On Thursday morning, a crowd of East New York residents, advocates and elected officials gathered outside the Broadway Junction terminal to demand that redevelopment plans for the surrounding area take into account existing residents’ visions.
The rally, organized by the Coalition for Community Advancement: Progress for Cypress Hills/East New York, was a response to the city’s recent steps to transform the blocks near the subway hub into a commercial office district as part of a larger strategy to create more office space throughout the city. As reported by City Limits in June, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) released a Request for Proposal (RFP) calling for a commercial development near Broadway Junction that would be anchored by the Human Resources Administration, with at least half the space available for other businesses. Developers had until August 18 to apply.
The initiative is also a continuation of the de Blasio administration’s work in East New York. The neighborhood was the first to be rezoned, in April 2016, as part of the mayor’s affordable housing plan, and the city is engaged in delivering a variety of community investments that were negotiated by the local councilmember, Rafael Espinal, as part of the overall plan for the neighborhood.
The Coalition for Community Advancement, which originally organized to respond to the rezoning, welcomes these city investments but maintains concerns that there are insufficient anti-displacement measures in place. Their latest frustration is the feeling that the city is failing to properly engage residents on a plan for Broadway Junction.
“We have serious concerns about redeveloping the Junction as an office and commercial hub,” said Michelle Neugebauer, a member of the coalition and director of the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, in a press release. “The community has just accepted a tremendous amount of new density through the East New York rezoning plan and to pave the way for even further growth without community input and specific and enforceable community benefits is unacceptable.”
Some of the coalition’s specific demands for the site include discounted commercial rents for local entrepreneurs, living wage jobs, a neighborhood jobs plan that provides details about the jobs to be created and what kind of workforce training will be provided, and participation in deciding which offices of the Human Resource Administration are moved to East New York and what can be done to ensure East New Yorkers can access HRA jobs. The coalition also wants space for community facilities, for developer’s fees to be reinvested in East New York, the involvement of nonprofits, and the use of local suppliers, subcontractors, and Minority and Women Owned Businesses (MWBEs).
The coalition notes that at the time of the rezoning, the city promised to conduct a study that would ensure community members could weigh into the future of the site. That study hasn’t happened yet, and when the RFP was released in June, it came as a surprise to members of the coalition.
“It really leaves a bad taste in my mouth,” says Catherine Green, director of Arts East New York, a member of the coalition. “We are a force to be reckoned with and I hope the city respects us…and that they continue to come to the table and continue to work with the community.”
Espinal and the community wrote to EDC asking for an extension of the RFP response deadline by four months. At Thursday’s rally, the coalition, supported by local Assemblymember Latrice Walker and a representative for Assemblyman Charles Barron, again called for this extension, which they said would allow time for the city to complete the study, and for developers applying for the RFP to meet with the coalition to negotiate Community Benefits Agreements—or agreements that detail what a developer will offer in exchange for the community’s backing. The coalition has also recommended EDC require applicants to address a number of community priorities in their applications, and give a specific number of points in the scoring process for each community benefit.
On Thursday morning shortly after the press conference, EDC informed City Limits that the deadline for the RFP would be postponed: the new deadline, according to EDC’s website, is two months later—October 17.
“We appreciate the feedback that we have received from Council Member Espinal and East New York/Cypress Hills community stakeholders on our Brooklyn-based Office Anchor Strategy RFP and upcoming Broadway Junction planning study,” said EDC spokesperson Stephanie Baez in an e-mail to City Limits. “We agree that it is critical to be thoughtful and transparent as we continue to explore projects in these neighborhoods. As we continue to advance the commitments outlined in the ENY Community Plan, we look forward to commencing the Broadway Junction planning study this fall and to working with local elected officials to plan a community engagement process for the Broadway Junction study that is specific to the needs of East New York and Cypress Hills.”
In several ways, the RFP already encourages developers to invest in community benefits. It says the project must “create office space and retail space for lease by local businesses and new companies” and “create full-time jobs and bring permanent investment to the surrounding neighborhood.” It states that preference will be given to developers who can show they’ll give 20 to 35 percent of contracts to M/BWEs, to developers interested in participating in local hiring programs, and to those who plan to pay living wages. The RFP also stresses the city’s interest in increasing nonprofits participating in the development process. But other factors that the city will evaluate—like the experience of the developer, and the developer’s financial model—could also determine the project that is chosen.
“We hope that EDC and the community will come together to create a jobs plan that best reflects the needs of the community,” says Erika Tannor, a spokesperson for Espinal.
Advocates welcomed news of the two-month postponement.
“We’ve accomplished [the two-month postponement], which is great, but we still have a ways to go,” says Green.