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How Bloomberg Changed New York Real Estate

The New York City skyline has the three-term mayor's name written all over it; find out how he made the magic happen

While the mayoral race heats up in New York City (the primary elections are scheduled for September 10th), it’s time to look back at Mayor Bloomberg‘s effect on the city during his 12 years in office. He left a huge impression in the real estate world, and the NYC skyline dramatically transformed under his term. That’s because he encouraged new development through tax incentives, rezoned nearly 40 percent of the city and ultimately oversaw the construction of 40,000 new buildings since he took office.

The interactive New York Times feature “The Bloomberg Years: Reshaping New York” best illustrates the dramatic changes to real estate in the city (nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2013/08/18/reshaping-new-york). As the Times notes, Mayor Bloomberg encouraged new construction in “new aeries for the rich in Manhattan to disappearing vacant lots in the South Bronx.” In 2010 alone the city added 170,000 new housing units across all five boroughs. The neighborhoods with the most development were downtown Manhattan, the west side of Manhattan, central Harlem, Long Island City, north Brooklyn and the south Bronx.

New residential towers in Williamsburg

Thanks to rezoning, new condo towers now loom over the warehouses along the Williamsburg waterfront . (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

These new housing units didn’t just pop up out of thin air. The increase in housing was largely due to Bloomberg rezoning many neighborhoods of New York. Rezoning allows for higher density developments, oftentimes in neighborhoods that were previously zoned for manufacturing or for modest residential buildings. A prime example is the 2005 rezoning of Williamsburg, a neighborhood formerly filled with warehouses and manufacturing buildings. The rezoning allowed for residential towers, which now dominate the Williamsburg waterfront. The neighborhood, once known for its industry, is now better known for shiny, pricey condo developments. Bloomberg also rezoned the west side of Manhattan to allow the massive Hudson Yards development. He rezoned Hunters Point, on the Queens waterfront, which prompted the development of a dozen new condo buildings boasting views of Manhattan.

Some rezoning actually protected smaller-scale neighborhoods — this is known as “down zoning.” Under Bloomberg’s term, the city down zoned areas of the Rockaways to protect the bungalow neighborhoods. The city also down zoned historic areas of Bedford-Stuyvesant to protect the low-rising brownstone streets. But the majority of Bloomberg’s zoning decisions were to encourage residential and commercial growth. In total, Bloomberg proposed 120 rezonings, all of which were approved by the City Council.

Along with rezoning, Bloomberg offered developers incentives and tax breaks to include affordable housing in their new rising residential towers. But it soon became clear that there just wasn’t enough affordable housing to go around. Some New Yorkers complained that the new residential towers priced lower-income residents out. The Times analyzed the rezoning of Hunters Point, Queens, where “population is up 2,000, but 600 poor people have left.” In other cases, such as the rezoning of Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, longtime residents were forced out so developers could build a new sports arena. The growing number of new pricey condo buildings, and the steadily increasing price of a New York City apartment, started to weigh on many New Yorkers. The Occupy Wall Street Movement heavily criticized Bloomberg for the lack of affordable housing in the city.

Looking toward the polls, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a critic of Bloomberg’s development policies, has surged ahead. Christine Quinn, an early favorite who is now lagging behind, is often criticized for her similarities to Bloomberg. But no matter who is elected, Bloomberg’s legacy of immense growth is etched into the city for good.

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