De Blasio adds job creation measures to sweeten East New York rezoning proposal

Photo: City Limits
East New York residents confront city commissioners at a Department of City Planning meeting last year.

De Blasio adds job creation measures to sweeten East New York rezoning proposal

De Blasio adds job creation measures to sweeten East New York rezoning proposal
January 6, 2016

As community boards, some construction union members and even some affordable housing advocates line up against the de Blasio administration’s sweeping zoning proposals, the mayor’s team is slated to unveil a series of economic development initiatives for the first neighborhood expected to fall under the framework.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration plans to describe several job creation measures at the City Planning Commission’s hearing on the East New York rezoning proposal today. His staff will announce plans to invest $1.5 million in renovating an industrial building, as well as a new Workforce1 job placement satellite center and a series of workshops and classes for local businesses.

The announcement comes after the city Economic Development Corporation and departments of City Planning and Small Business Services spent months collaborating with East New York residents, according to EDC President Maria Torres-Springer.

“Based on our engagement with local residents and community leaders we are making some critical additions to the plan that will help protect local businesses, bring in new employers, and make sure those good jobs go to people in the neighborhood,” Torres-Springer said in a statement. “The mayor’s East New York Plan is all about bringing affordable housing and good paying jobs to this community.”

Zoning proposals that would allow for denser development, but require the inclusion of affordable homes, are at the center of de Blasio's housing agenda. Construction unions have railed against the plan for its lack of local hiring and other employment requirements. Residents in neighborhoods up for rezoning have fretted that new, subsidized units may not be affordable for many in the community.  Community boards and some elected officials have also expressed reservations. The proposals will ultimately come before the City Council for approval.

The administration proposes to employ its zoning proposals first in East New York, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Brooklyn. To make the proposal more appealing, the city is now planning to invest $1.5 million toward upgrading the mechanical and electric system in the East New York Industrial Building, installing new exterior lights and fencing and paving its parking lot and loading areas. The revamp is expected to make the campus more attractive to industrial businesses when completed by the end of 2016.

The Economic Development Corporation said it has already seen its efforts to recruit businesses to the East New York community pay off. Eastern Effects, a video and film production firm based in Gowanus, is transforming a warehouse into new film studios, which will create five permanent jobs. A subsidiary of the Economic Development Corporation helped Eastern Effects obtain a low-interest loan to purchase the property. And the corporation is using incentives to woo a supermarket into a mixed-use development the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation is constructing.

The Department of Small Business Services is surveying potential sites for the Workforce1 outpost, which will provide job placement services, training and related programs. Under a second de Blasio initiative called HireNYC, many businesses with city contracts must consider qualified Workforce1 candidates for employment openings, which could include a significant amount of construction and building services jobs in East New York.

An administration official said it was unclear how many people would run the satellite center, but most Workforce1 Centers have about five staff members.

Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop said his team has collaborated with the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, the Highland Park Community Development Corporation and the Local Development Corporation of East New York to study commercial corridors and craft the plans. As a result, the city will enroll up to 40 small, retail businesses in a course on accessing capital, identifying growth opportunities and adapting to changing markets. The Department of Small Business Services will also host workshops in early spring on commercial leases, where entrepreneurs may meet one-on-one with a pro-bono lawyer.

SBS said this strategy of partnering with local organizations is part of its new “Neighborhood 360°” approach to commercial revitalization, which is underway in all of the neighborhoods targeted for rezoning.

But all three of the local development corporations cited as partners in East New York’s Neighborhood 360° initiative are part of a coalition that sent out a press release calling for rejection of the mayor’s overall plan – unless it is modified. Kayla Rivera, an organizer with the Coalition for Community Advancement, said her group was pleased by the economic development efforts, but felt further changes were needed to ensure homes are affordable to East New York residents, to keep construction from spurring gentrification and to help the community thrive.

“We’re not comfortable,” Rivera said, arguing that East New York has been neglected since the drug epidemic in the 1970s “It’s a long time coming. We’re grateful, but this could have been done 25, 30 years ago, and people would have been just as grateful.”

City Councilman Rafael Espinal, who represents the area, praised the administration’s move, but did not offer a position on the rezoning proposal at large.

“I'm hopeful that by requiring many affordable housing developers and contractors who receive city subsidies to post positions and consider candidates from the Workforce1 Center, we can ensure local community members are priority number one for those jobs,” Espinal said in a statement. “I've said all along this cannot just be a housing plan, it must also be a jobs plan.”

City Councilwoman Inez Barron, who also represents part of the area up for rezoning, did not immediately respond to a call for comment. Some major unions, including the Hotel Trades Council, 1199 SEIU, UFT, DC37 and 32BJ, have come out in favor of the administration's plans. 

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that organized labor is lining up against the de Blasio administration’s zoning proposals. In fact, some construction union members have opposed it, while other organized labor groups have come out in support.

Sarina Trangle