Transfer NYCHA Air Rights?
As winter approaches and temperatures dip below freezing, New York City's public housing population – roughly the size of Boston – continue to face the uncertainty of how the city will fund the Housing Authority's $30+ billion in needed repairs, including heating, elevators, lead, pests, and mold. (The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) offers housing for lower-income New Yorkers – the average rent is currently $533 a month with a waitlist of over 180,000 families.)
In a recent Gotham Gazette op-ed, Professor Nicholas Bloom advocates for transferring air rights from NYCHA developments for cash, as proposed by @Regionalplan. With a simple zoning amendment, NYCHA could raise up to $8 billion for repairs by selling off-air rights. Previously the city has tried to fund NYCHA's deficit by leasing public housing land to private developers (infill development) which has been politically unsuccessful. Bloom explains that transferring development rights would allow NYCHA to defer these attempts at infill development, preserving some of the city's last open spaces. But this solution does not address the low density of NYCHA superblocks which contain more than 75% open space.
Bloom points to recent rezonings, such as East Midtown, that have allowed air rights transfers for commercial development:
"It is hard, moreover, to have much empathy for city residents and their elected officials resistant to finding alternative funding sources for NYCHA. It is true that Mayor de Blasio has committed unprecedented local funds to NYCHA, but the City of New York has found much more additional money for generous labor contracts, ferries, new jails, and bike paths, while allowing NYCHA residents to face another winter with very old boilers."
Should open space on public housing developments be preserved or developed? Or should the city transfer those development rights for cash? Whatever the solution, it is time for the city to get serious about renovating and preserving the city's public housing stock.