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Council Members Call for More Affordability in East New York Rezoning Plan

 The City Council held a public hearing Monday on the proposal to rezone East New York, where Council members questioned agency officials on the plan's specifics and heard public testimony.
The City Council held a public hearing Monday on the proposal to rezone East New York, where Council members questioned agency officials on the plan's specifics and heard public testimony.
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

CIVIC CENTER — City Council members pushed officials involved in Mayor Bill de Blasio's controversial proposal to rezone East New York Monday for ways to make the plan more affordable for residents who currently live there.

The East New York plan looks to bring more than 6,000 new apartments to the neighborhood, half of which will be affordable, and the other half, market-rate.

“My goal has always been to make sure we had a real community plan that would not just bring long overdue resources to our community, but that moved away from the one-size-fits-all approach of previous administrations and instead was tailored to the specific needs of residents that live here today,” Councilman Rafael Espinal, who represents the area, said at a City Council hearing Monday.

“And to the administration," he continued, "I want to let you know that though progress has been made since this process started, I believe we still have a ways to go before I can go back to my community with my head held high.”

The city projects that in the next two years, an estimated 1,200 affordable housing units will be built, 480 of which will be available to tenants making between 30 to 50 percent of the area median income, or less than $39,000 for a family of three.

A total of 686 homes will be available for those in the 51 to 60 percent AMI range, or making $47,000, and 45 units will be up for those making $62,000 or more.

A major issue since the city first presented its plans to East New Yorkers in 2014 is the affordability levels. Critics note that the neighborhood’s median household income is less than $35,000.

“Where the city in particular controls sites, I believe that we should be looking to drive a harder bargain on deeper affordability,” said Councilman Donovan Richards, chairman of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchise.


► Hakeem Jeffries Decries de Blasio's Rezoning Plan Ahead of Council Hearing

► East New York Rezoning Plan Passes City Planning Commission


Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson took issue with the administration's $1 billion neighborhood development fund, which is expected to be used over the next 10 years to fund investments and improvements in the neighborhoods it plans to rezone.

East New York would be the first to take its cut, but Gibson said $1 billion is not enough for all 15 neighborhoods.

Not all Council members were critical of the plan.  Councilman David Greenfield said the rezoning had “historic levels of deep affordability,” and was “literally the best rezoning deal that we’ve ever seen for a district in the history of the City of New York.”

Carl Weisbrod, chairman of the City Planning Commission who helped draft the mayor's plan, said the allocation of money for each area is not one-size-fits-all. Instead, it's dependent on the specific needs and existing infrastructure of each.

He added that the neighborhood development fund wouldn't be the only source of investment, citing a separate $100 million budgeted to open a 1,000-seat school in East New York.

Other concerns raised by elected officials at Monday’s hearing included the possibility of making land use changes to East New York’s Industrial Business Zone to boost manufacturing and the economy.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation has been working with Espinal to study how to promote the development of jobs and businesses, but as of now, there are no plans to make zoning changes to the business zone.

Another issue was the city’s proposed mixed-use district along Liberty and Atlantic avenues, which would promote industrial, commercial and residential uses.

Critics are concerned that the proposed rezoning puts manufacturing businesses and future manufacturing development at risk, and disproportionately favors future residential development.

Officials said they will continue to work with the council on their concerns ahead of a vote on the plan this spring.

“We recognize that you have pushed us to go further, and you continually push us, and I’m sure we look forward to working with you in the days to come to get the absolute best result for East New York going forward,” Weisbrod said.

Elected officials also emphasized the importance of a transparent process over how much money would be spent, and the specific resources it would bring to the area.

“I will say that this is a very novel and new approach to capital budgeting and commitments to neighborhoods,” Weisbrod said. “We recognize the city has not in the past — over many, many years — always kept its commitments, and this is an effort to assure that our capital commitments are kept by budgeting them up front.”