EAST HARLEM — Residents of El Barrio say they need more affordable housing and a guarantee of preserving open community space if they are going to sign off on the city's rezoning plan.
About 200 people attended a workshop Thursday night at Dream Charter School where members of Melissa Mark-Viverito’s rezoning steering committee gathered community opinions about Mayor Bill de Blasio's bid to create more affordable housing by giving developers incentives including the ability to build larger than existing zoning allows.
The steering committee, which meets in private, will present their plan back to the community for more feedback in January before taking it to the city.
East Harlem is one of three neighborhoods Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to rezone as part of his plan.
“You as community residents are really helping us define — helping me define — what the priorities are,” said Mark-Viverito as the crowd broke down into smaller groups. “As we move forward in making decisions, as we move forward in any sort of plans that may be presented this is going to be part of the conversation.”
During the two-hour workshop residents overwhelmingly voiced the community’s need to add more affordable housing, protect open spaces like public gardens, and support for mom-and-pop businesses in the neighborhood.
Near the end of the meeting each small group had a chance to share their input with the rest of the crowd.
“The two most popular zones that we want are affordable housing, and open space and parks in places where we can live,” said Shirong Chong, 30.
Nearly every single table mentioned affordable housing as a priority.
Chong added that his group did not like the proposed ratio between giving developers private land to build market rate housing in exchange for affordable units. Instead, they want all new construction to be fully made up of affordable units, he said.
Residents also want the city to determine the income caps that determine who is eligible to live in the building to be based on East Harlem’s AMI — area median income. Currently, the city uses an AMI based on the incomes of all five boroughs as well as Long Island and Westchester.
That means the current AMI for a family of four is $86,300 — more than double of what it is for a family of four living in East Harlem, which is $33,600, according to Chris Cirillo the executive director of Lott Community Development.
Apart from adding affordable housing, the city also needs to preserve existing affordable housing in the neighborhood, Cirillo said.
“No only do we need more affordable housing but we are facing the loss of a lot of affordable housing in our neighborhood,” he said.
When it came to small businesses, residents said they want a balance of national stores but protections for small businesses in the area.
“We want a diversity of businesses — not just bigger shops like the more mainstream and chain stores — but also opportunities for smaller businesses, mom and pop shops that have been here for a while to stay in the community,” said Shakira Henerson, 33
The next and final community workshop will be November 21. Residents who want to have a say in the process can also fill out a survey online.