GREENWICH VILLAGE — Community activists and other local leaders are unhappy that the recent announcement that the City Council had reached a deal with Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration on changes to his citywide rezoning proposals came with few details, and scant outreach to local groups.
Community boards across the city widely rejected de Blasio's plan, which is part of his strategy to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing by 2024, because members disagreed with its citywide approach to rezoning and didn't think it was affordable enough for many New Yorkers.
"The board would have loved to have reviewed the changes that were made to it [by the City Council], but we were not given that opportunity," said Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Queens Community Board 14 out in Rockaway. "We were not kept in the loop at all, which has unfortunately been a trend over the last few years."
The City Council announced on Tuesday that it had reached a deal with de Blasio's administration to support his citywide zoning proposals, with certain changes. A Council committee and a subcommittee approved the deal on Thursday.
At the announcement, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said lawmakers had held "two of the longest and most well-attended hearings in the history of the City Council." And at the Thursday vote, Councilman David Greenfield hailed it as the most transparent process he's ever been a part of in his six years on the Council.
But those who reached out to Council members for details about negotiations leading up to the deal received little or conflicting information.
“For the Council to announce that they have arrived at a deal for something that they don’t have any details to share with the public is embarrassing,” said preservationist Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
The two proposals — Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, which requires affordable housing in some new construction, and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, which raises building heights and lifts parking requirements to spur development of senior and affordable housing — have come under fire from an array of constituencies.
Groups like Three Parks Independent Democrats on the Upper West Side and the Historic Districts Council sent out email blasts to their supporters urging them to contact their Council representatives before it's too late.
The Historic Districts Council slammed the proposals as "upzonings so massive that they are on par with urban renewal," and they highlighted an element of the ZQA changes that exempts Manhattan below Harlem from height increases that will affect Upper Manhattan and all other boroughs.
"This is substantial, as many outer borough neighborhoods that lack historic district designation, but enjoy contextual zoning, will be at risk due to this increase," they wrote.
Others were dissatisfied with the Council's decision to set the minimum AMI at 40 percent, and negotiating only for an "effort" by the administration to study how to reach lower AMIs with additional subsidies.
"I would think the compromise is a step in the right direction as to what the community wants, but it still does not include all communities," he said. "This 40 percent impacts those middle-income earners who earn from $35 to $60,000, and those are not people in Hunts Point. Those are not people in Mott Haven. Those are not people in East New York."
East New York is one of the first neighborhoods to be rezoned under MIH, which offers four options for varying degrees of affordability, to be assigned by the Council member whose district holds the development.
Councilman Rafael Espinal, who represents most of the proposed rezoning area in East New York and voted yes on both bills, said the Council had taken steps even beyond deepening affordability levels — increasing transparency, closing loopholes for developers, and improving the local hiring provisions — to build trust in neighborhoods that have often been overlooked, where residents “have every reason to be wary of the city’s rezoning process.”
“My colleagues and I know that many of our constituents are calling for a larger percentage of units and deeper affordability levels — and we will get there in East New York through city subsidies," he said.
One of his colleagues disagreed.
Councilwoman Inez Barron, who represents a different portion of the area affected by the proposed East New York rezoning, voted against both amendments on Thursday and said the changes aren’t “deep enough or broad enough.”
Other than Barron, only one Council member voted against MIH: Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams. He voiced concerns that the policy will further segregate New York City's neighborhoods by housing.
Gaska worried that mandating AMIs lower than 60 percent in his area, which already hold a high proportion of public, low-income and senior housing, would boost the population in an area that instead needs local jobs to combat high unemployment.
"We have a lot of unemployed here, end to end, but more specifically on the eastern end," he said. "To create jobs, to entice businesses here to hire — they want to open in an area where people have some disposable income."
One group was unequivocally happy with the deal: seniors.
While they had initially urged the Council to approve the proposals without any changes, Bobbie Sackman of Live On New York, a senior housing group, said they're "grateful for how far it's come."
"We didn't get everything, [but] I think we got a lot," she said. And she noted that the process, if nothing else, raised awareness of the plight of the city's seniors.
Sackman has frequently noted that there are some 200,000 seniors on waitlists for housing in New York City.
"Our feeling is that ultimately these 200,000 seniors on this waiting list, they're going to be the judge of this. Did the city get this right?"
Written by Danielle Tcholakian. Additional reporting by Camille Bautista, Emily Frost, Katie Honan and Eddie Small.