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Advocates Rally Against Affordable Housing Proposal at East Harlem Site

By Dartunorro Clark | August 17, 2016 6:19pm
 Residents rally to call on the city to amend its RFP to make an East Harlem housing development more affordable.
Residents rally to call on the city to amend its RFP to make an East Harlem housing development more affordable.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM — Charles Bridges couldn’t afford to live in Williamsburg amid rising rents spurred by development.

So seven years ago Bridges, 49, moved to East Harlem. Now, he said he may be pushed out of his neighborhood again.

“The exact same thing that happened in Williamsburg is happening here,” he said.  

Dozens of community members and housing advocates rallied Wednesday afternoon in front of the site of a proposed housing development at East 111th Street and Park Avenue they said is not truly affordable for the neighborhood.

Many residents lamented the city’s Request for Proposals for the site, which they said could effectively bar low-income residents from the housing complex.

This city announced plans this past May to develop the site into a 400-unit affordable housing complex, DNAinfo previously reported.

The housing unit was billed as an eco-friendly "Passive House," which is a building standard that reduces energy consumption by as much as 75 percent, officials said.

Officials said that the affordable housing development would be open to “a range of income levels,” with some units available for residents earning as little as $24,000 for a family of three.

But residents are concerned that the RFP would not make the development "truly affordable" for locals.

Housing advocates, which included New York Communities for Change, Community Voices Heard and Picture the Homeless, said the average East Harlem family makes less than $23,000 a year and a mixed-income development could keep many families out.

The Regional Planning Association and Manhattan Community Board 11, which covers East Harlem, recently released a report which also said that affordable housing in the neighborhood is “under threat” due, in part, to socioeconomic barriers in housing.

“Housing is treated as a business and not a right,” said Maria Pacheco, a member of Community Voices Heard.

“We want housing that reflects the community.”

The advocates also called for “permanent affordability,” meaning the affordability agreements the city inks with developers would not have the typical expiration dates.

“We all deserve a say on what’s built in this field,” said East Harlem resident Martika Ornella, a member of Community Voices Heard.

“We want to make sure what happens in this field isn’t what happens across this neighborhood.”

The city worked with local residents and the community board earlier this year through workshops to include their recommendations in a neighborhood plan, which called for permanent affordability among other ideas.

The city told DNAinfo New York that the RFP it released is a standard proposal for developers and they intend to use community input from the workshops and the neighborhood plan to reflect the community’s needs, including the affordability agreements.

Officials said they would have to work with whichever developer is chosen. The window for proposals closes Aug. 23. 

Daisy Gonzalez, a member of Community Voices Heard, said her group and others will continue to press the city to make sure the proposals for the development mirror the socioeconomic makeup of East Harlem.

She said the city should go “above and beyond what’s in the plan.”