life.

In order to be truly competitive in an increasingly competitive world economy, not only New York City but the entire region has to thrive. The bottom line is we and the region are mutually dependent upon each other.  

That is why we have now established a regional planning unit at City Planning to work and plan more closely with our neighbors in Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut. I am fairly certain this is the first time in the United States that a city government has established a regional planning division.

To the extent affordable housing is available elsewhere in the region, it helps relieve the pressure on our residents as well as helping the suburbs thrive. And perhaps most importantly, if we can improve transit connectivity both within the City and throughout the region it will expand economic opportunities for all.  For example, we continue to see increases in commutation into the City, but city residents commuting to jobs outside the region is actually rising at an even faster pace.  Clearly, we all benefit from greater regional cooperation.

And, speaking of not doing it alone, let’s recognize the elephant in the room. The significant decline in Federal discretionary spending as a percentage of its budget to now is at an all-time low. This has particularly affected federal support for housing, requiring the City to step up and help fill the gap.

But despite that, we can face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, and in the incredible things we can do together.

We live in a time of extraordinary change – change that is impacting the way we live, the way we work, indeed, our very planet. It’s change that promises amazing breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families and the social fabric of communities.

It’s change that can broaden opportunity and lengthen life spans, or widen inequality and exclude people from sharing in the City’s success. This change is occurring whether we like it or not.

It’s up to us to find solutions that ease the affordable housing crisis, rise to the challenges posed by climate change and reduce the risks posed by continued poverty and inequity. We owe it to our kids and our grandkids.

New York has been through big changes before – insecurity and depression, the influx of new immigrants from all over the world, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights. Each time, some have told us to fear the future, thinking we could slam the brakes on change. Each time, we overcame those fears. We made change work for us, always extending New York City’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people. And because we did – because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril – we emerged stronger and better than before. Look no further than the recovery of Lower Manhattan, home today to a mix of businesses and residents – a 24/7 thriving community that arose from the ashes of the greatest tragedy in our City’s history.

What was true then can be true now. Our unique strengths as a city – our work ethic and optimism, our diversity and spirit of discovery, our respect for, and willingness to reward talent of all kinds – these give us everything we need to ensure prosperity for generations to come.

I see that spirit in the elderly parents of friends I grew up with in Queens hoping to remain in the same communities in which they raised their young families more than 50 years ago. I see it in their children who remain committed to raising their families here. I see it in newcomers who infuse yet more entrepreneurial talent into the City.            

The challenges we face today are new, but manageable. We won’t always agree on the best path forward.  But we should all agree on the ultimate objective. And, I am confident that, based on how the City has risen to past challenges, we will rise to these as well.