In rezoning, a tale of two cities

In rezoning, a tale of two cities: Poorer, black and Latino neighborhoods and wealthier, predominantly white ones still get treated very differently by the city

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

Photo: James Keivom/New York Daily News

Ever since Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez rejected a proposed rezoning in the Inwood section of Manhattan that, in the name of supposedly creating affordable housing, would have increased the value of the site — owned by private equity developer Acadia Realty Trust — by millions of dollars overnight, council member opposition to local rezonings is growing.Jimmy Van Bramer has announced his plans to vote no on a rezoning in Sunnyside Queens. And a few weeks ago, Corey Johnson hinted he would reject a rezoning in Tribeca unless it “adequately serves” the community he represents. Last fall, Brad Lander announced his opposition to a rezoning of the Long Island College Hospital site in Brooklyn.Mayor de Blasio wants these rezonings to sail through, claiming they are vital to his plans to create more affordable housing.

That’s deeply misleading.

While it is encouraging to see council members respond to community opposition and stand up to profit-hungry real estate developers in their districts, racial disparities continue to exist in how zoning tools are applied across our diverse city.

In white communities, rezonings are typically used to protect neighborhoods from new development, while black communities have rezonings — characterized by housing branded as “affordable” but is in fact unaffordable to most residents — forced upon them. Protest from communities of color goes unheard.

In most of the districts where rezonings are being rejected, a majority of residents are white. According to Census data, the neighborhood surrounding the Sunnyside project is nearly 50% white; Tribeca is over 80% white. Cobble Hill, home to the LICH site, is 61% white.

East New York, on the other hand, is just 1.6% white, and despite widespread local opposition, a community-wide rezoning measure sailed through the City Council this spring. Because the thousands of new housing units would be unaffordable for most East New York residents, not a single local community organization supported the change.

This disturbing trend is not surprising. Some of the country’s first zoning laws were designed to keep families of color out of white suburban enclaves. This historical trend continued through the 120 rezonings done by the Bloomberg administration.

An analysis by NYU’s Furman found that these rezonings had little to no impact on the city’s buildable area. In fact, most were downzonings or contextual zonings in the city’s white homeowner neighborhoods. Lots that were upzoned, however — allowing for taller buildings and more density — tended to be in less white and less wealthy neighborhoods.

To Vishnu Mahadeo, executive director of the Richmond Hill Economic Development Corporation, the motivation for downzoning in his neighborhood was clear.

“The whole genesis of that last downgrade was because the immigrant community was not viewed in a positive way by the establishment,” Mahadeo told Politico in 2014. “The concept was . . . if you reduce the size of the house, less of them will be here.”

In other words, white neighborhoods have been able to use rezoning to protect their property interests and keep their neighborhoods looking more or less the same. Meanwhile, areas with a higher share of minority households are forced to absorb new development that is often only affordable to the whiter, wealthier residents who move in.

This appears to be in line with racist housing policies such as redlining, predatory lending and housing discrimination that have kept people of color housing insecure for generations.

It is disappointing to see this pattern continue, especially in Mayor de Blasio’s New York. Communities of color who stand up to real estate interests deserve to be heard. Faced with a tremendous housing burden, their voices are rarely the shrill NIMBY voices that the pro-development forces of the government and media portray them to be.

In East New York, community members were clear in their willingness to accept increased density — so long as the new housing was affordable to them. However, despite this willingness to negotiate, residents’ concerns fell on deaf ears.

We are not anti-development; we are anti-development-that-we-can’t-afford.

Building new housing is most certainly part of solving our housing crisis, but it must be applied with a fair-share approach and at income levels that the lowest-income New Yorkers can afford — in every rezoning.

We need to shift the existing paradigm and use rezoning as a tool to benefit low-income New Yorkers of color who have been ignored or willfully excluded so far. The city should pause rezonings until the tools to get these communities what they deserve — deeply affordable housing — are available.

Otherwise, the city’s efforts will continue to fail and the diversity that has made our city great will slip away.

Alston is the executive director of Faith in New York, an interfaith, multicultural federation of congregations.

Original Article Link: