Numbers Behind 421-a & Affordable Housing Revealed

421-a Maps
See 421-a details across the city with our interactive mapping tool »».

$1.1 Billion/Year Tax Exemption Predominantly Benefits Manhattan Housing Construction

The Municipal Art Society released a first-ever interactive tool mapping the impact of one of New York City’s most expensive housing incentive programs. Spread across three city agencies, the data required to evaluate the affordable housing output of 421-a has never been publicly compiled until now.

In total, the city forfeited more than $1.1 billion in tax revenue in 2014 alone through the 421-a program, 60% of which (nearly $670 million) subsidized buildings in Manhattan, a borough currently undergoing a historic building boom that renders a building subsidy unnecessary. The annual exemption recurs for 10-20 years in the city’s most expensive neighborhoods.

Creating the maps required MAS to track down and merge data—some of it in PDF form—from the Department of Finance, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Department of City Planning. The City’s Independent Budget Office assisted MAS in this effort by compiling the data from the Department of Finance.

“It’s not the 1970s anymore. In these booming Manhattan neighborhoods, the only value of a 421-a program is to spur affordable housing, yet the data on 421-a’s affordable housing impact is largely unavailable. And what information we do have is scattered across three city agencies. It’s long past time that Albany provides a transparent public accounting of this four-decade-old, $1 billion/year program.” -Margaret Newman, MAS Executive Director

The 421-a program, created in 1971 to spur residential development, was amended in 1985 in response to the rebounding real estate market. After 1985, new development projects seeking 421-a tax exemptions in flourishing Manhattan neighborhoods—defined by the so-called Geographic Exclusionary Area (GEA)—were required to dedicate 20% of total units to affordable housing. However, in 2008 legislators expanded the boundaries of the GEA to include all of Manhattan, but also neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

“Reimagining 421-a as an engine for affordable housing was a well-intentioned but doomed idea. We’ve amended it again and again over four decades, trying to mold a program that was designed during a construction drought into one that makes sense during a construction boom. The geographic exclusionary area should do just that—exclude luxury neighborhoods from cashing in on 421-a.” -Margaret Newman, MAS Executive Director

The 421-a program is up for renewal by the New York State legislature in June 2015. Based on the findings revealed in the maps, MAS urges that the program cannot be renewed as is.>

Albany must:
  • Rationalize 421-a’s cost-benefit equation either by strengthening the affordability requirements or by decreasing the financial incentives;
  • Redraw the lines of the GEA to reflect actual market conditions, based on data and statistics, rather than politics; and
  • Dramatically increase the program’s public transparency and use this data to monitor the program’s successes and failures.
Select Findings

421-a mapped citywide

View the details on all properties in NYC currently receiving 421-a benefits at

535 West End Avenue
City forfeited $3.3 million in tax revenue in 2014 subsidizing 6 affordable units built in 2013; this annual exemption continues through 2023

150 East 86 Street
City forfeited $5.8 million in tax revenue in 2014 subsidizing 24 affordable units built in 2011; this annual exemption continues through 2021

505 West 37 Street
City forfeited $12.1 million in tax revenue in 2014 subsidizing 167 affordable units built in 2012; this annual exemption continues through 2032

How is your neighborhood affected? »»

MAS Responds to News of 335 Madison Avenue Re-Development

Contact: Meaghan Baron | (212) 935-3960 ex. 1229

Re: Vanderbilt corridor set for massive new tower

“MAS welcomes the news that the Vanderbilt Corridor rezoning is continuing to spur development in East Midtown—especially development that engages the City and community in a public review process. We hope that the project at 335 Madison Avenue will follow the example set at One Vanderbilt and include a transportation improvement benefit as part of its plan. We also look forward to working with the City to evaluate the best policy for air rights transfers, especially as they involve our precious landmarks. In a city as dense as New York, the best new developments are the ones that knit themselves into the existing community, its history, and its local infrastructure.”

–Margaret Newman, Executive Director of the Municipal Art Society of New York

Insights from the 2015 Annual Members Meeting

At the MAS Annual Members Meeting, MAS members were invited to a rich discussion around the future of New York City and the important role MAS serves as your partner in shaping our neighborhoods. As we look ahead to our 125th year, MAS will continue advocating for intelligent urban planning and design, ensuring that our built environment promotes a livable and resilient city.

MAS President Vin Cipolla engaged in a thought-provoking conversation with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen about the pressing issues facing New Yorkers today and innovative solutions for moving forward — from affordability and housing, to entrepreneurship and economic development and the campaign for a new Penn Station.

MAS Members also heard about our city’s rapidly changing skyline from Justin Davidson of New York Magazine, as well as new ways of leveraging development to pay for our most important civic assets, highlighted by Brooklyn Public Library President Linda Johnson.

Missed it?:

Not yet an MAS Member? Join today and receive invitations to exclusive receptions throughout the year—your opportunity to receive a special inside look at major MAS initiatives that address important urban issues.

MAS Focus 2015: Our Initiatives for the Upcoming Year

MAS Focus 2015 outlines our planning, policy, and civic engagement initiatives for the upcoming year. It also includes profiles on specific initiatives, details on our signature awards and events, and the MAS Watchlist.

