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Hundreds Rally in East New York for Community Input in City's Rezoning Plan

 Hundreds rallied in East New York on Tuesday for greater community input in the city's rezoning plan.
East New York Rezoning Rally
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EAST NEW YORK — Hundreds of people rallied in the streets of East New York Tuesday demanding to have a voice in the city's rezoning process.

Tenant advocates, union workers, labor leaders and Brooklyn residents gathered at Highland Park to call on the city to include affordable housing, union jobs, resident participation and anti-displacement policies in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans to rezone 15 neighborhoods.

“We’re not calling for rezoning not to happen, we’re not calling for it to be delayed,” said Onleilove Alston, executive director of Faith in New York, a group representing 70,000 families in Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Harlem.

“We want it to be just," she added. "We want it to be built right and make sure New Yorkers can stay in their neighborhoods. We want to make sure the community is part of the plan."

“Whose house? Our house!” shouted crowd members, which also included representatives from Coalition for Community Advancement: Progress for East New York, the Construction and General Building Laborers Local Union 79, and Community Action for Safe Apartments.

East New York is the first neighborhood targeted by de Blasio's administration for zoning changes that would help preserve and create 200,000 affordable units throughout the city. Other neighborhoods in the plan include Long Island City, the Jerome Avenue Corridor in The Bronx, and Flushing.

The final plan is up for public review this spring and summer.

Currently, new developments in East New York are restricted to low density and no new residences are allowed along Atlantic, Broadway Junction and parts of Liberty Avenue. The current framework hasn’t changed in most of the neighborhood since 1961, according to the Department of City Planning.

Under the mayor’s proposal, new zoning districts would allow developers to build up to 14 story-buildings along Atlantic Avenue, six to eight-story buildings in new residential and commercial districts on Fulton Street, and other residential and retail uses along Pitkin and Liberty avenues.

But many residents said on Tuesday that they fear the prospect of more development and rezoning in the area will push seniors and locals out of their homes.

Tenant advocates called for half of the units in new developments to be affordable housing in lieu of the 80-20 split of market rate and affordable apartments that current zoning laws require.

In March, Brooklyn’s Community Board 5 canceled a Department of City Planning presentation dedicated to the subject in hopes of slowing down the rezoning process.

Residents are also urging the city to create anti-harassment policies that would protect tenants and rent costs tailored to the community.

Rachel Rivera, a member of New York Communities for Change, said she found a rent-stabilized apartment in Cypress Hills for her six children after losing her home during Hurricane Sandy, but now she's struggling to stay there.

"My landlord is now harassing me, trying to get my family and other families out of the building," she said.

Advocacy groups want the administration to implement a local hire program that will reserve future construction opportunities in the neighborhood to union workers.

During the rally, union workers held signs that read “SOLIDARITY” while marching through Brooklyn's streets alongside faith leaders and citywide tenant organizers. Chants of “Build it right” and “Si se puede” echoed down Jamaica Avenue.

Still, many passersby and neighbors on the rally’s route were unaware of the rezoning proposals and what they could mean for their community.

The march concluded with a prayer circle at Arlington Village. Developers recently bought the 210-unit complex on Atlantic Avenue and intend to create affordable housing at the mostly vacant, boarded up, low-rise buildings, according to The Real Deal.

Some organizers said the site is a “true example of real estate speculation” and what’s to come for East New York: Arlington’s current residents being priced out.

“If this rezoning is done in partnership with us, it can lead to great results and the strengthening of the community,” Alston said. “But without, they’re just worsening the crisis in our city.”