The New York City Affordable Housing Competition, sponsored by Bee Breeders Competition Organizers in 2017, asked participants to consider the consequences that market forces combined with ever-dwindling developable real estate opportunities is having on the affordable housing market in New York City today. As the city's population continues to grow in 'parallel with disparate inequality and inflationary real estate,' the city is on a path to a housing crisis. This ideas-competition sought creative solutions from architects, designers, students, and thinkers.
Based on our extensive experience working on housing in the city, we collectively felt that we had a unique perspective on the issue that we could bring to bear on this challenge. The opportunity that we saw was to rethink historic townhouse neighborhoods that have long been considered sacred territory and have thus been left relatively unchanged since they were built.
The creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965 has been critical in preserving the physical historic character of New York City. One consequence of this legislation and ensuing regulation though has been to limit the density of landmark designated neighborhoods because of all of the restrictions on new building and modifications to existing buildings. While market forces and zoning restrictions have been shaping the rest of the city over the decades since to accommodate a growing population, these neighborhoods have been left largely untouched by the engine of large scale development. Historic townhouse neighborhoods today appear pretty much the same as they were in 1965; they have become islands. And what’s more, as the value of the properties within these areas continues to increase, it is reasonable to assume that this trend will only intensify into the foreseeable future until only very sparse populations reside in large pockets of land.
Our proposal is a way to unlock under utilized FAR in these neighborhoods to accommodate vast amounts of affordable housing without compromising the historic qualities that are so synonymous with New York City. In order to do this we are proposing policy changes to encourage existing home owners to open their doors to individuals eligible for affordable housing in exchange for certain construction privileges. What this would effectively do is to promote more efficient use of existing space by dispersing affordable housing over wide swaths of under utilized urban fabric rather than concentrating it new buildings that might only be a temporary solutions to a growing problem. It is a way of achieving greater density without building more and spending more and continuing to perpetuate the cycle.