Creating & Applying Community Principles

Once community needs have been established you can begin to set community principles by laying out how those needs can best be met through future development and investment proposals.

This module walks through how to use data, as well as existing local plans and precedents, to establish community principles across a host of categories.

Existing Plans & Examples

In deciding on community principles, it is helpful, wherever possible, to reference and incorporate existing community plans – elevating and prioritizing how community members have come together to craft their own solutions.

In many places these might not exist – and one of the goals of creating community principles can be to help fill that gap and lay the groundwork for more robust community planning.

In looking at existing plans and examples you can consider:

Community Plans

Has there been a community plan put forward in the last decade? These would generally include some kind of land use framework – where increasing density (with affordability mandates like MIH) might be appropriate, where potential density might be decreased to reduce displacement pressures, where commercial zoning should go, where Manufacturing Zones should be preserved and strengthened. Some recent examples include:

Have there been community plans put out in response to proposed City-led neighborhood rezonings? These may be less detailed than a full-fledged community plan but still offer important indicators of community needs and proposed solutions. Some examples include:

197a Plans

197a Plans are a mechanism for community planning enshrined in the City Charter – that allows communities to move forward plans to be approved by the City Planning Commission and City Council. However, these plans themselves are not binding and – due in part to this fact, and the way they have frequently been ignored by the Department City Planning in regards to future actions – their application has become increasingly rare. Still it is worth referencing if your community created a 197a plan in the last few decades.

The easiest way to access 197a Plans is through Community District Profiles by choosing your Community District and then clicking on the Projects tabs.

Council Member Land Use Principles

Several Council Members have recently put out Land Use Principles for their district, and interest in this approach continues to grow. In addition, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams released a planning toolkit to help guide all Council Members in taking a more proactive approach to land use decisions. All these documents provide a strong example of the types of benchmarks and approaches that can be included in any community principles.

Community Board Responsible Development Principles

Two Community Boards in Brooklyn have already established Responsible Development Principles to guide both as-of-right developments and any proposed rezonings. They provide a good example of the types of asks that can be included in any community principles.

Positive development examples

Are there examples of positive developments in the community that you can cite or look to as a precedent? These may include mission driven development that are 100% affordable at deep AMIs, supportive housing or senior housing. Have there been any recent private rezonings where the developer went significantly beyond what MIH requires?

If you aren’t aware of ready examples, you can use the information in Housing New York Data to help identify developments of this nature – looking at the percentage of affordable units compared to total units to get at breadth of affordability and looking at AMI levels to determine developments that have provided deeply affordable units.

Community group input & feedback

It’s important to make sure your principles align with local community groups who are working to advance racial and economic equity. They should be partners in helping to determine the principles and demands that would work best for the community. What are you hearing from these types of groups? What are the needs of their members? What types of development, investment, and land use actions are they advocating for?

Creating A Community Principles Document

In creating a community land use principles document, the demands you arrive at can be as general or specific as works for you. The most important point is that they lay out a benchmark for the types of development and investment that would work for your community – making clear that you are looking to say yes to proposals that meet these criteria and accomplish community goals, while strengthening your hand to push back on those proposals that fail to do so. 

It’s important to keep in mind that community principles do not need to provide the technical answers as to how any specific project can match them; it is not the community’s responsibility to figure out how a specific project should be financed or whether it can support a profit while meeting community goals. Nor should you assume there is a specific formula or number where community principles would work in practice, and beyond which you’ve gone too far. The point of community principles is to lay out and ask for what the community needs, and then have a transparent process understanding how development and land use proposals can best reach them.

That said, the argument around what’s financially feasible will likely be one of the central points of pushback from both developers and the City. With this in mind, it is worth considering recent precedents of developments and plans that have provided strong public benefit, to hold up as examples and benchmarks to compare your land use principles to in these discussions. It’s also important to consider the difference in scale and location between different development proposals and understand that they may have different limitations in how they are best able to meet community needs. This does not mean you need to concede on your bottom lines, but simply to think how different projects might best be able to meet different aspects of them commensurate to their size.

With this in mind, you may want to begin your community land use principles document with the broader framing of the purpose you hope it to serve. Be explicit about the role you see it playing in setting the framework for future proposals and how it should put the onus on the City and developers to treat these principles with respect and as the starting point for any actions in the community. As part of this framing, you can be clear regarding what the community has taken on already in terms of new development, what it actually needs in terms of housing and investment, and if it is a high displacement risk area where special caution is needed. It is likely worth starting with some of the most relevant statistics you’ve gathered highlighting existing conditions, to establish how your community principles are responding to the need. For example:

  • What are the income levels for your community?
    • How does that vary by race?
  • How have racial and income demographics changed over the last 2 decades?
  • Which types of households have the highest rent-burden based on income levels and race?
  • What type of housing has been built in the community in recent years? Who is that serving? Based on income levels, what can we infer around who that is serving in terms of race?
  • Where are there needs in terms of access to open space, transportation, and healthcare (as just a few examples)?

Once you’ve clearly outlined these needs you can lay out your community principles across your different issue areas. Again, there is not a specific way you need to lay these out, in terms of level of detail or the exact commitments you’re calling for – as long as they provide clear benchmarks to help guide future actions. Below we give some examples of different principles and ways of phrasing your demands. Throughout this it should be made clear that these principles are cumulative and intended to work in tandem – it’s not a matter of trading off one demand for another – to ensure that community needs are truly being met.

