Last week, the City Council Land Use Committee approved the de Blasio administration’s proposed rezoning of Jerome Avenue along with a suite of investments secured by local councilmembers Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera. The city’s proposal will increase residential and commercial development along a corridor in the western Bronx, with a portion of the housing required to be permanently income-targeted under the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing policy.
While acknowledging the plan’s imperfection, Gibson praised the outcome of negotiations, while the de Blasio administration described the effort as a major investment in a long-neglected neighborhood.
Members of the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision beg to differ, according to a six-page statement issued Thursday. The coalition has been organizing for a just and inclusive plan for the area since 2014, and has offered its own policy platform along with several detailed critiques of the city’s proposal.
“The current plan will accelerate the displacement of current residents and businesses and fails to provide middle class wages and careers in the building and construction trades for local workers—all of which is unacceptable to us,” Thursday’s press release states.
While it acknowledges that its own advocacy efforts have contributed to citywide progress on several fronts—including the creation of a right to counsel in housing court for low-income people, the piloting of a “certificate of no harassment” program to stem tenant harassment, and the passage of worker safety legislation—it argues these victories “cannot fully protect us against the consequences of a local rezoning that will dramatically alter who gets to live in our neighborhood.”
Specifically, when it comes to the creation of new affordable housing, the coalition is still skeptical of the city’s claims that, because of a weak real-estate market in the neighborhood, much of the new development there in the near term will be affordable, with developers agreeing to participate in city subsidy programs that require greater percentages of income-targeted housing than the 20 to 30 percent required by the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing policy. Indeed, as City Limits has reported, the city’s own models note that over a 10-year period, half the total development is predicted to be market-rate and half income-targeted.
“If anything, by encouraging drastic market changes in our community, the rezoning makes it less likely that developers will take HPD subsidy, and in the city’s best-case scenario, only about half of the new apartments will be subsidized. This means that only about 200 of the new apartments—5 percent of the total— will be for families making below 30 percent [Area Median Income], even though almost half of the families in the Jerome Avenue rezoning area make below that amount,” the press release states.
(Their calculation assumes that half of the development in the area is market-rate, and that the other half uses the city’s Extremely Low Income and Low Income Affordability (ELLA) subsidy program, which requires that developers provide housing at a range of low incomes, including a minimum of 10 percent of units for families making below 30 percent Area Median Income, which is $25,770 for a family of three.)
When it comes to protecting auto-businesses, the coalition says that the various programs and resources secured by Gibson are insufficient, and that the city should have instead expanded the “retention zones” where auto-zoning will remain intact.
The coalition also contends that while HPD has committed to preserving 2,500 units of existing affordable housing, this benefit could have occurred with or without a rezoning. It also has questions about the implementation of this preservation work and demands sufficient funding, the right stakeholders to be included, and increased investment in tenant organizing. In addition, “Any data compiled as part of the program, including the inventory of regulated affordable housing, must be made publicly available,” the press release argues; the group has long said that there needs to be more information about regulated housing publicly available to benefit organizers and tenants.
The coalition also questions some of the offerings made in relation to local hiring and workforce development. It argues that while the city may support workforce referral programs to get workers jobs, and make deeper investments in construction-training programs, those efforts don’t guarantee developers and other employers will actually hire workers.
For instance, the city says that all developments subsidized by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will have to come up with a local hiring plan, but the coalition objects that “there are no stated requirements or rewards for hiring local workers.”
It’s highly unlikely that the rezoning will be modified greatly prior to its likely approval next week—and the press release doesn’t debate that notion. Instead, the coalition expresses its disappointment with the city’s plan and makes a commitment to continued advocacy. The coalition hopes to work with HPD to figure out the affordability levels for apartments on public land and on determining the rent levels of the units that are required to be permanently affordable in subsidized projects within the mandatory inclusionary zoning area. It also hails as “potentially innovative” the Council’s launch of a Jerome Avenue Local Hiring and Responsible Contracting Working Group, and offers recommendations for that working group’s activities.
“We will continue to organize to ensure our participation in these efforts help implement our vision,” the press release states. “We have also been calling for community oversight of mayoral commitments and we hope and expect that as Council Members Gibson and Cabrera engage with the administration on oversight, community members will be included in these processes.”
The Council will vote on the plan on March 21st at 1:30 p.m. at City Hall.