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East New York Rezoning Plan Passed by Council Committees as 'Unicorn Deal'

By Camille Bautista | April 15, 2016 8:54am | Updated on April 18, 2016 8:53am
 Councilman Rafael Espinal said Thursday at a City Council committee vote that while the East New York rezoning plan is not perfect, it's the
Councilman Rafael Espinal said Thursday at a City Council committee vote that while the East New York rezoning plan is not perfect, it's the "best possible plan."
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DNAinfo/Camille Bautista

NEW YORK CITY — The city’s plan to rezone East New York and bring thousands of affordable units to the community sailed through two City Council committees on Thursday following modifications to the proposal.

The City Council's Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises and Land Use Committee overwhelmingly approved the East New York Plan, with one councilman calling it a "unicorn deal" that would set standards other neighborhoods would want in the future.

There were several major changes to the plan revealed during the vote Thursday, including a bump in the amount of funding the city promised to commit to infrastructure improvements in East New York. The plan had originally called for a commitment of $150 million, but that number jumped to $257 million.

In addition, the plan will no longer include Arlington Village in the rezoning. Advocates had fought to keep the 300,000-square-foot housing site out of the rezoning, saying it needed its own review process.

Councilman Rafael Espinal, who represents the neighborhood, said that though it wasn’t perfect, it was the “best possible plan” for the district, crafted in collaboration with local residents, community boards and city agencies.

“From the start, I told my community I would fight for a better plan. One that wasn’t just about housing, but about rebuilding neighborhoods that have been neglected for decades,” Espinal said, adding that with the City Council’s recommendations, the plan is “vastly better than the one sent to us by City Planning months ago.”

The Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee passed the East New York plan with a 5-0 vote with one abstention from Councilman Jumaane Williams, who said that he was impressed with the recommendations but still needed time to look it over.

In another vote less than an hour later from the Committee on Land Use, Williams voted yes on the plans, and the committee passed it 19-0.

On the land use application dealing with Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, the committee voted 18-1, with Councilwoman Inez Barron voting against it.

Other changes to the plan included the number of affordable units committed in the first two years. It was expected to be more than 1,200, but has increased with 100 additional units slated for the intersection of Christopher and Glenmore avenues.

East New York is the first of 15 neighborhoods slated for rezoning, with goals to promote new affordable housing and preservation, economic development and community resources that would boost the area's growth.

It's also the first neighborhood where the recently passed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing rules will be applied, where developers are required to include a certain amount of permanently affordable apartments in their construction.

READ MORE:  What is AMI?

Here are some of the City Council’s other modifications and commitments:

► In the public-owned sites of Dinsmore Place and Chestnut Street and Christopher-Glenmore, 50 percent of the units instead of 45 percent will be available to those making up to 50 percent AMI, or $38,850 for a family of three.

► The city will help move 500 homeless families out of shelters into stable, affordable housing through the Living in Communities voucher program.

► The city is committing to closing three shelters and encouraging its owners to convert into affordable housing.

► A study into legalizing basement units and $12 million in funding to support conversions or other small home repairs.

► Establishing a Homeowner Helpdesk with financial and legal counselors to help owners with loan information, preventing foreclosures and addressing scams such as deed theft.

► A commitment to provide funding for a new childcare center at 3289 Fulton St.

Land Use Committee chair Councilman David Greenfield called the plan a “unicorn deal,” adding that it is the “best community affordable housing plan ever in the history of New York.”

“Quite frankly, you’re never going to see a deal like this again,” Greenfield said. “This is the new standard that is being set in the city, that quite frankly, everybody else will chase.”

Not all elected officials were satisfied with the plan. Barron, who represents a small portion of the proposed rezoning area, voted against the land use application dealing with MIH, saying she was concerned that affordability levels did not go deep enough.

While Barron commended Espinal for his work, she said “there’s people who are rent burdened that are not going to be eligible to benefit from this plan.”  

Other critics said the proposal puts residents at a greater risk of losing their homes.

“This is a total sham," Rachel Rivera, East New York resident and member of NY Communities for Change, said in reaction to the vote.

“Nothing in this so-called deal comes close to altering the fundamental reality of the plan: This will displace more people than it houses.”

The proposal is up for the full City Council vote next week.