Last week, the New York City Council passed the highly contentious rezoning plan for the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, often referred to as the last affordable neighborhood in Manhattan. The approved upzoning is meant to spur residential and commercial growth in the area while also allowing for the development of new affordable housing units, a key goal of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Despite support from the local City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, community members and activists opposed the plan and protested until the very last minute – even throwing fake money at council members during the vote – fearful that the proposed zoning changes would displace longtime residents and make the neighborhood less affordable.
What will the rezoning do?
Under the rezoning, at least 1,600 new affordable housing units are expected to be built. At least 925 of those units will be constructed on city-owned land and at least 675 units have been proposed on private land as part of the Mandatory Inclusion Housing program, which requires developers to include a certain number of affordable apartments in otherwise market-rate developments.
In addition to the new housing that will be made possible by the zoning changes, the plan also includes about $200 million in promised investments from the city into the community. The money will go toward a new library branch, opening up the waterfront and a new tech hub.
The rezoning targets 59 blocks of the neighborhood which will now be opened up for development that will increase the density of the neighborhood. This is generally referred to as upzoning.
Why does the community oppose it?
As is the case in many rezonings, residents fear that as commercial and residential density increases and with an influx of market-rate apartments into the community, the area will be gentrified, people will get priced out of their homes and the culture of the community will be lost. This is a common concern in lower-income neighborhoods undergoing change.
Another point of contention is the plan’s affordable housing promises. Under the plan, any new private developments would be required to include either 25 percent of units to be affordable for those making 60 percent of the area median income or 20 percent of units for those making 40 percent. Protesters say the target incomes, $56,340 and $37,560, would still be out of reach for many of the extremely low-income residents in the area. In other words, they say the affordable housing that will be built will not benefit people already in the neighborhood and will promote people from outside the community to move in. Residents wanted 50 percent of new units to be set aside for those families who make less than the community median income.
Currently, the area median income is calculated using the entire city and the surrounding suburbs. For household of three, the area median income is $93,900. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in Inwood is estimated at less than $46,000.
Additionally, small business owners fear that the influx of development expected to come along with the new zoning laws will force old mom-and-pop shops out of business. According to an analysis from the Manhattan borough president’s office, landlords could push out at least 150 small businesses in order to redevelop the land.
Members of the community also have felt like they were not adequately part of the planning process for the rezoning proposal. The local community board repeatedly rejected the plan as it was originally introduced, which had less of an affordability commitment and included a section of the neighborhood known as the “commercial U” – named after the “U” shape made by West 207th Street, Broadway and Dyckman Street. Rodriguez successfully amended the proposal before the City Council vote to include more affordable housing for a lower percentage of the AMI and for the “commercial U” to be taken out of the proposal completely. However, though the changes were made based on community concerns, the changes were made without input from the local community board. One Inwood resident told City Limits that opponents to the proposal wanted contextual rezoning of the “commercial U,” and that Rodriguez’s actions simply made the plan worse by negotiating with the city to remove it outright.
Are they right to be concerned?
This is harder to say, as it can be difficult to distinguish whether other neighborhoods have gentrified because of rezoning, or if rezoning occurred to meet the needs of gentrification that was already underway. But the fears certainly do have a basis in history. Forty percent of the city was rezoned under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including Williamsburg, Greenpoint, DUMBO and Long Island City. The communities of each of these neighborhoods have changed significantly, rent has increased greatly and inequality in the city rose.
However, while the current administration is also looking to rezone large swaths of the city, it is not the Bloomberg administration. Long-term effects of de Blasio’s rezonings cannot yet be determined. A year after the East New York rezoning went into effect, little had changed in the neighborhood. But concerns remained as reports of tenant harassment increased.
What do the proponents say?
City officials have said that gentrification has already begun in Inwood, and that the rezoning is a step to combat what has already begun. Rent has shot up significantly in the neighborhood already, unrelated to the recently passed zoning changes. During the City Council vote approving the changes, Rodriguez said he believed that the rezoning will serve to preserve the community by creating more affordable housing for those facing steep rent increases and investing city money to improve the neighborhood.
What comes next?
The Inwood rezoning was the fifth out of 15 neighborhood rezonings proposed by de Blasio. Before Inwood, East New York in Brooklyn, Downtown Far Rockaway in Queens, East Harlem in Manhattan and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx have had rezonings approved. Proposals are expected in 2019 for rezoning Bushwick and Gowanus in Brooklyn and a proposal is in the works for Bay Street on Staten Island. The administration's goal is to preserve or build 300,000 affordable housing units by 2026. However, the plan has faced criticism, as each of the five proposals approved so far have occured in low-income, majority black and Latino neighborhoods. The proposals for Gowanus and Bay Street would constitute a change in that pattern.
Correction: Local advocates have been pushing for 50 percent of units created under the new zoning to be set aside by households making less than the community median income.
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