Versión en español aquí.
This article appeared in our latest ZoneIn print newsletter, which was distributed in East New York on Friday. Download a copy here. Earlier newsletters covered Far Rockaway, the Lower East Side and East Harlem.
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East New York was the test pilot for Mayor de Blasio’s vision to anchor his affordable housing plan around rezoning a dozen or more neighborhoods to be denser and more inclusive. But more than a year after the City Council on April 20, 2016 approved that plan to rezone 190 blocks in the southeast corner of Brooklyn, it is still unclear that the idea is going to fly.
Supporters say the rezoning was necessary to protect the neighborhood from the wave of speculation, displacement and gentrification that has swept across Brooklyn. Detractors believe the zoning change only served to make the area more vulnerable to those forces.
In other words, the core arguments today are exactly the same as they were during the two-year debate over the East New York plan.
But the landscape is different: The de Blasio administration and Councilmember Rafael Espinal say there has been progress in delivering on a long list of promises the city made as part of the rezoning. Community organizations, meanwhile, are hoping to win new policy changes that they believe will protect low- and moderate-income East New Yorkers from being uprooted.
Within two months of the rezoning’s approval, advocates say they began to see street-level evidence of the change. A “for sale” sign on a lot that noted the new zoning designation. A real-estate firm’s mass mailing alerting recipients to the sudden increase in value of their properties. More construction vehicles rattling down the street.
“The bigger supermarkets are still OK. It’s the smaller mom and pop stores – those are the ones that have ‘for sale’ signs or their gates are down because they don’t have a lease now,” says Darma Diaz, a longtime resident and advocate. “We have more and more of the phone calls from the investors and more and more knocking on my door. ‘The house looks nice. You don’t want to sell it?'”
The question, in East New York and in other city neighborhoods where a rezoning is possible, is whether those changes reflect an independent trend that was already underway when the zoning was changed, or a market dynamic triggered or deepened by the rezoning itself.
In an op-ed, Espinal argues that East New York’s “close proximity to Bushwick and Williamsburg … organically made ENY an attractive location for residents being squeezed out of those rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods and it was an inevitable breeding ground for real-estate speculation. So, something needed to be done.”
Information gathered by the Center for New York City Neighborhoods indicates that East New York has since been among the top six neighborhoods in terms of average “flipping” value—the difference in price between the first and second sale when a property is sold twice in the same year—since 2011, well before a rezoning was discussed. But the trend does appear to have intensified recently: From 2014 to 2015, the number of properties flipped in East New York jumped from 80 (third most in the city) to 98 (the highest number in the city).
In the deal Espinal cut in exchange for his support for the rezoning, the administration agreed to 40 commitments to East New York. These ranged from a vow to “use public sites to reach deeper levels of affordability” to a promise to “make upgrades to the playground at NYCHA’s Fiorentino Plaza.”
On the one-year anniversary, Espinal’s office declared that East New York had “already seen unprecedented levels of investment and significant progress on major commitments.”
Community groups are operating their own tracking system—measuring not just whether the city keeps its promises, but what the impact of all the changes are on the people of East New York.
The Coalition for Community Advancement, a consortium of local stakeholders that took a skeptical position on the rezoning, convened a meeting on June 3 to discuss its findings so far.
The coalition has already identified a suite of policy changes it hopes to secure in order to protect current East New York residents from the negatives—and put them in position to enjoy the benefits—of the rezoning.