How far will $1 billion go, City Council asks at rezoning hearing

How far will $1 billion go, City Council asks at rezoning hearing

How far will $1 billion go, City Council asks at rezoning hearing
March 7, 2016

The de Blasio administration has promised a $1 billion neighborhood development fund tied to its rezoning plans, but several New York City Council members are pressing the city to explain how it will meet longstanding needs in East New York as well as address those brought on by rezoning other neighborhoods in the future.

“We can divide the 15 neighborhoods by the $1 billion?” City Councilman Antonio Reynoso asked at a Monday hearing on the East New York rezoning proposal, alluding to the roughly 15 areas the city has said it would consider rezoning. “If East New York is spoiled, then everyone else is not going to get as much.”

“We were ignored for decades,” quipped Councilman Rafael Espinal, who represents most of East New York.

“That is true,” Reynoso said. “I’m going to advocate for East New York.”

Although the exchange at the Council’s hearing on the East New York rezoning plan Monday was lighthearted, multiple lawmakers pressed for more details about the fund – and received few answers.

City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson asserted that the amount would be insufficient.

“One billion dollars is not enough,” Gibson said. “For many of us, in our communities – and I know we’ve heard from Brooklyn and Queens, so I also plug in the Bronx – we have not had a lot of investment over the years. … East New York is going to ask for a lot – and they should – so what happens with future rezonings?”

Yet Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration did not detail how much of the fund would be invested in East New York or other neighborhoods. Department of City Planning Director Carl Weisbrod said at the hearing that the $1 billion fund is one of multiple funding sources the city will tap to ensure communities that undergo residential growth also receive investments in schools, parks and other infrastructure needs. Weisbrod said the $1 billion is budgeted in the city’s 10-year capital plan and will be allocated after working with neighborhoods to devise plans. He stressed that the $1 billion does not include money for school facilities or represent all capital investments the administration will make.

“There will be neighborhoods that will for whatever reason require more capital resources, and some neighborhoods that will require less, depending on the existing infrastructure in those neighborhoods,” Weisbrod said. “We recognize that the city has not, for many, many years, always kept its commitments, and this is an effort to ensure that our capital commitments are kept by budgeting them up front.”

The city’s East New York plan commits to transforming one acre of asphalt at City Line Park into a green space and making safety and other improvements to Atlantic Avenue, at least in part through money from the fund. Administration officials said they would get back to Council members about the estimated cost of these projects. In addition, the administration has agreed to spend other capital funds on the construction of a 1,000-seat school.

But Espinal, who represents most of the area up for rezoning, said there are additional projects he’d like to see incorporated into the plan, which could cut into the fund further.

The councilman said he is waiting for the administration to brief him on its study of industrial areas in his community and collaborate on bolstering manufacturing jobs. He also suggested the administration consider ways to work with families who own their own homes and are facing financial difficulty and to implement a pilot program that would legalize basement apartments.

City Councilwoman Inez Barron, who represents a small part of the area in question, said the city should also do more to ensure the community has enough child care service providers, open space and school seats.

De Blasio officials and Council got an earful from residents who fear the plan will not provide housing they can afford. At one point, people on a balcony overlooking the Council chambers unfurled a sign reading “E NY can’t afford de Blasio’s New York.”

The administration said the non-profit Phipps Housing has committed to building more than 1,000 units of affordable housing on Chestnut Street and Atlantic Avenue over the next two years. City Housing Development and Preservation Commissioner Vicki Been said 35 percent of units built on the site will be set aside for families earning 30 or 40 percent of the area median income.

Under a city-wide zoning framework proposal also before the City Council, the de Blasio administration is proposing that future rezonings – including the proposal in East New York – allow for larger residential buildings, but require that at least a quarter of the new housing be permanently affordable through its so-called Mandatory Inclusionary Housing blueprint.

In East New York, however, Been said the city would only grant subsidies to developers that ensure a portion of the affordable units go to poorer New Yorkers than the landlords would be obligated to under the larger Mandatory Inclusionary Housing framework.

The hearing was interrupted when about two dozen people stood up and chanted, “How many more must die?” referencing some construction unions’ and advocates’ push to incorporate certain safety standards, apprenticeship training programs and local hiring provisions in the housing plan.

Sixteen construction workers died in 2015, but none of the fatalities occurred on HPD sites, according to Been.

Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately described the Phipps Housing project as slated to include city-owned land. The previous version also said that the project would contain 1,200 housing units, when it is expected to include more than 1,000 units.

Sarina Trangle