The Case For Lifting The FAR Cap

Accessibility. It drives the price of our apartments and our office space in New York City. The shorter your commute to neighborhoods with a lot of jobs, or a good school, the more your rent. That means amenities like proximity to transit, a walkable community or being zoned for a highly ranked school, which play a huge role in economic opportunity, physical and mental health, are often out of reach for less wealthy New Yorkers.

Mayor de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program is tremendous step forward towards creating more affordable housing New York City. But right now MIH is rarely triggered in neighborhoods that have access to these types of amenities.

But what if there was a way to add more housing across a range of price points to neighborhoods in the city that already have the infrastructure to support it?

RPA’s latest report, “Creating more affordable housing in New York City’s high-rise area: The case for lifting the FAR cap,” shows a way to do just that.

The report finds that there are many high-rise neighborhoods in New York with the infrastructure and amenities to support more housing. Areas in Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn and even Long Island City all have the capability to support more affordable housing, diversify neighborhoods and expand opportunity for mixed-income development.

It all hinges on the State Legislature repealing a 67-year-old law that limits “floor area ratio” (or FAR) at 12.0.

Some worry that repealing the FAR cap would lead to behemoth buildings sprouting up where they don’t belong.  But repealing the FAR cap would be just the first step in a process that would give local communities more control over their zoning and land use. Developers who want to build bigger buildings would still be subject to ULURP and other local planning requirements.

Along with repealing the FAR cap, RPA also recommends:

  • Ensure good design. The City has the ability to put into place specific design guidelines that will serve as a baseline for new developments. Working with planning and architectural professionals, issues around height, open space and appearance can be handled proactively.
  • Require properly sized apartments. Lifting the FAR cap should allow for an increase in the number of sizeable apartments built by the City zoning code. Instead of larger, luxury apartments that provide less housing, a certain zoning code would require that more smaller apartments to impact more dwellers.
  • Engage in proactive planning. Transparency and active communication with identified neighborhoods will be key in order for this process to be success. The re-zoning for mixed-income housing in East Harlem is a great example of how the community planning process could be modeled.

Click here to read the report in its entirety.

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