When Taller Buildings Don’t Mean More Density

Some New York City developers are building low-density luxury high-rises that, in some cases, have fewer units than the buildings they replaced.

1 minute read

September 27, 2022, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Building Heights and Step-Backs

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High-rises are often touted as a solution for the housing crisis, as they can replace low-density housing with potentially hundreds of new units. However, a trend emerging in Manhattan shows developers doing the opposite. Writing in the New York Times, Stefanos Chen describes how some developers are building high-rise towers with fewer units than the buildings they replaced.

“Urban planners say the developers are squandering the precious few sites left in Manhattan’s high-density neighborhoods, where substantially more units could be built,” Chen writes. 

Chen points to several projects that are well below their allowable number of units, opting instead for fewer, larger, and more expensive apartments. “Such projects have a cumulative effect. From 2010 to 2020, the Upper East Side lost more housing units than any other community district in the city, primarily through the combination of smaller apartments and demolitions, according to the Department of City Planning.”

Housing advocates say the city and state should do more to bar this type of development and require builders to include affordable housing, such as renewing an incentive program that expired in June or eliminating density limits and mandating below-market units.

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