On Wednesday, more than 100 people—city officials, attorneys, community development organizations and residents—gathered at Brooklyn Borough Hall to weigh in on a controversial rezoning plan by the City that would have wide-reaching impact on the future of affordable housing in East New York.
Hosted by the City Planning Commission, the hearing comes on the heels of a report released in December by the office of NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer that found that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to rezone East New York for more affordable housing actually would end up displacing 55 percent of its current residents.
“Based on analysis by my office… the plan must be modified to eliminate or mitigate this impact,” said Comptroller Stringer in a statement delivered by Brian Cook, Stringer’s Director of Economic Development.
The hearing was an opportunity to potentially chart a new course– one that might support commercial and new housing development without disenfranchising a majority of its current residents. However, according to Politico, after hearing arguments on both sides, little happened in the way of changing opinions on either side.
During the hearing, representatives from NYC’s Housing and Preservation and Development defended the plan, assuring that 50 percent of the housing would be at market rate while 50 percent would be set aside as affordable (approximately 6,300 units) for people earning less than 60 percent of the area median income, which is $42,620 for a family of three.
Acknowledging that private developers were unlikely to keep to that standard, the city’s administration even vowed to provide subsidies to meet that goal.
However, in his testimony, Comptroller Stringer pressed for more specifics. He pointed out that while HPD has committed to applying subsides to create more deeply affordable units, to date, a full plan on those subsidies has not been released: “We still do not know which programs will be used, the specific sites selected for the subsidy, or even which developers are committed to the subsidies has not been released,” he said.
Michelle Neugebauer, executive director of the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, added that even with subsidies, the cost of the “affordable” housing in the mayor’s proposal still fails to match the incomes of current residents and will be too expensive for the neighborhood’s low-income population.
Also, referencing public data from the city’s Department of Finance website on property sales, Rose Martinez, a Morgan Stanley fellow working with the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, pointed out that prices in the city already have tripled since the mayor announced his intention to rezone East New York.
For example, one and half years before the mayor announced his rezoning plan, the average sale price for a multi-family walk-up was $480,000. Since then, the average sale price has already skyrocketed to $1.4 million, she said.
Two legislators– Borough President Eric Adams and City Councilman Rafael Espinal (who represents parts of Bushwick and East New York)—were outspoken in their opposition to the proposal. The two co-authored an op-ed in Crain’s New York Business on the day of the hearing, offering their recommendations, including a formal recommendation Adams filed on Dec. 30 urging the City Council and City Planning Commission to reject the mayor’s plan.
Some of Adams’s recommendations included free legal representation of residents in housing court; a commitment for 100 percent permanent affordability of the housing units on HPD-owned and HPD- ﬁnanced sites within area of zoning; and more impact studies.
In fact, a failure on the part of the city to conduct an impact analysis prior to drafting and announcing its rezoning plan was a consistent and underlying complaint from the other side.
Lou Oliva, deputy general counsel at the MTA, pointed out at the hearing that the rezoning would lead to more than 450 extra passengers transferring at East New York’s Broadway Junction during rush hour.
Oliva said a full analysis should be done on the impact and its cost, both financially and socially for the residents: “You must look at impacts and mitigate those impacts,” he said.
Stringer agreed: “Rather than continue on the current path, I recommend that the city work with the community to devise a plan that works with, not runs over the local community concerns,” he wrote in his testimony.