Dozens of residents packed into the gymnasium at Washington Heights Academy Monday night for the latest in a series of public meetings about the city’s plan to rezone Inwood—a proposal officials say will help spur the creation of new affordable housing, but which some critics fear will speed up gentrification and displacement in the neighborhood.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is proposing the changes, which would rezone mostly industrial areas on and east of 10th street to allow for significant residential and commercial development. Busy commercial districts on Broadway, Dyckman and 207th streets would be rezoned to allow for greater density under the plan, with upzoned areas subject to the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH) policy, which requires a portion of new residential development be rent-restricted. The proposal would also “contextually rezone” several residential blocks, using height limits and other restrictions to preserve the area’s existing character.
City officials say the plan is necessary to update Inwood’s outdated zoning—which hasn’t been changed in more than 50 years—and expect the proposal to generate up to 4,348 new apartments in the neighborhood, including 1,325 to 1,563 income-targeted units under the MIH requirement.
“Essentially what we’re doing is using zoning as a tool to trigger the creation of affordable housing,” the EDC’s Charlie Samboy told the crowd at Monday’s meeting.
But some attendees blasted the proposal as gentrification-in-disguise, echoing earlier concerns that the majority of new development spurred by the rezoning would be market-rate units that many existing residents can’t afford.
“Why don’t they go to the mayor’s part of Brooklyn, why don’t they go to Park Slope and rezone over there?” said Lena Melendez, of the advocacy group Dominicanos Pro Defensa Negocios y Viviendas (Dominicans for the Defense of Businesses and Housing). “We do not need luxury towers here in Washington Heights and in Inwood.”
Some said they worry the rezoning would threaten Inwood’s existing stock of rent-regulated apartments, leading to increased displacement and landlord harassment. More than 86 percent of rental units in the neighborhood are rent-controlled or rent stabilized, according to a 2014 study by NYU’s Furman Center.
“In this particular neighborhood we have the highest concentration of rent-stabilized apartments in the city of New York,” said Congressman Adriano Espaillat, who organized Monday’s meeting.
Though he does not get to vote on the rezoning plan—which is currently making its way through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP)—Espaillat repeatedly called on the city to commit to creating 5,000 affordable apartments in Inwood under the rezoning, with 1,000 of those dedicated to seniors.
The congressman says his office has already identified 14 sites in the district where potential new affordable units could be built. He invited representatives from the private developer Maddd Equities to speak at Monday’s meeting about residential projects they’ve built in the Bronx where all of the units were income-targeted—an effort to show that it’s economically feasible to build developments that are 100 percent affordable, he said.
“We want to do away, dispel this notion, that you cannot build affordable housing in New York City,” Espaillat said.
Members of the crowd at Monday’s hearing expressed other concerns about the rezoning plan, including how the influx of residents the new development will bring could impact local schools and crowded subway lines.
The Inwood rezoning is part of a broader plan for city investment the neighborhood, dubbed the Inwood NYC Action Plan, which also includes improving access to the area’s waterfront as well as building a new, state-of-the-art library at the site of the New York Public Library’s current Inwood branch.
Details of that project were unveiled last week, and call for a 14-story building that will include the new three-story library branch as well as 175 “deeply affordable” apartments, a Pre-K for All facility and other amenities.
Manhattan’s Community Board 12 is currently reviewing the Inwood rezoning proposal, with the board’s executive committee expected to vote on a resolution this Thursday. The full board will vote on that resolution at its meeting on March 2o, though its recommendation is only advisory— the City Council will have the final say on the plan.