The City of New York plans to rezone 92 blocks in the southwest Bronx, mostly along Jerome Avenue, from 167th Street to 184th Street – a plan that would bring over 4,000 new apartments to the neighborhood and one the city claims will create up to 3700 new jobs.
This rezoning will forever change the Bronx. But at most 5 percent of the housing under the city’s plan will be affordable to people making below $25,000 a year, almost half of the families in our area, while the city still lacks a strong program to train residents for and place them into high-paying, career-track jobs.
The Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision believes that the city’s plan will cause massive displacement and loss of businesses and jobs in our community. We implore the Council to vote down this plan, which is flat-out wrong for our neighborhood.
If this isn’t possible, we ask the city to meet us halfway by creating a strong jobs program and cutting the scale of the rezoning in half so it creates about 2,000 units of housing in our community, much of which would be subsidized.
Though we have serious concerns about any rezoning given the inadequacy of the city’s tools to meet our neighborhood job and housing needs and the uncertainty of future federal funding available to create subsidized housing, a more modest plan is more responsible, creating room for more new housing with lower risks to current residents & businesses.
The Bronx Coalition was formed in late 2014 after learning about the city’s plans, and we have since engaged thousands of residents in the process of developing plans that are responsive to the needs of our community. Over the course of countless meetings and conversations, the coalition developed a few core demands: new housing affordable to current residents of the community; adoption and implementation of community-developed anti-harassment and anti-displacement policies; and a real, enforceable mechanism to create good and safe career-track jobs.
We have urged and organized community members to testify at every public hearing on this plan, to reach out to the Department of City Planning and other agencies directly, and to talk to each other and to elected officials about their concerns and ideas, taking every single opportunity to try to influence what happens here. We have done everything we can to collaborate with the city to develop a rezoning plan that better meets our community’s needs – only to be rebuffed at every turn. The city hasn’t listened, so we ask the Council to do so now.
In its current form, the city’s plan will drive up rents in the community, exacerbating displacement pressures on a community that thousands of New Yorkers and businesses call home. Though the city claims that over half of the new apartments will be “affordable,” by the city’s own estimate, almost half of the apartments the rezoning will bring will not be subsidized or subject to the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) requirements. These 2,000 apartments will have no affordability restrictions at all, creating a market for luxury apartments that does not exist in our neighborhood today. Even the MIH apartments the city has promised do not meet the community’s needs; as for the subsidized apartments at most 10 percent will be affordable to the almost half of families in our community who make less than $25,000 a year; when factoring in the 2,000 market rate units this rezoning will bring this means just 5 percent of new apartments will be for families most in need.
And this is the best-case scenario; the coalition believes that the city’s projections significantly overstate the share of housing that will be subsidized. First, the city depends very heavily on federal funds to subsidize the affordable housing it has promised; such funds account for 84 percent, or $786 million, of the Department of Housing and Preservation’s 2018 budget. If the Trump Administration’s proposed cuts to the federal housing budget come to pass, where will HPD get the money to subsidize more than 2,000 apartments on Jerome Ave?
Second, even if the city has the money, it can only build subsidized housing if it has willing partners, and developers don’t take or renew subsidies in “hot” markets because it’s not worth their while financially. The city itself admits that over the 10-year build-out period its study covers, the market will shift to the point that developers no longer want to take subsidy. Why pass a dramatic upzoning that triggers speculation and actively invites housing almost no one in our community can afford? For the city to massively upzone our area while it lacks tools to reach the affordability levels our residents need, and amidst so much uncertainty about how much housing the city will be able to subsidize, is careless and dangerous.
Instead of gambling with our community’s future by initiating a massive upzoning that is likely to serve as a future windfall to private developers, the city should reject this plan altogether, or scale back the rezoning significantly. Either would decrease the risk of speculation and displacement and enable HPD to continue the strategies that have helped the city create over 1,500 subsidized apartments in our area since 2014, almost half of which are affordable to families making less than $43,000 a year and 35 percet of which are affordable to families making less than $26,000.
HRA should also create hundreds of housing vouchers targeted toward homeless families who have been displaced, or are at risk of displacement from, our community, as it did when the East New York rezoning was passed. Securing affordable housing for the families that need it most will help to ensure that our community remains accessible to people at all income levels far into the future.
We also demand that the city implement meaningful hiring reforms to its HireNYC program before any rezoning is passed. This means leveraging the power the city has when it gives developers subsidies to require developers to craft local hiring plans that create clear hiring goals for targeted groups, such as women, disconnected youth, NYCHA residents, and reentry populations as well as investing in job training programs that will enable residents to secure career-track construction jobs. The current HireNYC approach, which requires only that developers receiving significant city subsidies share job postings with HireNYC and consider local candidates, does little to help low-income residents get qualified for or actually hired into high-quality construction jobs. Without guarantees of job training and placement into career-track jobs for local residents, the rezoning risks creating jobs only for newcomers – not the residents who have lived in and sustained this area for decades. The city legally can and should do much more to secure and create local jobs, including by offering construction-related job training programs and demanding that the developers it partners with create meaningful plans to hire local residents. We have yet to see such commitments, for the Jerome Avenue rezoning or any other neighborhood impacted by the city’s rezoning plans.
For over three years, the City has ignored the needs of Jerome Avenue residents and their opposition to the rezoning in its current form. We urge the Council to adopt the ideas we’ve proposed here, including significantly scaling back the rezoning and creating a meaningful jobs program that will better serve this and every other low-income rezoning community.
If the Council elects to pass the irresponsible plan the city has proposed, we are prepared to sue to stop this rezoning, which is based on a deeply flawed and legally inadequate environmental review that categorically excludes consideration of illegal displacement tactics and the displacement risks to the close to 60,000 rent-stabilized tenants in the area, or the roughly 15 percent of households receiving vouchers and rent subsidies. Though our preference is to collaborate with the city on a plan that meets the community’s needs, we are prepared to exercise our right to sue to stop this plan if needed.
Carmen Vega-Rivera is a leader of Community Action for Safe Apartments and a member of the steering committee of the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision.