Calling for better ways to create affordable housing in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said mandatory inclusionary zoning is long overdue.

“It’s an idea we need,” he said. “…It’s a simple idea of requiring affordability in all major developments. It’s a simple idea. It’s not an option. It’s not a maybe. It’s a requirement. It has to happen. That’s the way we change the reality of our city.”

Bill de Blasio delivers his State of the City speech on Feb. 3, 2015. Photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office
Bill de Blasio delivers his State of the City speech on Feb. 3, 2015. Photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office

While other mayors use their State of the City address to provide a sweeping look at their achievements and plans, de Blasio firmly focused his speech on New York’s affordability problem.

“If we do not act—and act boldly—New York risks taking on the qualities of a gated community… A place defined by exclusivity, rather than opportunity. And we cannot let that happen,” said de Blasio.

He described a single mother on Coney Island, working two jobs and barely being able to afford a modest apartment to share with her children. He spoke about a fast-food worker in Washington Heights filled with worry each time the first of the month approaches and the rent comes due.

Overall, 56% of rental households in New York were spending more than 30% of their income on housing last year—up 10 points in a little more than a decade.

In response, de Blasio has called for the construction of 80,000 new affordable housing units by 2024 and the preservation of another 120,000 units. He’s also planning for the construction of 160,000 market-rate units.

To expedite this activity, de Blasio said he is reforming the Department of Buildings and looking at changing zoning laws, including adopting a mandatory inclusionary zoning policy.

He cited how city leaders recently negotiated 465 affordable housing at Astoria Cove in Queens. The site originally didn’t require any affordable housing.

“So if you want to see the difference that this policy change makes, just visualize the difference between zero families having affordable housing and 465 families having affordable housing on just one site in Queens,” he said. “That’s an example of where we’re going.”

The mayor also talked about the opportunities at Sunnyside Yards in Queens. On this 200-acre site, he envisions affordable housing as well as parks, schools, and businesses.

His affordable housing plan also calls for ending chronic veteran homelessness by the end of this year, providing 10,000 affordable housing units for seniors, and 1,500 units for artists and musicians.

The New York State Association for Affordable Housing applauded de Blasio for his focus on affordable housing. “The record number of homeless families on our streets and applications to our housing lotteries are proof that rising rents and stagnant wages are forcing New Yorkers to make impossible choices in their everyday lives,” said the association in a statement.

Connect with Donna Kimura, deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance, on Twitter @DKimura_AHF.