Hailed or Hated, East New York Rezoning Plan Takes Crucial Step

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Protesters at the hearing. The de Blasio administration says it will work to ensure that half the new housing created in East New York is affordable.

Abigail Savitch-Lew

Protesters at the hearing. The de Blasio administration says it will work to ensure that half the new housing created in East New York is affordable.

The City Planning Commission on Wednesday approved the controversial East New York Community Plan, with 12 commissioners voting in favor and only one against the proposal.

East New York is the first of 15 neighborhoods targeted for a rezoning under Mayor De Blasio’s plan to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing. It is also the testing ground for the mayor’s proposed mandatory inclusionary housing policy, which would require developments in rezoned areas to include a portion of affordable units.

The plan for East New York requires zoning changes to spur the construction of more than 6,000 units of housing. The city has promised to ensure over half are rented at below-market rates.

In his opening remarks, City Planning Commission chair Carl Weisbrod hailed the city’s “extensive community engagement.” He noted the proposal includes investments in neighborhood infrastructure and services, including streetscaping to improve pedestrian safety, a new local Workforce1 center, and the development of a commercial center on a city-owned property. Some of these investments will come out of the city’s new $1 billion Neighborhood Development Fund.

Follow all our housing coverage, from rezoning to NYCHA to homelessness.

Follow all our housing coverage, from rezoning to NYCHA to homelessness.

Nearly a dozen protestors interrupted his remarks, shouting, “East New York’s plan ain’t affordable to me!” and “Our Neighborhood, Our Plan!” After four minutes, they were escorted out of the hearing room.

The Coalition for Community Advancement, an alliance of East New Yorkers who released their own alternative plan last summer, issued a press release condemning the vote.

“We are extremely disappointed that the City Planning Commission voted almost unanimously to approve the East New York Rezoning Plan. The plan is woefully inadequate in terms of the number of affordable units to be built and the levels of affordability. We are calling on the City Council to be more responsive to the needs of low-income families,” said Michelle Neugebauer, executive director of the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation and a member of the Coalition.

The coalition has called on the administration to invest more resources in anti-displacement strategies, create mechanisms to ensure local hiring and business retention, guarantee sufficient school seats and child care programs, and create accountability mechanisms, such as a “Neighborhood Cabinet,” to monitor the progress of the rezoning.

The city says it’s already made an unprecedented effort to ensure neighborhood residents stand to benefit from new investments. In addition, while the proposed citywide mandatory inclusionary housing policy is intended to generate affordable units for families making between $46,620 and $62,150 for a family of three, the city has promised to use subsidies to reach even deeper levels of affordability in East New York, including more than 300 units for families making up to $31,080 over the first two years of the plan.*

The coalition argues this is still not affordable enough for East New York, where about a quarter of residents make less than $15,000 a year. Their alternative plan calls for the creation of 5,000 affordable units, including 1,000 apartments for families making up to $23,350 and another 1,000 for families making up to $11,655. The city says it doesn’t have the funds to subsidize so many low-rent apartments.

“The city is quadrupling the amount of money that it spends on the extremely low and low-income housing compared to the last 10 years. So we are going as far as our finances and our ability to support that population [allow],” says Purnima Kapur, executive director of the Department of City Planning.

If the city is unable to subsidize enough units, members of the coalition say they would rather see the plan scaled back than risk flooding the market with expensive units that could catalyze displacement.

Commissioner Michelle De La Uz, who cast the single vote in opposition to the plan, echoed many of the coalition’s concerns, including the need for greater affordability, the lack of guarantees for sufficient school seats, and the need for stronger anti-displacement mechanisms.

“This plan falls short of achieving inclusive growth, despite the administration’s significant efforts,” she said. “The $1 billion neighborhood development fund demonstrates good faith but it isn’t sufficient for the 15 neighborhoods’ needs. ”

Click here for a guide to each of the neighborhood rezoning efforts.

Click here for a guide to each of the neighborhood rezoning efforts.

Others hailed the vote. “Today’s vote by the City Planning Commission is a major step towards making the dreams of thousands of East New York residents come true,” said Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Carlo A. Scissura in a statement. “Along with creating critical affordable housing, the East New York Community Plan will invigorate the neighborhood by making investments in transportation, parks and schools, while also creating thousands of jobs and spurring small business growth. This is a game changer for East New York, and no neighborhood is more deserving. I now urge the City Council to also approve this plan. Thank you and congratulations to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of City Planning, and I look forward to working with them to continue revitalizing communities across Brooklyn through the creation of affordable housing.”

The East New York and Brownsville community boards and the Brooklyn Borough president have already voted in opposition to the plan. The matter now goes before City Council, where Councilmember Rafael Espinal, whose district includes the area that would be rezoned, will have significant power to shape the final, binding verdict.

* The Department of Housing, Preservation and Development has committed to using the Extremely Low & Low-Income Affordability (ELLA) Program to create 1,200 units of affordable housing during the first two years of the East New York plan: 900 units on private sites (of which 25 percent will be rented to families making up to $31,080) and 310 units on public sites (of which 35 percent will be rented to families making up to $31,080), resulting in roughly 334 units affordable to families making up to $31,080.