Members of an upstart pro-development group are floating a provocative plan to rezone Soho and Noho, two of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods, in what represents their first broad policy proposal aimed at alleviating the affordable housing crisis.

Open New York, which was started in 2016, is part of the city’s relatively small YIMBY ("yes in my backyard") movement. Over the last few months, several of its members have been attending the city's planning workshops leading up to what could be the first rezoning of Soho and Noho in decades. The discussions, which have often been contentious, have largely focused on retail and the rights of loft artists, who famously reclaimed the manufacturing district beginning in the 1960s and have been critical of its increasing commercialization.

But to date, the creation of new housing in the neighborhoods has not been seriously talked about as part of a rezoning plan, an omission that Open New York members say speaks to who controls the city's zoning process.

"It would be absolutely tragic to rezone one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country and not get any affordable housing," said Will Thomas, a board member of Open New York.

Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, rezonings have triggered intense community opposition, with critics arguing that the increased density would change the character of neighborhoods and result in the displacement of many poor minority residents. That the rezonings have all been in low-income areas has not gone unnoticed. According to Open New York activists, the imbalance reflects a political reality.

“There’s an unwritten unspoken rule that you don’t rezone wealthy residential neighborhoods,” Thomas said. “But what we have been doing in low-income neighborhoods is not only inequitable, [it’s also] not giving us enough housing.”

Towards that end, Open New York is proposing a rezoning plan that it says could produce 3,400 housing units, almost 700 of which could be affordable, in an area prized for its location, historic building stock, and access to transportation and good schools.

The selection of Soho and Noho is part of a strategy of Open New York to focus on “high opportunity” neighborhoods, according to Ben Thypin, one of its early members.

“Housing, for better or worse, has dictated what opportunities people have access to,” he said. “We want to change the dynamics so those opportunities are spread more widely.”

Their plan involves building in what the group considers the “underdeveloped edges” of Soho and Noho, outside the historic districts. Citing one block bounded by Canal Street, West Broadway, Grand Street, and Thompson Street as an example, the group has argued that a rezoning could make way for well over 600,000 square feet of housing, yet still fall below the density of the nearby 16-story Holland Plaza Building, which was built in 1929.

Within the neighborhood, they say the city should allow infill development on vacant or underdeveloped lots to match the density of pre-war buildings on the same block.

Thypin said that unlike other neighborhood rezonings, which have been criticized for producing below-market rate units whose rents are still out of reach to many of the low-income residents, projects in Soho and Noho could reach a deeper level of affordability because they could be subsidized by the higher rents commanded by the market units.

A real estate broker and investor who regularly opines on development issues and NIMBYism on Twitter, Thypin says he has been met with suspicion by some critics who see his motives as self-serving. But Thypin said the group has a strict conflict of interest policy and that he frequently recuses himself from projects the group elects to weigh in on. He said he neither owns nor has any deals in Soho or Noho.

However, the bigger obstacle for the group may be in getting residents and elected officials to take them seriously.

“I think they are eager and they have some good goals,” said Pete Davies, a member of the Broadway Residents Coalition who has lived in Soho for 39 years and is part of the advisory group for the rezoning effort. “Yeah, we need more housing. But how do you put that in and implement that in this world of New York city?”

He added: “Building affordable housing and wanting affordable housing are two entirely different things.”

City Council member Margaret Chin, who represents the district, declined to comment on Open New York and its plan.

A spokesman for the Department of City Planning issued a statement saying that the agency values community engagement on all of its studies and plans. He added: "We welcome the input of Open New York, as we do with any civic groups, members of the public or elected officials. We will have more to say on the SoHo/NoHo visioning process in the near future.”

New York is still a far ways from California, where YIMBY advocates have gained traction in recent years, so much so that some activists have been able to quit their day jobs and lobby for the policies full time.

Open New York was founded after several of its members met at the first annual YIMBY conference in 2016 held in in Boulder, Colorado. The group says it has about 300 members subscribed to its email list. Roughly a half-dozen or so members actively attend public hearings on behalf of the group.

According to Thomas, the group plans to seek 501(c)(4) nonprofit status.

A marketing professional, Thomas said he became interested in housing policy after reading The Rent Is Too Damn High, a book by the journalist Matt Yglesias, who argues that soaring rents in cities like New York and San Francisco are caused by overly restrictive zoning policies.

He said he was optimistic about the rezoning plan, which he argued could find allies in neighborhoods like Chinatown and the Lower East Side, where residents and activists most recently successfully fought off a plan approved by the city to build the mega-development known as Two Bridges.

"Half of the battle is us going and asking them," he said, the question being, "Would you support [development] if it’s in this wealthy neighborhood?"

UPDATE: The story has been revised to include a statement from the Department of City Planning.