Manhattan Borough President Levine, Officials Target FAR Cap Blocking Housing

March 20, 2024

A coalition of Manhattan officials and housing advocates, led by Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, held a press conference today on the steps of City Hall.

Calling on Governor Hochul and the State legislature to eliminate the outdated 12 Floor Area Ratio (FAR) cap in the FY25 state budget agreement.

The 12 FAR cap restricts the amount of buildable space within residential developments, requiring that buildings be no more than 12 times the size of their lots. 

“This law is a relic of another era,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “It was created in 1961 when, astonishingly, the City was worried about too much housing being developed and not enough offices. We have the opposite situation today. It’s time to lift the cap.”

Advocates point out that over 1,000 buildings in Manhattan alone, built before the cap’s implementation, would not be possible today. These buildings include iconic landmarks such as The Eldorado and 825th 5th Avenue, highlighting the cap’s restrictive impact on the city’s development potential.

The cap also creates challenges for both new construction and office-to-residential conversions, as is the case with the Site K near the Javits Center.  While a new building at the site could rise as many as 60 floors, only half could be used for housing due to the FAR cap.

Lifting the 12 FAR cap is a crucial step in fixing NYC’s housing affordability crisis.  This move follows a letter from BP Levine, Manhattan City Council Members, and housing and labor advocates to Governor Hochul, Majority Leader Stewart Cousins, Speaker Heastie, calling to lift the 12 FAR Cap.

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The push to eliminate the 12 FAR cap has earned widespread support from the Manhattan City Council delegation ––including Council Members Shaun Abreu, Erik Bottcher, Carlina Rivera, Keith Powers, Julie Menin, Diana Ayala, and Yusef Salaam–– as well as housing and labor advocacy groups.

“The FAR cap that only applies to residential buildings is a relic from a time when they thought too much housing was getting built,” said Council Member Erik Bottcher. “Our city’s future depends on adapting to modern needs, and lifting this restriction will unlock opportunities for much-needed housing. I stand with Borough President Mark Levine and my colleagues and calling for its elimination.”

“Do you want to know why your rent is so high and homeownership is a distant fantasy? Because New York City doesn’t have enough housing for everybody who lives here. Where there’s scarcity, there’s going to be price gouging, and New Yorkers are all trying to buy the last gallon of water in a drought. We need the state to lift the FAR cap so that we can build enough housing for all New Yorkers to live with dignity. Thank you to Borough President Levine for continuing his fight for affordable housing and making our voice heard in Albany,” said Council Member Shaun Abreu.

“… affordable housing should be required …”

“Regional Plan Association has been in favor of allowing more mixed-income housing to be built within the urban core by lifting the Floor Area Ratio cap, an outdated State law that restricts residential buildings to a FAR of 12. Repealing the FAR cap would be a significant step to deliver more types of housing that New Yorkers desperately need. We estimate that if the cap is removed, and high-rise neighborhoods are mapped with inclusionary zoning, New York City could unlock over 30,000 units of income-restricted housing,” said Marcel Negret, Senior Planner at Regional Plan Association.  “Repealing this law would finally allow the City to decide for itself how much residential floor area buildings could have and how much new affordable housing should be required on future development sites. This is especially important as we consider the implications of office vacancies and the opportunity that office-to-residential conversions present to us. Albany must act accordingly.”

“Lifting the FAR cap is an important step toward creating a more affordable Manhattan, especially in the borough’s most well-connected and wealthiest neighborhoods,” said Annemarie Gray, Executive Director of Open New York. “Every neighborhood has a role to play in solving our housing affordability crisis, but many parts of Manhattan with the best access to jobs and transit in the nation have added little or no housing opportunities in the last decade. Reforming these outdated rules will pave the way for the City to create more affordable opportunities for working-class New Yorkers to live in Manhattan’s most centrally located neighborhoods.”

New York State‘s 12 FAR cap on New York City is a potent reminder that local control of land use is not sacrosanct,” said Alex Armlovich, Senior Housing Policy Analyst at the Niskanen Center. “Zoning is a constitutional power of the state delegated to localities as a revocable privilege, subject to state guardrails. When Albany imposed the 12 FAR preemption on NYC in 1961, it reflected Albany’s judgment that the general welfare of the state as a whole would be served by suppressing growth in the city to encourage suburbanization.

Today’s circumstances obviously differ from 1961: We now face a housing shortage in the core of the city, and we need to restore both subway ridership and the economic dynamism of Manhattan–yet the old state cap on the city’s growth remains. It’s time to update Albany’s long tradition of zoning preemption for the 21st century to support economic growth, not suppress it.”

“… new housing in New York City is the solution, not the problem.”

“Albany ties the hands of New York City’s elected officials to allow housing at higher densities. Only housing. Only in New York City,” said Howard Slatkin, Executive Director of Citizens Housing and Planning Council. “It should be a no-brainer to remove archaic restrictions that prevent our elected leaders from responding to our urgent housing shortage. It’s time for New York State law to recognize that new housing in New York City is the solution, not the problem.”

“Amid a historic housing and affordability crisis, our government leaders must do everything in their power to increase housing creation throughout the City of New York,” said Brendan Cheney, Director of Policy and Operations at the New York Housing Conference. “The current residential 12 Floor Area Ratio (FAR) cap was put in place decades ago to slow the creation of new housing. It’s time that the Governor and State Legislature meet the moment and put an end to this impediment by eliminating the residential 12 FAR cap in the FY25 budget. Housing density should be determined by zoning, not by a restrictive and outdated State law.”

NYC’s Housing Crisis: Why the 12 FAR Cap Must Go

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