“Gowanus is a critical example, but there are other mixed-income projects with much needed affordable housing comprising thousands more apartments across the city—many in high opportunity communities, and all of which were duly approved through the city’s land-use process—that need the deadline extended in order to happen.”
In 2021, after more than decade of community discussion about the future of Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood, the New York City Council approved a rezoning of the area through the public land-use process, paving the way for a planned 8,500 new apartments, including nearly 3,000 affordable homes.
The July 2021 Gowanus Neighborhood Plan: Racial Equity Report on Housing and Opportunity by the NYC Council Land Use Division, with support from Columbia University Professor Lance Freeman, found that the addition of these affordable homes, amid a deepening housing crisis, would affirmatively further fair housing and make the largely white and well-off area more diverse and less segregated.
Those plans, which also include space for local manufacturers and artists, infrastructure improvements, upland environmental cleanups and over 18 acres of new waterfront parks and open space along a cleaned-up Gowanus Canal, are now in serious jeopardy. The state legislature, which talks often about wanting to address the housing crisis, can save them.
Here’s why: like much of the mixed-income rental housing built in New York City over the last decade, the rental housing planned for Gowanus is reliant on the use of a now-expired tax abatement called 421-a, which, when coupled with the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) requirements, provide developers with a tax abatement for the construction of permanently affordable housing. Units created through MIH and/or 421-a are also rent regulated, providing important protections to tenants.
But 421-a came with a 2026 deadline to complete the projects that utilized it. In Gowanus, 2,000 out of the 3,000 affordable units will be created through MIH and need more time because of delays resulting from challenges like site environmental cleanup requirements, preparation of infrastructure improvements, the need to secure financing in a tight market or lingering staffing and supply-chain issues as we recover from the pandemic.
It’s up to the legislature to extend that deadline until 2030 prior to the end of legislative session in Albany on June 8. To ensure that the 421-a units needing the extension better align with housing need, requiring permanent and deeper affordability of the new units should be included in the extension.
Gowanus is a critical example, but there are other mixed-income projects with much needed affordable housing comprising thousands more apartments across the city—many in high opportunity communities, and all of which were duly approved through the city’s land-use process—that need the deadline extended in order to happen. From Astoria to Williamsburg, those projects, too, need the legislature to act.
The New York Housing Conference, Fifth Avenue Committee and other advocates have been calling on our government partners to ensure each community does its fair share to address our affordable housing crisis, to build affordable housing outside of low-income neighborhoods to combat segregation and provide opportunities for thousands of families hoping to live in areas long unavailable to them.
In higher income neighborhoods, where land costs are more expensive, MIH coupled with a tax incentive is our main tool for producing affordable rental housing. The legislature has a chance to ensure the benefits of MIH are delivered to future renters.
Back in Gowanus, the decade-plus of extensive community dialogue and progress would, in many ways, be for naught without the state legislature taking action to extend the 421-a completion deadline before June 8. Now is not the time, after years of community discussion and a lengthy public review, to throw up yet another roadblock.
The state legislature talks about a housing crisis. There are broader housing and tenant protection bills requiring action in Albany too, but it is unclear whether there is a path forward on those in the final two weeks of session.
The facts on this are clear, and the legislature has a golden opportunity to be an active part of the solution in Gowanus and all around the city by extending the construction completion deadline – a policy decision that would reverberate for thousands of New Yorkers in need of affordable housing for decades to come. The time to act is now.
Michelle de la Uz is the executive director of Fifth Avenue Committee, which is based in Gowanus and dedicated to advancing economic, social and racial justice in New York City. Rachel Fee is the executive director of the New York Housing Conference, which works to advance city, state and federal policies and funding to support the development and preservation of decent and affordable housing for all New Yorkers.