Photo: Karla Murray

Affordable housing is at the top of New Yorkers’ minds more than ever with Mayor de Blasio’s new ten-year plan to create or preserve 200,000 affordable units across the five boroughs. In the last decade, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) oversaw the creation of 1 million square feet of retail space throughout NYC. With this new affordable housing plan, HPD will focus greater attention on mixed-use development initiatives, reaching unprecedented levels of retail space production. Seizing this opportunity, the Design Trust partnered with the HPD to create a set of guidelines that will address the design and use of these new ground-floor retail spaces. 

Our goal is to ensure that new mixed-use developments include the kind of spacious, flexible storefronts that can attract local entrepreneurs, provide vital services like banks and grocers as well as cultural amenities, while supporting active and vibrant streets.


In 2014, we conducted an open Request for Proposals called The Energetic City to give life to the city by connecting people through innovative design informed by the needs and aspirations of community users. An independent jury selected a proposal from the NYC HPD to create a comprehensive set of guidelines to address the design and use of new ground-floor retail spaces.


The project builds on a challenge faced by the City: ground-floor space that is designed only with housing in mind may result in underutilized or vacant storefronts and blight the very neighborhoods these affordable developments are meant to serve. Our multi-disciplinary team of Fellows conducted a year of research and design in partnership with NYC HPD.

Design Guidelines

In January 2016, we published Laying the Groundwork: Design Guidelines for Retail and Other Ground-Floor Uses in Mixed-Use Affordable Housing DevelopmentsThe guide invites developers and architects to think creatively about the ways buildings contribute to the life and health of neighborhoods encouraging attractive, active and resilient streetscapes. Accompanying the publication, the online cost template demonstrates the costs of applying the guidebook’s mechanical, electrical, and plumbing recommendations.

The guidelines, informed by Mayor Bill de Blasio's holistic approach to community development in support of diverse, livable neighborhoods, are applicable to a wide range of retail models—such as grocers, pharmacies, and banks; community services such as health clinics, senior centers, and childcare; and cultural and recreational centers—that can meet and evolve with community needs.

Next Steps

These guidelines will be incorporated into future HPD Requests for Proposals for housing developments, as well as in the evaluation of development proposals, and the review of architectural plans to ensure that retail space in new affordable housing developments in New York City becomes a community asset for residents and neighbors. We plan to track several projects that are initiated using the guidelines.


“These design guidelines will be a great resource for developers. They address all the key concerns of retailers seeking to lease space in mixed-use developments. We look forward to using the Laying the Groundwork guidelines in our future projects.” 


“This retail design manual will be an invaluable asset when working to build the capacity of community-based organizations and BIDs. Physical design plays an integral role in determining the potential success of commercial districts. High quality design for retail spaces is especially important in underserved neighborhoods in New York City where design is necessary to help compensate for real and perceived locational disadvantages.”


Good retail space on the ground floor of affordable housing developments plays a critical role in supporting the city's goal to foster diverse, livable neighborhoods, a key tenet of the Mayor's Housing New York plan. These guidelines will be used by HPD, other city agencies, community organizations, and developers who work closely with us as we build a more vibrant city.

Vicki Been, Commissioner, NYC Department of Housing Preservation & Development

Key Milestones

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Conduct Request for Proposals

July 2014

An independent jury selected a proposal from the NYC HPD to create guidelines to address the design and use of ground-floor retail spaces in new affordable housing developments.

Photo: William Michael Fredericks

Define scope

August 2014

The guidelines would need to be applicable to a wide range of community needs.

Assemble team

September 2014

We assembled an interdisciplinary team of Fellows, including architects, a graphic designer, and an engineer.

Photo: Sam Lahoz

Gather stakeholder input

November 2014

We held feedback workshops for developers, architects, community development organizations, business improvement districts, and City agencies.

Photo: Ozgur Gungor

Synthesize research

March 2015

The project team identified nine critical success factors, from which a comprehensive set of guidelines emerged.