Mozart Diensthuber

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East Harlem is in the midst of change. While much of the recent residential development has been marketed to higher income earners, the community still has many low-income residents, requiring support and resources. As new buildings are developed, opportunities to include affordable housing are being missed, and current residents are being displaced. Our ability to provide real affordable alternatives is key to protecting the character of our community.

We are members of the local Steering Committee, convened by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Community Board 11 and Community Voices Heard, which helped create a vision—the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan—for the future of our community that responds to the needs of existing residents.

The current situation is untenable. Existing zoning allows new buildings to be developed without any affordable housing. We are advocating for a modest increase in building height and density to trigger the new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program, which will require affordable housing on all sites developed in the rezoning area. Almost all the extra height and density will be used as affordable housing. The Department of City Planning’s proposal unfortunately includes a larger up-zoning on Third and Park Avenues that will alter the character of the community. We believe our plan achieves a better balance.

We also need to use our city-owned properties, where we can more directly control outcomes, to maximize the development of deeply affordable housing, helping our lowest income households who are most vulnerable to displacement. East Harlem also has more public housing than any other community, with 1 in 3 residents residing in NYCHA housing. These developments are in desperate need of both major capital improvements and repairs to individual apartments.

Funding also is required to incentivize landlords to keep existing housing affordable, while at the same time protecting tenant who are being harassed by unscrupulous landlords. Preserving the existing community also means embracing its existing culture, including support for our thriving arts community.

Our neighborhood plan includes investments in people, in every season of their lives. Early childhood services must get our kids kindergarten-ready, our schools need to offer students multiple pathways to succeed, and those looking for employment need help accessing local jobs.

Our Steering Committee will continue to work with a wide range of city government agencies to implement the goals of our neighborhood plan. There’s a lot of work still left to come, but we’re expecting positive outcomes and will continue to advocate for the needs of our community and help plan for a better tomorrow.

David Nocenti, Gus Rosado and Richard Berlin are the executive directors, respectively, of Union Settlement, El Barrio Operation Fightback, and DREAM.