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Sunnyside Yards Master Plan Promises Many New Affordable Housing Units

WILL WALKEY, HOST: New York City just proposed a new plan that would be the largest affordable housing project since the 1970s. It’s called the Sunnyside Yards Master Plan, and it calls for a deck over current Amtrak train yards so strong that the City would be able to build on top of it - Think Hudson Yards. This plan will cost almost 15 billion dollars and promises to provide 12,000 units of affordable housing. Previous projects of this magnitude have failed to live up to similar promises.

I spoke to Charles McNally, Director of External Affairs at New York University’s Furman Center. He says this plan has the potential to succeed where others failed.

CHARLES MCNALLY, DIRECTOR OF EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, FURMAN CENTER: I think what EDC...New York City’s Economic Development Corporation has tried to do here is a sort of shoot the moon approach. There’s been a lot of opposition to development in diverse neighborhoods across New York City, and I think that this planning document is an attempt to really respond to a lot of the concerns that communities have addressed...have put forward….infrastructure, affordable housing, transportation, education. It seems like they’re trying to propose something really comprehensive that gets ahead of a lot of those concerns.

WALKEY: Do you think this plan can be effective?

MCNALLY: The question with a plan of this scale is always, when talking about deeply subsidized affordable housing, when talking about massive infrastructure investment and projects is how the financing comes together. And there’s no question that what’s proposed here represents an enormous level of resources to bring to fruition. So, where that comes from and whether it’s realistic to pull that together. That’s what neighborhood residents and planners need to think about. But there’s no question that it’s a visionary document. The affordability commitments are as large as anything we’ve seen in decades. So, there’s a lot of potential to address housing need here.

WALKEY: How would an affordable project like this affect the existing housing and neighborhoods in the surrounding area?

MCNALLY: That’s a really interesting question. I mean ultimately, adding housing takes pressure off the existing housing stock. Adding housing at any level of affordability, whether it’s market rate or subsidized affordable, that’s the impact on the local neighborhoods, to take pressure off of those housing markets.

WALKEY: When I look at this plan, and I think when a lot of people potentially in opposition to Sunnyside Yards look at this plan, they see something and they think Hudson Yards. Something that initially was supposed to include more affordable housing, but for whatever reason hasn’t happened yet. How do you think this plan differs from some of the other massive housing projects that the city has undertaken in recent years, particularly Hudson Yards?

McNally: You know, I can see why people find that a compelling analogy, because it’s also built over a rail yard. But given what this document lays out it seems to me that the city is going in a very different direction with this project, so I hope they don’t get too conflated in the public mind and public imagination. I mean, one key difference I believe is that developers -- related companies -- paid to deck the Hudson Yards over, and of course as a result they wanted to see some return on that massive, massive investment. So that’s why I mentioned earlier that the financing is really going to be a key detail of how this develops. While Hudson Yards is in some way a very obvious parallel, there are some key differences, at least at the outset, between how that project was conceived and how this is being conceived.

Walkey: Charles, thank you so much for talking with me.

McNally: Thanks. Happy to help.


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