Housing & Affordability

  • Call for development projects that meet the needs of the community in terms of income levels that are served; some specific calls could include:
    • Projects should be entirely affordable to the xx% of residents in the district making below a certain income level
    • There must be a certain percentage of deeply affordable units, serving our lowest income residents
    • A certain percentage of units must be provided for households experiencing homelessness
      • Note: most HPD term sheets currently require a 15% set-aside for the formerly homeless, so this would be the bare minimum for developments taking City subsidy
  • Call for going significantly beyond existing tools like MIH
    • Currently the two deepest affordability AMI options for MIH provide either:
      • MIH Option 1 – 25% of units at an average of 60% AMI
      • MIH Deep Affordability Option – 20% of units at an average of 40% AMI
    • How would proposals need to go beyond MIH to match your community principles as suggested above?

Community investments

  • You could consider including various issue areas that involve community investment under the same section – including open space, transportation, schools, and healthcare
  • You don’t have to specify what exact needs any given project has to meet but could instead provide a general matrix of investments that are needed in the neighborhood; for example
    • Where in the neighborhood is there a need for more open space or overdue investments?
    • Where in the neighborhood is there limited transit access? Where are transit improvements and investment needed?
    • Where is there a need for improved street safety?
    • Where is there a need for more school seats and investment?
    • Where are more health facilities needed?
    • Where is there City-owned land that could be better used or redeveloped to achieve community needs (where affordable housing might not be feasible or the best use)?
  • Benchmarks can include that different needs are being addressed by any given development – based in part on location and size
  • A matrix such as this has the additional benefit of serving as a kind of comprehensive tracker of needs in the community and how they are being addressed, both through City investments and through benefits provided by private development proposals commensurate with their scale


  • What are the community’s needs for addressing climate change?
  • Are there areas at risk of flooding – both from sea level rise and from heavy storms?
  • Are there areas where the heat index is particularly high? Where is air quality particularly poor?
  • How can all developments work to meet and exceed our City’s sustainability goals?


  • What types of jobs are needed in the community?
  • What does this mean in terms of the preservation and expansion of manufacturing space?
  • What does this mean in terms of commercial rents and square footage?
  • What does this mean in terms of contracting and local hire?

Zoning Framework

  • Are there certain areas or corridors in the neighborhood where increased density might be appropriate, especially if that is the best way to create new affordable housing through MIH?
  • Are there certain areas or corridors where commercial businesses are appropriate? What types of businesses do you want to see and incentivize?
  • Are there areas where the zoning might be feeding displacement pressures by encouraging landlords to drive tenants out so they can demolish and build bigger? This might be of special concern in areas with numerous rent stabilized apartments
    • Contextual zoning is one way to try to address this issue, removing the incentive to drive tenants out to demolish and build
    • Again, this should only be considered as a mechanism to preserve affordable housing, not to keep the opportunity for new affordable housing out of the neighborhood
  • Are there Industrial Business Zones or other active Manufacturing zones that you want to see preserved to protect good paying manufacturing jobs? Are there certain requirements that must be in place for consideration of any Manufacturing to Residential rezoning outside of those areas (eg. preserving active manufacturing space, requiring deeper affordability)?
  • Are there special zoning tools – Special District, a new zoning text amendment – that you can call for to help achieve community goals?

Community Engagement & Input

  • In suggesting community principles we are encouraging their use as a guiding document for planning decisions, helping to ensure that only proposals that match community principles – that stem from serving community need – will advance to ULURP
  • That said, you may also want to include your own principles for how community engagement should be conducted, both during ULURP, and as general principles for what good, inclusive community engagement looks like, including consideration of:
    • What needs and groups should be centered in community engagement?
    • What are the best ways to ensure access and that these central voices are being engaged and heard?

Applying Community Land Use Principles

Once community principles are established, they can become your guiding document for all land use proposals and decisions. They can be shared publicly and widely, and it can be made clear that any land use proposals coming before the community must address and match these principles as a starting point for consideration. If they do not match the principles, you can clearly state, in a transparent and consistent manner, why you are opposed, holding up where the proposal differs from community principles and how it would need to be improved to gain your support.

It can be helpful to demonstrate visually the mismatch between your community principles and what a rezoning proposal is offering. For example, a crucial point of debate around many rezonings and development proposals is what (if any) affordability levels will be committed to. Establishing community principles around affordability, as outlined above, helps to set benchmarks to compare any proposal to. If a proposal does not provide the affordability the community needs, as clearly called for in your principles, you can demonstrate visually – through the use of charts and graphics – how far the proposed affordability is from what is needed. This same approach can work across multiple issue areas to clearly convey the disparity between what’s needed and what is being proposed.

For community groups and community boards, using community principles can give you more leverage in getting decision-makers – those with the power to approve, disapprove, or modify land use proposals – to support your vision. This is particularly true for your local Council Member. The community principles offer a transparent and consistent reference for them to draw from, providing support and cover for them to hold the line in advocating for capital investments that address existing and long-standing needs, outside of taking on new density, and in only advancing equitable development proposals that match community needs.

For Council Members, community principles can serve as your clear, explicit, benchmarks for what proposals you will and won’t consider. Using a public and consistent document builds your power and credibility in saying no when a project doesn’t match your principles and helps in shifting the narrative away from one that paints all communities as NIMBY to one that separates the good-faith, equitable arguments from the bad-faith, inequitable ones, and forces the City and developers to respond in kind. If an applicant still decides to move forward into ULURP even after you’ve indicated their proposal does not match the community principles, you’ve increased your power and credibility to hold firm. With that consistent stance there should be no need for negotiations or the typical game of ULURP poker, waiting to see what’s given away at the last minute or who folds first.

Lastly, for all three groups, developing community principles offers the opportunity to engage a broad cross-section of the community – both in creating the principles and in sharing them. This process can help grow consensus and build the power of the community to speak in a concerted voice.