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

By Jeff Mays | March 7, 2016 7:40am
 The proposed rezoning of East New York includes the revitalization of Atlantic Avenue with additional retail space and affordable housing, as detailed by a sketch from the Department of City Planning.
The proposed rezoning of East New York includes the revitalization of Atlantic Avenue with additional retail space and affordable housing, as detailed by a sketch from the Department of City Planning.
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Department of City Planning City of New York

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to rezone East New York doesn't include housing affordable enough for people who currently live there and puts them at risk of being pushed out, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and other neighborhood leaders said.

Jeffries, who represents the neighborhood and has been mentioned as a potential de Blasio challenger in next year's election, joined the chorus of officials concerned about the mayor's plan to change the city's zoning and to rezone 15 neighborhoods throughout the city.

"Levels of affordability and access to jobs for neighborhood residents are the two biggest areas that need to be improved in the East New York rezoning proposal," Jeffries said. "Absent those changes, it will be hard for me to support the effort at this time."

The East New York rezoning plan was recently approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council will hold a hearing on the proposal Monday.

"Over the past 10 or 15 years in New York City there has been a tremendous amount of socioeconomic gentrification that has adversely impacted young people, working families, middle class folks and senior citizens," Jeffries said.

"In many neighborhoods, New York City has become a place simply for the wealthy and the well off," he continued. "One of the ways to change that is by getting the rezoning correct in neighborhoods like East New York that remain affordable."

After local groups such as the Coalition for Community Advancement and the Greater East New York Coalition opposed to the mayor's plan, they reached out to Jeffries. He set up a face-to-face meeting at City Hall with de Blasio and housing officials on Feb. 18.

"Politically, he is a strong potential challenger so he had the right credential," said retired Bishop David Benke, a member of the Coalition for Community Advancement who has worked in East New York for 40 years. "There was a sense on the other side of the aisle that he is a person of strength."

The groups felt de Blasio listened to what they had to say, "but the mayor didn't give any commitments," said Chris Banks, executive director of East New York United Concerned Citizens and co-founder of the Greater East New York Coalition.

Under the plan proposed by the city, more than 6,400 new units would be built over 15 years in an almost 200-block area of East New York, Ocean Hill and Cypress Hills. Half of the units will be affordable and half will be market-rate. There will be 885,000 square feet of commercial space, a new 1,000 seat school and a workforce development center.

Over the next two years, the city says 1,200 of those units will come online, 80 percent of which will be focused on families that earn no more than $46,000, which is 60 percent of area medium income. An additional 27 percent of the 1,200 units will be reserved for families making less than $31,000 or 40 percent of area median income.


The problem, say those opposed to the plan, is that area median income in East New York is just $35,000.

"There will be a big portion of our district that will not be able to qualify for the low-income housing because they would end up paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent," Banks said.

Benke and Banks also said more protections for low-income homeowners need to be in place beyond the legal services for tenants the city is putting in place.

"Every one of my parishioners gets a call or a mailing at their door every single day asking them to sell," Benke said. "I tell my people every Sunday: 'Do not sell now. Do not leave now. Stay and make it work.'"

A proposed rezoning plan from the Coalition for Community Advancement calls for the city to create a $525 million construction fund to build 5,000 permanently affordable apartments. The group also wants half the housing built to be affordable to those making between $12,000 and $34,000 per year. They also want legislation and tax credits to help keep rents affordable.

Also, East New York Councilman Rafael Espinal has advocated for the creation of more jobs through the rezoning and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has called for 100 percent affordability on projects that are built on city land or financed with taxpayer money.

But multiple people at the mayor's meeting with Jeffries said there was resistance from city housing officials to commit to the deeper levels of affordability because of a fear of how that would play out financially in the other 14 neighborhoods waiting to be rezoned.

"Their line was they can't do something once that they can't do 15 times," Benke said.

Banks said a "one-size-fits-all approach" won't work in East New York.

"We need a suit that is tailored for East New York and tailored for what we are facing and we hope other communities will demand their own tailored suits," Banks said.

De Blasio, speaking at a press conference Thursday, said he wants to make the East New York Plan affordable to as many people as possible.

"The nature of our plan is to try to reach affordability for different folks. Someone who makes very little income needs affordable housing but cops and teachers and nurses need affordable housing too," de Blasio said. "So we are trying to reach different parts of our community. And then I think it's safe to say in some communities there's a need for one particular income band more than in others."

De Blasio said negotiations are ongoing with the City Council and local leaders in regards to the East New York rezoning. He added that he felt he was making "a lot of progress in addressing community concerns" regarding East New York.

But Espinal wasn't as optimistic.

"A lot of progress has been made from the beginning of the plan but we've hit a stand-still these last six months," he said.