A coalition of community groups, clergy and labor leaders say they are “deeply disappointed” by a recently released document detailing the city’s rezoning proposal for Jerome Avenue in the western Bronx.
“It is not a community plan but a political one, focused on numbers rather than people,” the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision said in a statement on Thursday. “If passed, it will represent displacement and gentrification—a removal of the poor instead of an investment in the community.”
Mayor de Blasio has targeted a 73-block stretch of Jerome Avenue for redevelopment as part of his plan to preserve or build 200,000 units of affordable housing. Last week the Department of City Planning released a document known as the draft scope as part of its application for a zoning change. The scope provides a detailed description of the proposed changes and outlines the city’s forthcoming Environmental Impact Statement, which will describe the rezoning’s potential effects on the surrounding neighborhoods.
A lack of specifics about the amount of affordable housing in the scope was one of the coalition’s major causes of concern.
The scope indicates that the rezoning could lead to the creation of more than 3,000 apartments above what the economy might generate over a decade without any zoning change. But it does not project what percentage of the new apartments would be affordable to neighborhood residents. It notes that because the area’s weak housing market requires developers to rely on public subsidies that are tied to affordable housing requirements, future development will likely include a “substantial amount” of affordable housing. In addition, the rezoning would make Jerome Avenue into a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing zone, requiring that 20 to 30 percent of all new units be rented at below-market rates.
DCP intends to further analyze the potential for affordable units on Jerome Avenue and share those results as soon as data becomes available, but coalition members are not optimistic. They believe the city “has no mechanism to mandate affordable housing or leverage the market to create it, at levels that reflect the needs of neighborhood residents.”
The coalition argues that Mandatory Inclusionary Housing will not provide enough below-market rate units to accommodate the needs of residents, who have a median income of $25,900, and that the city’s existing public subsidy programs will fail to provide enough units for households with the lowest incomes. The coalition is currently working with trade groups and nonprofit developers to create a new program that would finance a larger percentage of units for people making $24,480 or less—of course at a greater cost—and are urging the city consider their program.
While some community members would like more specifics, DCP might be wary of making promises it can’t keep. Critics say the agency oversold its rezoning plan for East New York, the first neighborhood targeted for a rezoning under the mayor’s affordable housing plan. In the draft scope for the East New York plan, the agency predicted about 50 percent of the new units in East New York would be rented at below-market rates, but this estimate was partly based on assumptions about the willingness of developers to accept subsidies over a period of 10 years.
There are also some technical difficulties that make it harder for DCP to project a number of new affordable units on Jerome Avenue. In East New York, DCP was able to guarantee the construction of 1,200 below-market rate units concentrated mostly at a large public lot and a second site owned by a non-profit affordable housing developer. In the Jerome area, there are few publicly owned sites and thus fewer opportunities to guarantee future affordable apartments.
Coalition members also have concerns with the city’s method for assessing the impact of a rezoning on residential and business displacement. The coalition has repeatedly called on DCP to take its customary study of potential displacement to a new level of depth in its Environmental Impact Statement. For instance, while the city usually assesses the potential for residential displacement by calculating the number of low-income families living in unregulated housing, the coalition has asked the city to factor in variables such as what would happen if the landlords of rent-regulated, subsidized buildings opted not to renew their subsidy contracts, or if the rezoning prompted landlords of rent-regulated buildings to illegally harass their tenants.
The documents released last week gave no explicit indication that the city’s forthcoming Environmental Impact Statement will be any different from its process for East New York. In response, the coalition calls for an in-depth study of residential displacement and a variety of citywide measures to protect tenants, including anti-harassment provisions, a right to counsel in housing court, and a new HPD task force to prevent displacement.
Coalition members are also concerned about the plan’s effect on the neighborhood’s auto businesses, a major source of employment for the area’s immigrant community. While the city says it is protecting some of the neighborhood’s auto-businesses by preserving the original zoning on some portions of Jerome Avenue, an analysis by the Pratt Center found that only 28 percent of existing auto businesses and only 26 percent of Jerome’s auto repair workers are located in those portions. Members of the Laborers-Employers Cooperation and Education Trust, a union advocacy organization, are troubled that the scope did not mention how the city would ensure the rezoning leads to apprenticeships and quality construction jobs for local residents.
Local Councilmember Vanessa Gibson says she shares the coalition’s concerns with the lack of detail on affordable housing, jobs, and the threats to the auto industry, but wishes to remind her constituency that negotiations are only just beginning.
“Yes we’re disappointed, but we’re not giving up. Every issue remains on the table,” she says, adding that she believes the city is actively listening to residents’ concerns. “I think DCP is going to be very, very careful with Jerome with what they call for and what they promise.”
Joe Marvilli, a spokesman for DCP, echoed Gibson’s remarks, insisting that public comment will be taken seriously.
“The purpose of the scoping process is to gather the variety of comments on the draft scope that we will receive from all stakeholders. We will take all public comments into consideration as we create the final scope that will guide the environmental review,” he said in an e-mail.
In the past, the city has argued that the city’s environmental review documents, including the scope and Environmental Impact Statement, are not a place to discuss labor provisions. The city’s more comprehensive “Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan,” released in June, does address ways that the city intends to address issues like displacement and job creation, including providing legal resources to tenants facing harassment and creating more opportunities to connect local residents to apprenticeship programs, among other measures.