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Rezoning East New York Would Displace 50,000 Residents, Comptroller Says

By  Amy Zimmer and Jeff Mays | December 4, 2015 9:32am 

 A garden at an affordable housing building at 119 Fountain Ave. in East New York is more popular than the parking, its developer said. Under the city's new zoning plans, developers believe it will be easier to create additional affordable units or common space like gardens.
A garden at an affordable housing building at 119 Fountain Ave. in East New York is more popular than the parking, its developer said. Under the city's new zoning plans, developers believe it will be easier to create additional affordable units or common space like gardens.
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Dunn Development

BROOKLYN — Nearly 50,000 East New York residents could be displaced by Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to rezone neighborhoods to spur affordable housing construction, the city comptroller said Thursday.

East New York is the first neighborhood to be rezoned under de Blasio's plan. Many, including Comptroller Scott Stringer, worry the plan will cause a ripple effect of rising rents in existing buildings.

"Instead of strengthening the affordability of this community, the proposed rezoning would instead serve as an engine for displacement," Stringer said.

There are nearly 22,000 units currently in the area, largely in two- to four-family homes that are not subject to rent regulation. Stringer believes that those tenants are at risk for being pushed out if rents across the area start creeping up as a result of the new development.

De Blasio administration officials blasted the comptroller’s conclusions and said that many of these tenants are currently at risk, and that is why they’re ready to break ground on 1,200 units of affordable housing within two years following the plan's approval.

“The comptroller’s [report] has it completely backwards,” de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said. “These are families that are in danger today, because the market is already putting pressure on their rents. It’ll take enormous preservation and new affordable housing efforts to turn that tide, which is precisely what the city is working for.”

The median asking rent in East New York was $1,850 a month, which was up nearly 16 percent from the year before, according to a recent report from Streeteasy.

To afford that without being “rent burdened” — meaning that no more than a third of a household’s income goes toward rent — a household should earn $74,000 a year.

The median income in East New York is below $33,000 a year, city officials noted.

The administration has implemented a few programs to encourage owners of these two- to four-family homes to enter their units into rent regulation. They include 30-year tax breaks or a “green housing preservation program” where the city helps finance energy and water efficiency upgrades resulting in lower utility costs in exchange for keeping their rental units affordable.

But many community leaders worry these efforts won't do enough. 

The local community board voted “no” on the mayor’s plans, fearing that many of the 6,300 units projected to rise over the next 15 years won’t be affordable to the residents now living in East New York.

Many also feared that land speculation has already started, with prices rising soon after the city targeted East New York for development.

“We fear that since the announcement of the rezoning, land speculation has risen so much that we may never get the additional affordable units [beyond the 1,200],” said Michelle Neugebauer, executive director of Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation.

She is part of a group called the Coalition for Community Advancement that has put forward more than a dozen proposals and an alternative plan for strengthening anti-displacement policies for low-income tenants, small homeowners and small businesses, including implementing an “Anti-Harassment Zone” in East New York.

“We need action and commitment on these proposals,” she said.

Dennis Taylor, a community board member who runs the neighborhood housing nonprofit Sabaoth Group, also wanted measures to ensure that the people in the area who “endured the hardships over the last 20 years aren’t pushed out.”

He echoed, “while we have 1,200 units right out of the gate, after that there’s no clarity or transparency of what will follow.”

The units created under the rezoning plan would be unaffordable for 55 percent of East New York’s current residents, Stringer's report said. The market rate units would be unaffordable for 84 percent.

His analysis was based upon the de Blasio administration’s “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing,” where developers would target affordable units to households making 60 percent of the “Area Median Income,” or AMI — a number based on incomes of residents in all five boroughs as well as Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester counties. That amounts to $46,620 a year for a family of three, which is well above East New York’s median income.

But City Hall officials noted that the Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development will require 100 percent affordability in any building receiving a public subsidy and that these subsidies will result in cheaper housing.

In subsidized buildings, at least 40 percent of all units will be affordable to families earning the lowest incomes — between 30 and 50 percent of AMI — or $23,350 to $38,850 for a three-person household, officials said.

Moreover, the administration expects all developers in the near term will need subsidies to build in East New York.

But Stringer's office remained unconvinced.

"The rezoning proposal provides no sites, no developers and no details," said Eric Sumberg, a spokesman for Stringer, calling this a "merely aspirational" goal.

The City Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on the zoning proposals on Dec. 16 before it heads to City Council.