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Gentrification Fears Dominate Discussion at Bronx Zoning Hearing

By Eddie Small | November 13, 2015 6:14pm | Updated on November 15, 2015 8:32pm
 Bronxites packed into the Bronx County Building on Thursday for a hearing about proposed zoning changes in New York City.
Bronxites packed into the Bronx County Building on Thursday for a hearing about proposed zoning changes in New York City.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

CONCOURSE — "The Bronx is not for sale!" residents chanted at a hearing Thursday night about proposed zoning changes in New York in which the community's fears of gentrification and displacement took center stage.

The hearing at the Bronx County Building focused on Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA), two changes to the city's zoning regulations meant to increase affordable housing.

However, several Bronxites at the packed hearing blasted the proposals for not focusing enough on building affordable housing that residents could actually afford and described them as plans to price residents out of the borough, repeatedly breaking out into enthusiastic chants of "The Bronx is not for sale!" throughout the meeting.

"Take into consideration that segment of our New York City society that wants to pay the rent and wants to have housing but cannot afford it," said Bronxite Cheryl Westbrook. "And right now, they are not being mentioned."

The hearing was held by the office of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., although Diaz himself was not at the meeting.

This greatly upset many people in the crowd, who responded to his absence with boisterous chants of "Where is Ruben?" and "Ruben is for sale!"

Diaz could not be at the hearing because he had a prior engagement, according to his staff.

However, he said in a statement that he would take testimony from the hearing into account when making his own recommendation on the proposed zoning changes next week.

Residents held a protest outside of the building before the meeting began to express their anger over the proposed zoning changes.

"I truly believe they're trying to kick us out of here," said Ramon Martinez, a 29-year-old Bronx carpenter who was at the protest. "And when I say us, I mean the middle class."

Multiple attendees at the hearing also made derisive comments about the Piano District in response to a billboard that recently went up by the Third Avenue Bridge proclaiming that luxury waterfront living is on its way to the South Bronx.

The sign attempts to rename part of the borough as the Piano District, encapsulating many of the fears borough residents have about being pushed out of their neighborhoods by gentrification and rising rents.

"There is no Piano District," said Hillary Mercedes, who went to the hearing and lives in Mt. Eden. "This is the South Bronx."

"A group of people that comes in to claim a piece of land as its own and rename it not only is a classic Columbus narrative but, as history notes, it has no intentions to preserve a community that is already there," she added.

The city's MIH proposal would require that developers make sections of their new residences available at below market rate prices, while ZQA would let the city add up to 20 additional feet on height allowances for buildings to make more room for affordable housing.

Several Bronx community boards have already rejected these proposals, and while the negative comments far outweighed the positive ones at Thursday night's hearing, the changes did receive some support.

Paul Freitas of the affordable housing company West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing, for instance, said that the changes would help the city build additional housing for seniors.

"This will generally translate into more units of affordable senior housing," he said. "WSFSSH strongly supports the provisions of the Zoning for Quality and Affordability."