BROOKLYN — The city’s plan to rezone East New York in an effort to bring thousands of affordable units to the neighborhood is “not the trigger for displacement” but is instead aimed at preventing locals from leaving, according to the head of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
Commissioner Vicki Been kicked off a City Planning Commission hearing Wednesday by testifying in support of the proposal that's expected to drastically alter East New York, amid repeated concerns from residents who fear the changes will push them out of the neighborhood.
Hundreds of people packed the courtroom and a secondary overflow room at Brooklyn Borough Hall to voice their opinions on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan, which includes building market-rate apartments, spurring economic development, improving local parks and bringing a 1,000-seat school to the area.
“As population grows, the increased demand for housing is putting pressure on the area’s housing supply,” Been said.
“We must create new affordable housing if we are going to relieve the heavy demand that is driving up East New York rents.”
Between 2000 and 2010, the area’s population increased 11 percent — faster than Brooklyn and the city as a whole — according to the commissioner.
Median home values in East New York rose by more than 100 percent between 2000 and 2013, prior to the announcement of any rezoning, Been added.
Median rents increased by approximately 26 percent over the same period, according to the commissioner.
The city’s plan, including Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, would require any new development to set aside at least 25 percent of units as permanently affordable housing.
Officials plan to offer developers incentives to encourage them to develop 100 percent affordable buildings for households earning as little as $18,150 for a single person up to $46,620 for a family of three.
Apartments currently on the market in the area have asking rents “significantly higher” than the below-market rate units the city will finance through the plan, Been said, adding that 50,000 people are already at risk of displacement.
“That’s the critical issue here: by providing affordable housing and by increasing the supply of housing, we will take the pressure off those rents and thereby prevent, rather than trigger, displacement,” she said.
The addition of afforable housing would also “reduce the growing income inequality that plagues our city," according to Been.
While Been and City Planning commissioners stressed that the proposal will ensure new development is only permitted along major commercial corridors like Atlantic Avenue and Fulton Street, and that the character of residential areas will be preserved, those in opposition called for stronger anti-harassment actions and thousands of more affordable units than originally proposed by the city.
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Some attendees held signs reading “Don’t Displace Me” and “Affordable for Who?”
Members of the Coalition for Community Advancement advocated for 5,000 affordable units instead of the roughly 3,000 below-market rate units proposed by the city for East New York.
The group has submitted its own community plan on the rezoning, which was commended by City Planning Chairman Carl Weisbrod along with other commissioners.
Officials Wednesday said that while 100 percent of housing will be affordable at the onset, “the market will catch up” and market-rate developments were to be expected.
“In East New York, market-rate housing might as well be luxury housing,” said Michelle Neugebauer, executive director of the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation and a coalition member.
Neugebauer proposed strengthening anti-displacement policies, including implementing an anti-harassment zone in the neighborhood.
Her concerns were echoed by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who was represented by Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna on Wednesday.
The borough president rejected the city’s plan on Dec. 30, submitting a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure recommendation to disapprove the rezoning with his own conditions, his office said.
In addition to calling for more affordable housing beyond the proposed 25 percent requirement, Adams sought accountability to put in place and sustain the city’s proposed anti-displacement initiatives, which include free legal services to tenants and a task force dedicated to investigating and taking action against landlords harassing residents.
Other attendees, like attorney Adrien Weibgen, asked to slow down the rezoning process, adding that it was “better to do it right than do it fast.”
“East New Yorkers do not fear change, they fear that they will not be around to benefit from the changes that are coming,” she said. “The city should not play games with people’s lives.”
Some East New York residents and developers came out in favor of the city’s proposal, with one saying he’s interested in purchasing and developing sites to create “completely affordable” projects.
Martin Dunn, who built the Livonia Commons development in East New York, said that in addition to the site creating new affordable housing for the community, the project also hired locally — a key concern for many community advocates seeking neighborhood economic development.
Manuel Burgos, an East New York resident who said he lives and operates a business a block away from the rezoning area, added that the density created through the city’s proposal is needed to attract quality retails.
Currently, he’s unable to find a good cup of coffee, fresh groceries and meats, or purchase clothes in walking distance of his home, he said.
Increased density would help spur potential new businesses and job opportunities, according to Burgos.
“I don’t want this density to come at the expense of local residents living here already, so subsidies should target neighborhood based affordability,” he said.
"So I can enjoy these quality retail shops with my current neighbors, not just the ones that move in.”
The Department of City Planning will continue to work with the East New York community, officials said, and the City Planning Commission will vote on the proposal in late February.
There will be another public hearing before the City Council votes on the final plan in the spring.