By Alexa Beyer. Residents, local activists, and union workers gathered in 2019 to protest the potential rezoning of Southern Boulevard.

City must measure racial impact when conducting rezonings, elected officials insist

Housing advocates and elected officials are pushing for an amendment to the city charter, that would force the City to weigh racial disparities before rezoning neighborhoods.

But the Department of City Planning is balking at the pressure, saying it needs to consider each proposed rezoning project one at a time, without being constrained by a blanket policy.

At a Zoom meeting of the City Council’s Land Use Committee on Jan. 11, lawmakers repeatedly hammered the planning department for failing to take racial disparities into account in prior rezoning projects, such as East New York and north Brooklyn. They’re pushing for the passage of Int 1572-2019, which proposes a data-driven report on racial disparities before major rezonings can be conducted.

Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr., who chairs the Land Use Committee, stymied a city plan to rezone a 130-block swath of the South Bronx from Longwood to Crotona Park in 2019, after the release of a study that showed similar projects forced many Latinx residents to leave.

“I was extremely concerned about the risk of displacement, which is why I killed it,” Salamanca said, adding that many of the properties in the proposed area were privately owned. He referenced studies showing that an influx of 21,000 new residents to Williamsburg and Greenpoint following major development between 2000 and 2015 coincided with the exodus of 15,000 Latinx residents.

Salamanca, other elected officials and housing advocates from all five boroughs blasted the planning officials on the Zoom for refusing to consider data from past rezonings in its quest to rezone neighborhoods in all five boroughs.

“Why would you not want to look back at that data?” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “To try to pretend that the rezoning of the city doesn’t have an outside impact is just wild to me.”

The planning department’s General Counsel Susan Amron, tried to reassure the agency’s critics that “We look to see what is happening in communities,” adding that it is impossible “to project with any real confidence what will happen in a neighborhood.” Variables such as “Who’s going to be in the White House,” along with immigration trends and terrorist attacks constantly change the makeup of New York City neighborhoods, making data from past developments ineffective measures of future population trends.

Still, Amron said, “We take inequity, housing shortages extremely seriously.”

Anita Laremont, the DCP’s executive director, said the agency “would never do a rezoning where we forecast such a displacement would occur.

Hunts Point groups attending the Zoom threw their support behind the legislation.

Gregory Jost, a researcher for the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association in Longwood, said that his group is “looking at the displacement already happening” in the South Bronx as part of a research project.

“The resistance you get from the city is a good sign. This is everyday reality that residents are facing. Residents are feeling very, very afraid.”

Victor Davila, who heads The Point CDC’s teenage activist training initiative A.C.T.I.O.N., warned that, with the pandemic still raging and an eviction crisis looming, “We are coming into another year of horrors.”

The advocates applauded the bill’s proposed use of demographic data from past rezonings to inform future plans.

“You cannot cherrypick data,” said Davila. “This bill allows us to look back.

Rob Solano, executive director and co-founder of Churches United for Fair Housing, said that the housing department is in violation of federal housing law, evidenced by their having just recently having hired an outside consultant to study race in rezoning issues—-seven years into the de Blasio administration

“There have been rezonings with zero attention to race,” said Solano. “No one on the staff that has any background in the Fair Housing Act.”

Maxwell Cabello, senior land use and policy analyst at Churches United for Fair Housing and co-authored an op-ed with Salamanca that was published on Jan. 11, called the City’s policy “aggressively dishonest.” Planners, he said, are guilty of “professional malfeasance not to look back, due to redlining.”

Laremont defended her agency, saying that there was “no evidence that our rezonings exacerbate” displacement, and added that “We support working on this bill” to find “ways to be sure we have really good data.”