She says that the new housing on Bay Street, even though 20 to 30 percent will be rent-restricted under the city’s new mandatory inclusionary housing policy, will still result in displacement. The so-called “affordable housing” she says, “is not going to meet the needs of the neediest people.”
As City Limits reported in November, in northern Staten Island, 76 percent of households making less than $20,000 are severely rent-burdened, as compared to only 9 percent of families making between $35,000 and $50,000. The city’s mandatory inclusionary housing policy, however, is more aimed at creating housing for families in the latter bracket or who are even better off, though the city could use additional subsidies to reach lower income levels.
Even Angiuli, the Minthorne Street developer, recognizes that the housing created by mandatory inclusionary housing is not targeted at families in the lowest income brackets.
“I think you are going to have some people who are displaced and that’s always a sad and disheartening thing and as a whole, as a society, we could do better with that problem,” he says. Yet he still thinks that overall, the Bay Street rezoning will be a great thing because it will create lower middle-income housing and new economic opportunities.
“It’s a disservice to people living below the poverty-line to allow or encourage that the whole neighborhood be open … only for people making below the poverty-line,” says Leticia Remauro, former Community Board 1 chair and secretary at the Staten Island Downtown Alliance. She argues the North Shore needs more of an economic mix. “There were more churches and liquor stores in a square mile than there were fresh vegetables and grocery stores and anything else that you need.”
But Reverend Faith Togba of Bethel Worship Center on Bay Street says he is already seeing the impact of the attention generated by the rezoning: families are being gentrified out of the North Shore, he says.
“If you cannot live in the North Shore, you cannot live in Staten Island,” he says.
The best, or worst, of both worlds
Much of Bay Street’s fate lies with Councilmember Debi Rose, who will have to sign off on the proposal. The 64-year-old Staten Island native is the first Black elected official to represent Staten Island. Her comments so far have, like Digi’s, reflected a mix of excitement for investment and redevelopment, and concern about the fate of existing residents and businesses.
“Of all the issues that my constituent services team handles on a daily basis, housing-related concerns are by far the most prevalent. The proposed rezoning of the Bay Street Corridor presents us with an opportunity to expand our supply of both market rate and affordable housing, while making needed investments in our infrastructure,” she wrote in an e-mail to City Limits.
“I have thought long and hard about how best to raise the level of amenities and infrastructure while preventing displacement of long-time residents. My priority has always been for market-rate and affordable units to be well integrated—which is the goal of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. I had asked for the Environmental Impact Statement to look at all options on public sites so that we could do a proper analysis of what would be needed to meet our housing goals and subsequent infrastructure needs,” she wrote, referring to several plots of public land that advocates like Jones want to see used to build 100 percent affordable housing.
Yet even as Rose is deliberating, a number of other rezoning initiatives are beginning to pop up. The neighborhoods of Rosebank, Ford Wadsworth, and Clifton, which are adjacent to Bay Street, are applying to the city for a zoning analysis; they are concerned about “overdevelopment, traffic congestion, school seat shortages, infrastructure incapacity,” among other issues, according to a letter from Rose in support of their application. In addition, Staten Island’s elected officials are working with the College of Staten Island to create an inventory of land parcels that are vulnerable to out-of-context development in order to inform future-land use policy. In other words, the downzoning bug is still very much at large.
There are two ways to see this. Either Staten Island is moving toward an ideal mix of quiet suburbia and thriving downtown, or it’s threatening to pursue a dangerous agenda of downzoning homes and upzoning rental housing that some researchers say triggers the most severe displacement.
In the latter version of the future, the North Shore becomes the next hub for millennial newcomers seeking hipness. As the majority of Staten Island’s housing stock is unregulated, low-income tenants are soon vulnerable to rising rents and, for those who don’t win a housing lottery apartment on Bay Street, displacement and homelessness.
Perhaps the inconvenience of a ferry commute will mitigate the dangers of rapid gentrification. The once-forgotten borough’s future is yet unclear.