Up From the Ruins: Why Rezoning New York City's Manufacturing Areas for Housing Makes Sense

Publication Date: January 2009

Publisher: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. Center for Rethinking Development

Author(s): Tina Lund; Regina Armstrong

Research Area: Economics; Environment; Government; Social conditions

Keywords: housing; rezoning; new york city

Type: Report

Coverage: New York


Because New York City has space for 500,000 more manufacturing jobs than actually exist, we propose to rezone some of this manufacturing space for housing and for mixed use. By rezoning the five areas suggested in this report, the city would increase its tax revenues, raise its employment rate, and substantially alleviate its long-standing housing crisis.

These proposed changes are long overdue. Though industrial employment in New York City has been declining for nearly half a century, the city's zoning ordinance continues to reserve some 22,500 acres for industrial development. As a result, roughly 15 percent of all parcel-land area is slated for a mere 6 percent of the city's economy. The profusion of derelict properties in manufacturing (M-zoned) areas, especially along the waterfront, attests to the scandalous waste of this valuable space.

This space is increasingly valuable because the city's population has grown - and will continue to grow. If New York is to provide adequate housing for its projected population growth, the current rate of construction (25,000 new housing units a year) must continue for two decades. Vacant residential (R-zoned) land can meet only half this demand, however; thus, the urgent need for rezoning.

In this study, we offer detailed proposals for rezoning one area in each of the city's five boroughs:

Sherman Creek/Inwood, Manhattan
Bronx Terminal Market to Bruckner South Expansion, Bronx
Dutch Kills, Queens
Red Hook/Gowanus Canal area, Brooklyn
North Shore, Staten Island
Redevelopment in just these five areas would:

Yield capacity for 64,700 to 86,200 housing units, representing two to three years' supply in the search for housing sites.
Increase property-tax revenues from $0.8 to $1.1 billion.
Increase Gross City Product by 1.9 to 2.7 percent and temporary employment by 1.1 to 1.5 percent. Thereafter, permanent jobs associated with the new developments would conservatively equal half of the employment currently existing on site.
The plans presented here are practical. Our recommendations are carefully crafted for congruity with Mayor Bloomberg's housing and waterfront policies, as well as with recent area-wide rezoning initiatives, such as the Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning proposal. If implemented, the rezonings proposed in these pages will be a great and enduring gift to the city's workforce, its treasury, and to the quality of life of its residents.