A scene from the planning process.


A scene from the planning process.

This is a news release from Community Voices Heard. For the City Limits article on the East Harlem plan, please click here.

CVH Members Call on De Blasio Administration to Listen to Low-Income Residents; Lift Up Need for Deeply Affordable Housing & Good Union Jobs

New York, NY (2/25/2016) – The East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, a product of nearly ten (10) months of community-based planning efforts, was released this morning. Community Voices Heard (CVH), a membership organization of low-income families with deep roots in East Harlem, was one of the key Project Partners that helped coordinate the process along with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Community Board 11, and a team of over twenty (20) Steering Committee members. More information on the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan process and the final report can be found on the EastHarlemPlan.nyc website.

The EHNP invited participation of the entire community of residents, workers, artists, students, political representatives, and stakeholders with an interest in the future of East Harlem. We captured community concerns and solutions through open-ended, collaborative and interactive visioning sessions, diverse opinions and alternative solutions were given free rein. These ideas ultimately became recommendations in the plan. This process created a space for community residents and stakeholders to determine what a rezoning plan should look like, when typically these decisions have been made behind closed doors near City Hall. The process gave residents and stakeholders the opportunity to become aware of what rezoning is and why it is being proposed in the community ahead of certification of a plan and the official Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP).

The plan covered 12 diverse themes from affordable and public housing preservation and production, to youth and senior needs; from arts & culture to workforce & economic development. While the plan is comprehensive in nature and tried to take a holistic view of the community, CVH member-leaders prioritized housing and jobs as they relate to land use and rezoning. The plan included recommendations around the preservation of affordable housing, strengthening the policies that protect tenants in adequate housing, building at deeper levels of affordability, improving public housing, and linking New York City residents to apprenticeship programs in the construction industry, so that people can have access to good paying, safe, quality jobs.

CVH voted down some recommendations that came before the Steering Committee because of a difference of opinion on particular topics, and CVH felt that some recommendations did not go as far in addressing inequality in housing, community amenities, and access to good jobs as members would have liked. However, overall CVH believes that the plan speaks to what the community wants and deserves. CVH work does not stop here; CVH will continue to organize and build power around the future of the community.

CVH participated in the East Harlem Neighborhood Planning process because the organization and members see the need to capture community benefits in any future development of the community. CVH membership does not see rezoning as the ultimate solution to the housing crisis, but rather, as a tool, if used carefully, to have a voice in development. In addition, CVH believes that additional tools must also be utilized to achieve the ultimate goals of low-income housing preservation, deep affordability and good jobs. Many of these other tools are outlined in the comprehensive report.

“I participated in the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan [process] because of my insistence that citizenship is a verb and not a noun. I grew up here, left and have been back for over 20 years. This is where I live so I have a vested interest in what happens here. I love my neighborhood! East Harlem went through a period of decline due to planned shrinkage, which started during the Nixon administration. Funding for programs such as the Model Cities Program was withdrawn leaving disinvestment, fires, displacement, and urban blight and decay. Now developers are back to benefit off of the misfortunes of others. I won’t accept actions that dictate profits over people. We do not live in a time where we can cut down trees and build log cabins. Something has got to give. I want to ensure that we get respect for our vision and the utmost consideration to the needs of the community. Housing is a right not a privilege. We also need to see other models used to provide housing, such as community land trusts,” said Pearl Barkley, CVH Member-Leader and East Harlem public housing resident.

“The EHNP [process] gave me an opportunity to assess and modify the Mayor’s plan to rezone East Harlem in order to build more affordable housing. As a resident of NYC for 42 years, I am greatly concerned about the increasingly dire lack of affordable housing. Four decades ago I got an entry-level position in finance making just $8,900 per year but was able to lease a studio apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for $190 a month. Today, many individual low-income, entry-level workers — credit analysts, bank tellers, advertising copywriters, assistant medical technicians, insurance underwriters, media specialists — cannot afford residential space without sharing a studio with two others or a one-bedroom with three or four others. Likewise, too many low-income families must often settle for a one-bedroom apartment, with 65-70% of take-home household pay spent on rent. Such people are the lifeblood of the City’s existence: shopkeepers, restaurant staff, healthcare specialists, bookkeepers, administrators, teachers, social service professionals, delivery people, firefighters, transit engineers and agents, other government workers. The City cannot function without them. They deserve truly affordable housing,” said Peter Myette, CVH Member-Leader and active participant in the planning process.

“East Harlem voices need to be heard, listened to and considered because they are the ones who will be impacted….In the EHNP process, the goal was that these voices be at the heart of the ultimate decisions that will be made. They are, like so many other citizens, the vital population who make this city function; they are what make the city a success. And thus, they have a right to good quality living, education and services – all aspects that the EHNP says it strives to achieve,” said Sandra Rivera, CVH Member-Leader and arts activist who grew up and works in East Harlem, and her father lives in neighborhood.

The plan comes out at a critical time when the City Council is considering Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) proposal. CVH members do not feel that the current MIH proposal goes far enough in getting to the quantity of affordable housing, depth of affordable housing, and good jobs that are needed in East Harlem or the rest of the City. “The MIH plan as originally presented by the Mayor is unacceptable. No inducements to for-profit real estate developers–neither greater density nor tax abatements–can be granted by the City without gaining rightful “bonuses” in the form of truly affordable housing for the community of East Harlem. That means that 50% of new apartments must be affordable in perpetuity for the 53% of East Harlem residents who are within Community Board 11’s two lowest income bands,” continued Peter Myette.

CVH is calling for a dramatic improvement in the MIH proposal requiring much deeper affordability, as well as a voluntary density bonus (FAAB, or the Floor Area Affordability Bonus) that provides additional density to developers only if they commit to producing more and deeper affordable housing as well as incorporating local hiring and job standards. While the EHNP does not address MIH directly, many of the recommendations within speak to the additional elements and stronger safeguards that residents and stakeholders want to see in any rezoning that advances.

“CVH was glad to be a part of the East Harlem Neighborhood Planning process and collaborate in creating a comprehensive plan driven by the community, rather than having to react to what external players might push on the community. The concerns that most rose to the top from our membership were the need for preservation of the low-income housing that exists in the community (including public housing), the production of more deeply affordable housing, and the creation of good union jobs. The community created this plan; now the City needs to implement it,” said Sondra Youdelman, Executive Director of Community Voices Heard and Project Partner for the EHNP.

“I believe the [City’s] plan should be about building on the neighborhood’s strengths, creating a greater sense of community and inclusivity, and creating educational and cultural and career opportunities. That residents know that whatever their age, income bracket, race or ethnicity or documentation status, that they have a place here, and it is theirs to define and defend against others who have some a very different set of ideas and values,” said Dennis Osorio, CVH Member-Leader and East Harlem Resident.

“The plan can work for us all; from the bottom to the top, it’s our plan. We have put a lot of input into this plan. We worked hard on it! If we hear that they didn’t accept our plan, then we will stand for action. Elections are coming soon. It may be that we’ll need to run our own people, register people to get out the vote, and change the whole system,” Agnes Rivera, CVH Member-Leader and East Harlem public housing resident.

Community Voices Heard (www.CVHaction.org) is a membership organization of low-income families with chapters in New York City, Westchester, Orange, and Dutchess Counties. CVH organizes around a variety of issues, one of which is truly affordable housing – including public housing. CVH membership in NYC consists of public housing and public assistance residents in all five boroughs, as well as low-wage workers.

The final plan can be accessed on the EastHarlemPlan.nyc website.