Last month, Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH) released a bombshell report corroborating what many in New York City have long thought: Neighborhood rezonings are directly responsible for displacing thousands of residents of color in primarily low-income communities.
The report analyzes some of the significant impacts of the 2004 Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront rezoning and the 2003 Park Slope/4th Avenue rezoning, noting, for example, a decrease in 15,000 Latino residents in Greenpoint and Williamsburg from 2000 to 2015 despite an actual population increase of more than 20,000 during this time frame. Hundreds of rent-stabilized units were lost in these neighborhoods as well. And while these may have been unintended consequences of the rezoning, this report brings to light a serious flaw in our land use process.
The lessons of this report should not go unanswered: The City needs to fervently acknowledge the racial impact that rezonings have on a neighborhood.
That’s why I’m cosponsoring legislation alongside Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, which would require a racial impact analysis in connection with neighborhood rezonings.
It’s also why I’m opposing the Southern Boulevard rezoning!
When the Southern Boulevard rezoning study was first announced two years ago, I participated in several community deep-dive forums and held numerous meetings with City Planning to understand the city’s intentions for the neighborhood. In each meeting, I went in with an open mind in the hopes that I would hear something that would convince me that this action would protect and benefit my constituents. I made my position very clear from the beginning: I could not support a rezoning that would displace the very people who make my district what it is. As I spoke with my constituents, a very real fear – now confirmed by the CUFFH report – kept coming up: A neighborhood rezoning would accelerate rising rents, price out residents and displace them from the very community they’ve helped build, the community that I am proud to come from.
As discussions about the rezoning with the mayor’s office continued over time, it was evident our goals did not align. While I prioritized downzoning large swaths of my district in order to preserve the neighborhood context of areas that included two and three family homes, the city was intent on upzoning major transportation corridors, of which there are many in the South Bronx. This would allow for taller buildings and greater density. With this upzoning, I fear that the city could trigger a rush of developers looking to purchase land and build thousands of unregulated units along Southern Boulevard, Westchester Avenue and the Bronx River. While City Planning touts the significance of mandatory inclusionary housing creating permanent affordable housing in rezonings, the truth is that MIH affordability only applies to a small fraction of the new units created, with the rest of the units being market-rate.
Since my time on the Council, I have approved more than 6,700 residential units of affordable housing, with just under 5,000 of those being newly constructed. I am pro-growth, but for logical local improvements created by reasonable development. Unfortunately, I have seen the negative aspect of how irresponsible development can lead to the gentrification of entire communities, displacing thousands of low-income Black and Latino families and seniors who make up the very bedrock of that which makes New York City who we are. We cannot let that continue to happen, and we certainly cannot let it happen in the South Bronx.
As Mayor de Blasio once said, we can no longer tell the tale of two cities. Rezonings such as the one proposed for Southern Boulevard will ensure that tale lives on.
Rafael Salamanca Jr. is the Council Member for the 17th District of the New York City Council, representing the South Bronx and serves as Chair of the Land Use Committee.