Quick Facts on the SoHo Rezoning
Why do we need more housing?
New York City is in the midst of a profound housing crisis, generations in the making. Between 2010 and 2017, rents rose more than twice as fast as median wages, and homelessness has reached the highest level since the Great Depression. The pandemic may have briefly hit pause on these trends, but they have returned with a vengeance — this August, New York passed San Francisco to become the most expensive city in the country to rent a one-bedroom apartment.
At heart, our housing crisis is fundamentally a housing shortage: fewer homes were built during the past decade than during the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression. This scarcity affects New Yorkers every day: when there are handfuls of people waiting to rent each unit that holds an open house, landlords can pick the highest bidder. Anyone who needs more space, a new neighborhood, or moves to New York City is left hanging out to dry. If we’re going to solve our housing crisis, we need to build a lot more homes.
Why do we need more housing in SoHo in particular?
SoHo and NoHo are great places for more housing. They have excellent transit (the A/C/E, R/W, B/D/F/M, and 6 trains all stop nearby, plus a number of bus lines), access to millions of jobs in Midtown and the Financial District, and are also zoned to attend some of the best-performing elementary and middle schools in the city.
But allowing more construction in SoHo is also a matter of housing equity. Almost half of all new construction in New York is concentrated in just 10 neighborhoods — in either fast-gentrifying neighborhoods like Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Mott Haven, or formerly non-residential neighborhoods, like Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City, and the West Side of Manhattan. By contrast, wealthy neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, Brooklyn Heights, and SoHo build comparably little, and in fact have seen a net loss of homes over the last decade. More equitable development would ask more of these sorts of wealthy, low-growth neighborhoods.
Why do we need a rezoning to build more housing in SoHo?
Every piece of land in New York City is governed by our zoning code, which outlines what can be built on it — zoning regulates both uses (whether commercial, residential, or industrial) and density (how much can be built on a property).
In the 1960s, SoHo and NoHo were designated as manufacturing zones, for only industrial uses, which means that it is illegal to build housing there without going through a convoluted approvals process that would require a vote of the entire City Council. (Bizarrely, the current zoning also forbids retail — despite SoHo’s infamous reputation as a fancy shopping district. Most retail there similarly needs special permits from the City Council to operate.)
This is all to say: SoHo/NoHo is no longer a manufacturing district, and it should be legal to build new housing there — which would require a rezoning to allow residential uses.
Okay, so what is the City’s proposal?
The City has put forth a plan that would legalize housing construction (and retail) in SoHo and NoHo. In addition, it would also allow for increases in density in certain areas to maximize the opportunity for housing in the area, especially on the edges of SoHo and NoHo, which are not located in historic districts, and so would not have to go through extra approvals processes that involve landmarked buildings.
You can see a map of the proposed zoning districts below:
The yellow areas are these “Housing Opportunity” areas, which will see the highest density, the blue are “Corridor” areas, which will see slightly lower increases to density, while the pink “Historic Cores,” largely located within historic districts, will see no density increase.
The City will also be applying its Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) policy, which mandates that developers include income-restricted housing within any new buildings, while allowing them to build taller than they would have otherwise. New market-rate homes, especially in high-demand areas like SoHo and NoHo, can thus cross-subsidize and fund truly affordable housing for households.
Altogether, the City estimates that the rezoning will produce around 3,200 homes, and between 600–900 affordable, depending on the specific levels of affordability chosen by the City Council.
Wouldn’t any new housing in SoHo and NoHo be extremely expensive? How does allowing new construction help?
As new housing has been functionally illegal to build in SoHo and NoHo without special permission, the two neighborhoods have underbuilt for decades. This has shunted demand for housing into all the surrounding neighborhoods, like Chinatown, the East Village, and the Lower East Side, which has pushed up rents and caused displacement. By contrast, allowing more housing (even market-rate housing) in SoHo and NoHo would help to put this process into reverse by meeting demand at its source.
