Housing Not High-Rises Op-Ed for NY Times

We submitted this essay in response to They’re Starting a New York ‘Housing League.’ NIMBYs Not Allowed., Mihir Zaveri, 2/14/24. The New York Times declined to publish it, so we can publish it here.

In Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn, Housing Not High-Rises is a community organization of renters and homeowners fighting in favor of building housing that would preserve the existing stock of rent-stabilized and affordable housing in the neighborhood. We are working towards a solution that provides housing on the site Arrow Linen is preparing to sell, that does not displace current residents.  

We hope for the support of those we have elected to represent us in finding a more comprehensive, equitable and sustainable solution to the city’s housing crisis, rather than an illegal spot zoning designed to enrich an individual landowner. The Adams Administration is certifying City of Yes for Housing Opportunity, proposing to “create a little more housing in every neighborhood.”  Vishaan Chakrabarti has published a plan to house a million more New Yorkers “without radically changing the character of the city’s neighborhoods.”  These types of comprehensive, city-wide efforts can move the needle in this housing crisis.

Unfortunately, under the pressure of current circumstances, communities are now being railroaded into accepting board-clearing changes more than anytime since the era of Robert Moses’ top-down urban renewals. As we’re learning here in Windsor Terrace, without a collective voice, existing contextual zoning guidelines enacted less than 20 years ago are just temporary; place-holders until market conditions are ripe for a bountiful harvest. This money-making scheme is aided by the current political climate eager to score ‘progressive’ bona fides and abetted by organized real estate interests.  

In August 2023, Arrow Linen Supply Company in Brooklyn, a long-time neighborhood fixture,  filed a spot zoning application which would enable their property to be built to over four times the size allowed by current zoning.  Arrow Linen is not seeking to develop the property itself, but intends to sell it to a developer as they close this site and leave the neighborhood.  The community welcomes housing on this site, and would prefer affordable housing. Under the proposal, the small percentage of mandatory inclusionary housing required would neither be affordable for the workers at Arrow Linen, nor would they offset the loss of the 59 rent-stabilized and other affordable apartments that would be in jeopardy should this application be approved.

Approving this proposal as submitted would create a citywide precedent for speculators to purchase buildings, apply for spot zoning of their properties, and displace current tenants to build more luxury high-rises. 

As noted in New York State’s Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan, spot zoning is illegal when “the change is other than part of a well-considered and comprehensive plan calculated to serve the general welfare of the community.” Arrow Linen’s application clearly benefits an individual landowner who has already taken advantage of the community; operating a commercial enterprise in a residential zone with the continued support of the neighborhood, and participating in a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program that has saved them millions of dollars in taxes over more than 20 years, which the rest of the city has paid for.

At a recent neighbor’s meeting on the block where Arrow Linen’s property is located, long-time tenants who had moved to this neighborhood from other parts of Brooklyn shared their concerns.  A former Greenpoint resident noted that when his neighborhood was rezoned in 2005, community members were concerned that luxury high-rises would be built and that existing residents would be displaced.  That is precisely what happened then, and is what the neighbors of Arrow Linen are concerned about now.