For New Yorkers who have spent decades trying to navigate the city’s housing market, it’s a small comfort to know that not even city planners can make sense of the city’s web of zoning policies. But this is nothing compared with the comfort that landlords feel, safe in the knowledge that they’ve used zoning to game the system. The tax breaks, rent-control laws and building restrictions that make up zoning codes in many major cities require lawyers to decipher. And whether by design or in effect, a housing regime that is intelligible only to highly trained professionals is one that spells endless power for owners and endless misery for tenants. Zoning codes must be simplified — quickly, radically and without mercy.
Even the Astoria Cove example is more complicated than it seems. The City Planning Department’s map mishap involves an arcane provision known as 421-a, which exempts developers from a number of property taxes for 25 years. As Crain’s New York notes, “In some parts of the city, developers can get this break with no strings attached. In other parts, where building residential is more lucrative, developers have to dedicate 20 percent of their apartments to households making below 60 percent of the area median income.” ….