BY AUSTIN CELESTIN | Former City Councilmember Margaret Chin and former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legislative grand finale was the passage of the Soho/Noho neighborhood plan in December 2021. While housing advocates lauded the rezoning for finally forcing Soho to play its role in solving the housing crisis, many others were wary of the potential outcomes that the rezoning would bring.
But alongside the rezoning, Chin left a parting gift for the rezoning’s skeptics: a formal commitment to build housing at 388 Hudson St.
The publicly owned lot was a popular suggestion by opponents of the Soho rezoning and supporters of the Elizabeth Street Garden as an alternative to the rezoning and the proposed affordable senior L.G.B.T.Q.+ development Haven Green. While they wanted the Hudson Street project to replace either proposal, Chin saw it as a supplement to those developments. Two years later, with Haven Green and the Soho rezoning both clearing major legal hurdles, the vision for 388 Hudson St. is coming to fruition and has entered the land-use limelight. Its completion cannot come any sooner.
Community Board 2 has been one of the worst community districts in the city at producing housing, with parcels of the neighborhood having even seen a net loss of housing in recent years. Decades of this status quo have culminated in the district becoming one of the most expensive in the city (which was the ultimate catalyst for de Blasio’s rezoning). There is no more room for debate — the area needs to approve the construction of more new housing — lots of it.
Just by itself, 388 Hudson St. would result in a seismic shift in housing development patterns in the neighborhood, providing exponentially more housing than the West Village has built in more than a decade. Hundreds of new working- and middle-class families will enjoy the jobs, schools, transportation access, walkability and neighborhood amenities that have remained a privilege for a neighborhood that is nearly 80 percent white with a median income of $150,000.
What’s even better about the development is that it has grown in scale from its inception. When Chin green-lighted the site for development, the original proposal called for around 100 units. Last week, the city outlined four potential development scenarios, the tallest of which could rise to 35 stories. The housing unit count remains unspecified, but any of these proposals could double or even triple the original 100 units proposed. The city has expressed a desire to max out the development potential, echoing calls from C.B. 2 from earlier this year, which has only improved the project.
But even with the objective and overdue benefits, there are still detractors. Village Preservation is at the forefront of the opposition, hoping to see this scheme get rejected and replaced by a plan with, as it puts it, “respectful scale + height.” In a housing crisis as bad as ours, with a neighborhood that has built a negligible amount of housing for decades, clamoring for respectful scale and height with a 100 percent affordable development is unacceptable. The city has spent six decades centering context and character, and that focus is partially responsible for the situation we are in today. Not only have the stringent restrictions on development resulted in stratospheric housing costs in the community district, but the lack of development has contributed to decades of gentrification in neighboring communities like the East Village and the Lower East Side.
What Village Preservation is seeking will reduce the affordable housing. Additionally, with the structural access to Water Tunnel No. 3 restricting the amount of developable land, a reconfiguration of the building’s massing and height will only exacerbate this reduction. A neighborhood that has failed to provide adequate housing for decades is in no position to be demanding a downsizing.
(It’s also worth mentioning that 388 Hudson will not be the tallest building in Greenwich Village as Village Preservation’s Andrew Berman suggested — it won’t even be the tallest building in a one-quarter-mile radius: 570 Washington St. is rising just two blocks away and will reach a peak height of 450 feet.)
Furthermore, the preservation group’s claims regarding only 30-year affordability are shaky at best. It certainly is in our interest to ensure long-term affordability. Right now, the regulatory agreements are still up in the air, as per the e-mail Village Preservation falsely claimed confirmed its claims. However, since the city is pursuing an upzoning, up to 45 percent of the units at 388 Hudson will have to remain permanently affordable, as suggested by NYC Housing, Preservation & Development’s Twitter account. In a maximized development, that 45 percent alone would still exceed the original proposal for this site and would be significantly more than what the area has contributed for years.
Affordability through reg agreement lasts for min 60 yrs and 45% of homes guaranteed in perpetuity through MIH. Additionally, the City can repossess the site if developer does not opt to extend affordability after 60 yrs. 2/
— NYC Housing (@NYCHousing) September 15, 2023
The need for this building, at this location and size, cannot be overstated. The project at 388 Hudson St. represents an opportunity for Lower Manhattan to reverse its trend of nonexistent housing production and become an active contributor toward solving the housing crisis. It is a small step toward the progress the city needs to make to meet its housing goals, and we must be doing whatever it takes to reach those goals. The success of this project would also set a positive precedent for the future of city-owned sites across the five boroughs, including two more in Lower Manhattan at 2 Howard St. and 324 E. Fifth St. A chain reaction such as this one that promotes dense development on public sites is precisely what the neighborhood needs.
But perhaps more important than the potential benefits of these developments are those who speak up in support of the project. This West Side site was always one of the go-to alternatives for opponents of the Soho rezoning and of Haven Green, as well as other proposals for the neighborhood. And now they have that alternative. The most ardent supporters should be the politicians, activists and neighbors who regularly invoked this site as an alternative to those original proposals. It doesn’t matter that the city wants to maximize the development, even though Haven Green cleared its legal hurdle and the Soho rezoning’s first projects are trickling in. Those projects alone won’t be enough to solve our housing shortage. Indeed, 388 Hudson St. is a critical piece of the equation and will be most effective if built alongside these other developments. These stakeholders’ support must be loud and clear now that this development is about to enter the public review process. The absence of their support, though, makes it clear they were never serious about solving the housing crisis. Basing support for 388 Hudson on the potentially failed prospects of other projects doesn’t help address our housing shortage, and it reveals that the calls for building on this site by some were not genuine — rather only a bluff to increase the chances of stalling other projects.
But as Margaret Chin dutifully described 388 Hudson before, “It’s always been an additional, not an alternative site. We want to develop affordable housing anywhere we can.”
Celestin is a senior at New York University studying urban planning and journalism and a member of Open New York.