And while new apartments do tend to be more expensive than older ones, this somewhat counterintuitive idea — that new construction puts downward pressure on rents — is firmly backed by academic research. Recent papers such as those by Evan Mast and Xiaodi Li have independently shown that the supply effects of new market-rate housing drive down housing costs in general.
Think of it this way: if the Smiths work in SoHo and want to live nearby, they’d choose to live there if they could. But because there is not enough new housing for them to rent in SoHo, they look in the nearby Lower East Side for housing, driving up demand — and thus prices — there, in a neighborhood with far more New Yorkers at risk of displacement than current SoHo residents.
In addition to these benefits of new housing, the city’s MIH policy guarantees that any new market-rate apartments will also come with hundreds of homes that are affordable to working New Yorkers and rented through the City’s affordable housing lottery, as noted above. So if you’re a supporter of housing affordability, from any angle, the rezoning is well worth supporting. (And especially so if you live in any of the neighborhoods surrounding SoHo!)
Are there any issues with the City’s proposal?
Yes, there are two chief issues. First, the city’s rezoning proposal allows for commercial development that is similarly dense to residential development. SoHo and NoHo are themselves the densest job cluster in the city outside of the Financial District and Midtown, and if the City’s proposal passes unamended, it is likely that developers may choose to build office space instead of mixed-income housing, as office developments would not have to cross-subsidize any sort of community benefit, like affordable housing. The City should amend its plans so housing is prioritized over office space.
Second, up until now, 50 percent of new affordable apartments built in New York City have been first offered to residents of local community districts. For new housing in SoHo and NoHo (if new housing were allowed), this would mean that preference would be given to residents of Manhattan Community District 2. Unfortunately, this community district, which includes Greenwich Village, the West Village, SoHo, is disproportionately white and wealthy compared to the rest of New York City. The community preference should be expanded for this rezoning to allow those not already living in the exclusive neighborhood to benefit from the addition of new homes. Options for expanding the community preference could include Council District 1 (which includes areas south and east of SoHo like the Lower East Side and Chinatown) or people who work in the rezoning area (like SoHo’s retail workers, very few of whom can afford to live near where they work).
If you think those changes ought to be made, you should email local council members Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera and let them know — you can reach their teams at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org respectively.
Who else supports rezoning SoHo?
Many New Yorkers and activist groups! The City’s plan did not come out of nowhere, but has followed years of campaigning from our organization, Open New York, and a broad showing of support from citywide affordable housing, anti-displacement, and fair housing groups. The rezoning was endorsed by almost all the major Democratic candidates for Mayor, including the eventual winner, Eric Adams, who recently reiterated his support on a New York Times podcast. Similarly, the rezoning has been welcomed by the editorial boards of the New York Times, New York Daily News, and the New York Post, in a deep demonstration of civic support.
How can I get involved?
First, you ought to email your council member in support of the rezoning — especially if you live in Lower Manhattan. City Council Members Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera will be the chief deciders on the rezoning, and the plan will have to pass through the City Council.
You likely live in Margaret Chin’s district if you live in Manhattan, and south of Washington Square Park: Chinatown, the Lower East Side, the Financial District, Battery Park City, NoHo, SoHo, Little Italy, Civic Center, South Street Seaport, the South Village or Tribeca. You can email CM Chin at email@example.com.
You likely live in Carlina Rivera’s district if you live on the East Side of Manhattan, south of Kips Bay, down to Essex Crossing: the East Village, Lower East Side, Kips Bay, Gramercy, Murray Hill, and Rose Hill. You can email CM Rivera at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beyond emailing your council member, you can also help support the rezoning by attending the hearings in the approvals process and testifying in support, as well as more generally helping to spread the word to your friends and neighbors. You can sign up for our mailing list on our website, opennewyork.city — we’ll make sure to keep you aware of the next steps in the process, more volunteer opportunities to support the rezoning, as well as other events and opportunities to support housing across the city.
If you have any further questions — feel free to reach out! You can email us at email@example.com, follow us on Twitter at @OpenNYForAll, or call us at 646–583–0561. The best way to get involved is to join us, and fight for housing!