City discusses East NY rezone ahead of February vote
by Patrick Kearns
Jan 12, 2016 | 6389 views | 0 0 comments | 79 79 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Packed borough hall chambers as the Department of City Planning discusses a potential rezone of East New York
Packed borough hall chambers as the Department of City Planning discusses a potential rezone of East New York
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Resident waited on a long line outside to get into the hearing.
Resident waited on a long line outside to get into the hearing.
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Many of the attendees were forced into an overflow room.
Many of the attendees were forced into an overflow room.
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The Department of City Planning held a public session regarding the de Blasio administration's plan to rezone East New York and pave the way for more affordable housing. The meeting and subsequent overflow rooms at Borough Hall were packed with Brooklyn residents there to hear the intricacies of the plan.

At the multi-hour meeting, the plan had its vocal critics and its proponents. The process to craft the plan began in May 2014, with city officials attempting to utilize the thoughts and recommendations of the neighborhood's major stakeholders. The plan was built on the recommendations of Sustainable Communities, a multi-agency partnership.

The ultimate goal of the plan, according to officials, is to act as a deterrent for displacement.

“The zoning proposal before you today is not a trigger for displacement, it is a prevention measure,” argued Vicki Been, commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

The multi-pronged plan aims to address the future issues of affordability the city believes the neighborhood may face. In terms of housing, the plan I to promote mixed-use growth along key corridors while preserving the low-density residential character of East New York's neighborhood side streets.

In medium density districts, the plan will establish mandatory inclusionary housing, while key areas will get enhanced commercial districts to promote retail and special mixed-use districts to encourage industrial, residential and commercial use.

One of the major problems, according to Been, is the type of housing East New York has to offer. Approximately 50,000 people live in housing that is not stabilized or regulated by any government agency because so much of the housing stock is low density.

“They cannot afford increasing rents,” Been said. “Those people are at risk of displacement.”

The plan does not call for destroying that character, but rather building affordable, regulated units along the dense commercial corridors like Atlantic Avenue, Fulton Street, Pitkin Avenue and Liberty Avenue.

“[The plan] has been crafted to ensure that new development is only permitted along the commercial corridors,” Been said.

To help residents – as tenant harassment has become a more prominent issue in neighborhoods with rising rents – the city plans on ensuring housing quality with targeted code enforcement. It will also provide free legal representation to East New York residents facing harassment.

Housing would be built to be affordable to low and moderate income households, which means that most units would be affordable to households at a range of incomes levels below 60 percent of the area median income, or $42,620 for a family of three.

Along with the housing preservation, the city plans on investing in transit infrastructure in East New York and improving parkland, with $5.2 million for City Line Park and $1.7 million for Highland Park.

Comptroller Scott Stringer conducted an independent analysis of the plan and took issue with many of the finer points, specifically that the plan could inadvertently displace tens of thousands of East New York residents.

“For generations, East New York has been overlooked and under-resourced by the city in schools, parks, public transit, and affordable housing,” Stringer said in a statement. “However, instead of strengthening the affordability of this community, the proposed rezoning would instead serve as an engine for displacement.

The plan’s so-called ‘affordable’ apartments would be too expensive for more than half of current residents, and the introduction of a large number of market-rate units could push even more people out of the neighborhood,” he aded.

Stringer's report concludes that 84 percent of residents in East New York would be unable to afford the market-rate housing that will be built and that 55 percent will be unable to afford the affordable units. He also noted that the 50,000 unregulated residents that Been mentioned would be put under immense pressure through the introduction of higher-income residents.

Borough President Eric Adams is also not 100 percent on board with the plan, and voiced some concerns in a statement read into the record by Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna at the meeting.

Adams echoed the concerns of Stringer for protecting the residents not living in rent-regulated housing. His solution includes a call for the implementation of anti-harassment areas, creation of tax incentives for small property owners in return for limiting lease renewal increases, and cataloguing of government-assisted housing with expiring affordability requirements.

Adams pointed to various other rezoning projects over the past few years and the issues that those have brought to various communities.

“Rezonings over the past decade in Coney Island, Downtown Brooklyn, Greenpoint and Williamsburg have left Brooklynites understandably concerned about the attention to fighting displacement and the dedication to fulfilling promised aspects of community development,” Adams said. “While I am generally supportive of the plan’s intent, I must also be clear in echoing a number of issues that have been raised during the public review process which, if left unaddressed, could result in unsatisfactory outcomes for all stakeholders.”

The plan was previously voted down by the local community board and at the meeting, members of the East New York community greeted city officials with signs that said “Affordable for who?” and “Don't displace us.” There was also a loud chant of “This plan is not for us” after Been described the key points.

The City Planning Commission will vote on the proposal sometime in February.

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