Making Room: Meeting New York’s Housing Demands

Making Room: Meeting New York’s Housing Demands

October 07, 2011 at 11:34 am

Where: Japan Society of New York, 333 East 47th Street
When: Nov. 7, 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Urban Omnibus.

New York City has a remarkably diverse population and, in many respects, a remarkably heterogeneous housing stock to provide it shelter. From Riverdale to Tottenville, Flushing to Chelsea, Washington Heights to Jackson Heights to Brooklyn Heights, New Yorkers inhabit an amazing spectrum of residential building types, developed and accumulated over the history of the city. At many critical junctures over the last century and a half, New York City has been an innovative leader in housing regulation and finance, encouraging and shaping development to ensure that dwellings are safe and respond to evolving standards of livability.

But even with the great resources of its varied housing stock and its strong tradition of housing advocacy and reform, New York has a hard time producing enough housing to meet demand. And in moments of economic and social transition, housing supply and housing need can get seriously out of whack.


In the video above, Citizens Housing & Planning Council Executive Director Jerilyn Perine (who was formerly the commissioner of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development), Architectural League Executive Director Rosalie Genevro, Chhaya Community Development Corporation Executive Director Seema Agnani and Blesso Properties President and Founder Matthew Blesso discuss the state of the city’s housing. Video courtesy of UrbanOmnibus

Over the last several years, the Citizens Housing & Planning Council (CHPC) has been researching and analyzing how and where New York’s residents live and the housing that is available to them. Their findings have revealed many discrepancies between the kinds of houses and apartments people need and those they can find.

The organization has identified New York City’s accreted mass of housing regulations and standards — all created with progressive and worthy goals in mind — as one of the factors that contributes to this mismatch. For example, regulations have tilted what the housing market produces towards larger units, for households assumed to be “families,” even though only 17 percent of New York’s dwelling units are occupied by traditional nuclear families. A huge underground or improvised housing market has developed over the last two decades as people try, often in desperation, to find places to live that are affordable and can accommodate their particular needs.

Around the world, architects, developers and policymakers are responding to the shifting demands of urban dwellers with new forms of housing in ways New York is not. In 2009, the Citizens Housing & Planning Council brought architects from Tokyo, Barcelona, San Diego, Montreal and Leipzig to New York for a landmark symposium (read coverage of that event here) that introduced an audience of housing experts from design, development, law, policy and government to the vanguard of housing design for 21st century cities.

This symposium was part of a broader project — called “Making Room” — to take a fresh look at how housing and space standards constrict the choices architects and developers are able to introduce into New York’s housing market. To move that project forward, CHPC asked the Architectural League to join with them to carry out a design study to produce new models for comfortable, desirable dwellings. Four teams of leading New York architects, each with expertise and a particular perspective, have been asked to respond to this challenge.

On Monday, November 7, the architects and their teams — Stan Allen and Rafi SegalDeborah GansPeter Gluck; and Jonathan Kirschenfeld — will present their ideas in an all-day symposium. This event is only one part of a much larger research and advocacy project that will include exhibiting these designs publicly and identifying what laws and codes currently on the books are preventing new modes of residential living from becoming available.