From advocating for a new Penn Station, to commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Landmarks Law, to connecting urban entrepreneurs across the city, find out how you can get involved with our work!

MAS Focus 2015

Municipal Art Society to Honor Daniel L. Doctoroff with the 2015 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal

Vin Cipolla, President of the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), announced today that the 2015 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal will be presented to Daniel L. Doctoroff, former CEO and President at Bloomberg, L.P., and Chairman of Culture Shed. The award will recognize Mr. Doctoroff’s commitment to and advancement of New York City through his work as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding, and his ongoing stewardship of cultural, environmental, fiscal, and neighborhood-based projects across the five boroughs.

“Dan’s dedication to making New York City more livable, resilient, and innovative makes him a stand-out candidate for the Onassis Medal,” said MAS Board Chair Eugenie L. Birch. “From rebuilding Lower Manhattan to spearheading the ambitious launch of PlaNYC, Dan has brought his remarkable vision to some of the most pressing and influential projects shaping the future of our city. We are delighted to announce him as our 2015 honoree.”

“Dan’s tenure as Deputy Mayor was remarkable not just for the scope and vision of his projects, but also for the holistic approach to city-building that inspired them,” said Vin Cipolla. “A great city is made up of more than just buildings—parks, transportation networks, and job opportunities are essential to ensuring that our neighborhoods are complete and sustainable. Dan’s ability to knit together the strands of good city building embodies MAS’s core principles and we are pleased to celebrate his work this June.”

The Onassis Medal will be presented at MAS’s annual gala on June 4, 2015, at Cipriani 25 Broadway in the landmarked Cunard Building in Lower Manhattan. All proceeds from the event will support MAS in its mission to advocate for excellence in urban planning, preservation, and community engagement. Founded in 1893, MAS is one of the oldest membership organizations in New York City, and was instrumental in key battles that have shaped the future of New York, from winning passage of the first historic preservation law in the country to saving Grand Central Station from demolition in the 1970s in partnership with Mrs. Onassis herself.

“I am honored to accept the Municipal Art Society’s 2015 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal. MAS has advocated for sound, innovative planning and development in New York for more than a century and I share this organization’s belief that these tools are key to building a future worthy of our great city,” said Daniel L. Doctoroff. “Mrs. Onassis’ commitment to a more livable New York was an inspiration to me and so many others and I am grateful to the MAS board and leadership for this recognition.”

“Dan’s contributions to the fabric of New York have quickly become integral to our understanding of our city in the 21st century. From the now-bustling streets of Lower Manhattan, to the acres of green space, to the development of the Hudson Yards and High Line, and so much more, his impact can be felt in neighborhoods across the five boroughs,” said MAS Executive Director Margaret Newman. “His contributions to the city can truly be called historic and I look forward to celebrating his lasting achievements at the 2015 MAS Gala.”

About the Honoree
Daniel L. Doctoroff was President and Chief Executive Officer of Bloomberg, L.P., the leading provider of news and information to the global financial community, until December 2014. During his tenure at Bloomberg, Doctoroff led the company through the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression by pursuing an aggressive strategy of investment, focused on enhancing the company’s Terminal product, expanding into enterprise products and services, creating new businesses in government, law and energy, and building the company’s news operations, including its acquisition of Businessweek.

Prior to joining Bloomberg L.P., Doctoroff served as Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding for the City of New York. With Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, he led the city’s dramatic economic resurgence, spearheading the effort to reverse New York’s fiscal crisis after 9/11 through a five-borough economic development strategy. This plan included the most ambitious land-use transformation in the city’s modern history; the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site; the largest affordable housing program ever launched by an American city; and the formation of new Central Business Districts and Industrial Business Zones. Doctoroff also led the creation of PlaNYC, a 127-point plan designed to create the first environmentally sustainable 21st century city that sets the course for a 30% reduction in global warming emissions by 2030.

Before joining the Bloomberg administration, Doctoroff was Managing Partner of the private equity investment firm Oak Hill Capital Partners. While at Oak Hill, he founded NYC2012, the organization that spearheaded efforts to bring the Olympic Games to the city.

Doctoroff serves on the Boards of the University of Chicago, World Resources Institute and Human Rights First. He is the founder of Target ALS, which raises funds for and has established a new model of collaboration to advance ALS research. He is a founder and chairman of Culture Shed, an innovative new cultural institution at the Hudson Yards in Manhattan. A graduate of Harvard College and The Law School at the University of Chicago, he lives in New York City with his wife, Alisa. The Doctoroffs have three grown children.

About the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal
The Onassis Medal, MAS’s highest honor, is awarded annually to an individual or institution who, by their work and deeds, have made an outstanding contribution to New York City. Launched in 1950 as the President’s Medal, the award was renamed in 1994 in honor of Mrs. Onassis’ tireless efforts in partnership with MAS to preserve and protect New York’s great architecture. Previous honorees include Dr. Judith Rodin and David Rockefeller, Jr. of The Rockefeller Foundation (2013), Diane Von Furstenberg (2011), Channel 13/PBS (2005), Robert DeNiro (1997), and I. M. Pei (1996).

Download the full press release (PDF).