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January 19, 2005

Equity Seeks Affordable Housing in Hudson Yards Plan

The proposed multibillion dollar redevelopment plan for 59 square blocks of Manhattan’s far West Side has caused a great divide among the many diverse groups both for and against the plan. Officially known as The Hudson Yards Plan, the redevelopment proposal calls for an expansion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, an extension to the #7 Subway line (the main East-West subway axis in midtown Manhattan) and the construction of a new football stadium for the Jets. Among the many theatrical and entertainment unions there is consensus on one important aspect – the plan must contain affordable housing.

According to the New York City Department of City Planning website, www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/home.html rezoning the area in question would “reinforce existing neighborhoods while transforming underused areas into thriving and desirable urban tract. The rezoning would include office space, parks, car parking facilities and “12.6 million square feet of residential expansion.” The concern expressed by Equity and other entertainment unions is that the plan must expand its definition and scope of inclusionary housing. The unions also encourage developers to build permanently affordable housing within or near the development area for low and moderate-income residents.

On September 21, 2004 Equity’s Eastern Regional Board passed a resolution based on the unanimous recommendation of the Equity Housing Committee, chaired by Paul V. Ames, that “strongly recommends to the Department of City Planning that the Hudson Yards be amended, so that permanent, genuinely affordable housing is created for Equity members, other theater and entertainment industry professionals, and their neighbors.” Testimony was read into the official record at a public hearing on the Hudson Yards Plan. The resolution, in its entirety, and the testimony were sent to Amanda Burden, Chair, City Planning Commission. (In addition, both SAG and AFTRA issued their own resolutions that call for permanent, affordable housing for the entertainment industry. For copies of their resolutions, visit www.sag.org and www.aftra.org.)

More recently, Eastern Regional Director Carol Waaser gave testimony at the December 13, 2004 City Council Public Hearing on the Hudson Yards Plan and Inclusionary Housing. Joining her to give their own testimony were representatives of SAG and AFTRA. Waaser said, in part: “Theatre and entertainment are a very important part of the New York City economy…We therefore believe it is essential that the rezoning for the Hudson Yards Project be carefully tailored to produce the most units possible under the Inclusionary Housing Bonus Program.” She went on to offer a formula of increased eligibility caps for housing and requested a three-year income look-back be included in the eligibility guidelines. (For a complete transcript of Ms. Waaser’s testimony, click here)

Equity made a comprehensive study that would identify a number of important factors that help keep the entertainment industry strong in New York. Among the data gathered are statistics that illustrate the number of Actors who live in the Midtown area; the average costs for apartment rentals in Midtown Manhattan; the number and types of industry support services (e.g., talent agencies, casting directors, rehearsal space, etc) and the number and type of theaters that are located within the area.

In addition to Equity, numerous interest groups have weighed in on either the overall Hudson Yards Plan or the affordable housing aspect only. These groups include IATSE, SAG, AFTRA, The Shubert Organization, Hudson Yards Affordable Housing Committee (chaired by David Lennon, President of Musicians Local 802 and comprising several local unions, including entertainment), Community Board 4, special interest community activist groups, building trades unions, and several real estate interest groups. Representatives of Actors’ Equity continue to attend meetings held by these varied groups to hear both the pro and the con arguments about the Hudson Yards Plan. Invariably, Equity’s efforts to push forward a comprehensive affordable housing initiative within the plan is strengthened while the union’s policy not to take a position on the overall plan remains intact.

Equity, while not taking a position on the overall Hudson Yards Plan itself, also takes no position on the controversial aspects of the plan, such as the construction of the stadium that is currently being leveraged as a potential incentive for the Olympics to be held in New York City in 2012. Instead, Equity is taking a number of steps to influence the affordable housing aspect of the rezoning plan that will benefit the members of the Union.

Equity continues to monitor the developments made in regard to the Hudson Yards Plan and present strong facts and figures to support truly-affordable housing for actors in the rezoning efforts.





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