A controversial rezoning plan for East New York, the first of 15 neighborhoods scheduled for significant land-use changes under Mayor de Blasio's $41 billion affordable housing plan, was approved today by the City Council by a vote of 45-1-0.
In the lead-up to today's vote, East New York Councilmember Rafael Espinal praised what he described as an "anti-gentrification" plan. "Gentrification is already knocking on our door," he said. "If I stood here and denounced this plan, market values would keep rising."
Under a modified version of the East New York plan announced last week, 1,300 units of affordable housing will be expedited over the next few years, up from 1,200. The updated plan reduces proposed zoning heights on Fulton Street, Pitkin Avenue and Eastern Parkway, and scales back on proposed industrial zoning changes that residents feared would push out factories and machine shops in favor of hotels and music venues.
The City has also pledged to help preserve the neighborhood's dwindling stock of one and two-family homes with loans and grants for repairs. Capital investments for a new elementary school and medical center, as well as renovations for local parks and dangerous intersections, have been bumped up from $100 million to $267 million.
"Councilmember Espinal used all of the tools in his toolbox," said Councilmember Jumaane Williams, explaining his 'yes' vote. "We can argue if those tools are sharp enough, but for what he had to work with it's a pretty good deal."
East New York is also poised to serve as the City's guinea pig for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), another controversial pillar of the Mayor's housing plan that will require developers to include a portion of below-market-rate units in their new residential projects in exchange for City subsidies. Under the updated plan, East New York will offer the new "Deep Affordability Option" introduced last month—20% of housing at 40% AMI, or $39,943 for a family of three.
The updated plan also allows developers across the neighborhood to apply for the Extremely Low & Low-Income Affordability (ELLA) program, which mandates that the vast majority of units be set aside for families that make no more than $46,620 per year—if they so choose.
"You did not gentrify your neighborhood [with this plan]," said Zoning Committee Chair Donovan Richards, praising Espinal for his negotiations. "You captured the affordability that would have been lost otherwise."
But the broader strokes of the plan—more than 6,000 new apartments by 2030, only half of which are projected to be below market-rate—remain the same. About a quarter of the apartments will be set aside for families who currently make $31,000 or less. For context, more than a third of East New York families make $23,350 a year or less. Many residents fear the rezoning will open up the floodgates to luxury development. Land prices in the neighborhood have recently tripled.
Protesters want back in to City Council chamber after they were booted during medical emergency pic.twitter.com/BvBEOhUU0O
— Rosa Goldensohn (@RosaGoldensohn) April 20, 2016
The East New York Neighborhood Rezoning Plan, developed by local nonprofits and approved by the local community board, calls for 5,000 new apartments accessible to current residents.
The only dissenting vote on Wednesday was a familiar one. Councilmember Inez Barron, who represents a sliver of the neighborhood, said that the affordability levels outlined in the plan are not adequate for her constituents, a quarter of whom make less than $15,000 per year. "In my community we have high measures of homelessness, and 82 percent of my community is rent burdened," she said. "The community board has not accepted the plan, and there is no guarantee that developers will participate if they don't want those subsidies."
In a statement following the decision, the Coalition for Community Advancement commended Espinal's willingness to meet with community members over the course of the last year. The group also praised the proposed protections for small homes, and the decision to scale back on industrial rezoning.
But the group lashed out at the affordability requirements, insisting that they are not deep enough. "Before, [East New Yorkers] as least lived in the second of two cities, the one far away from all the milk and honey hoarded by skyscraping silos," they said. "Now they simply have no New York City, as there will no longer be an affordable place for them."