Rezoning failures? Is DeBlasio's Clout Gone?

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member

No “causal link” between rezonings and gentrification​

De Blasio administration, Council members tussle over racial disparity bill
The debate at a City Council hearing on Monday largely revolved around a single question: Do New York City’s rezonings cause displacement?
According to the de Blasio administration, the answer is no.

“We maintain that we can’t find any causal link between our rezonings and gentrification,” said Anita Laremont, the executive director of the Department of City Planning.

The hearing, held by the Council’s land use committee, focused on a bill that would require certain rezonings to include a racial disparity analysis detailing neighborhood demographics and residents’ ability to afford housing built as part of the zoning change.
Some officials criticized what they described as the administration’s unwillingness to analyze the long-term effects of rezonings.

“To try to pretend that the rezoning of the city doesn’t have an outsized impact is just wild to me,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who introduced the bill in May 2019.
Bronx Council member Rafael Salamanca Jr., who chairs the committee and is one of the bill’s primary sponsors, cited a 2019 report that detailed population shifts in Williamsburg and Greenpoint after the neighborhoods were rezoned. The report, released by Churches United for Fair Housing, found that between 2000 and 2015, the population in both neighborhoods increased by more than 20,000, but decreased by 15,000 Latino residents.

However, the area was rezoned in 2005, so the report included data that predated the rezoning by five years — and the construction that followed by seven. City Planning conducted its own study, which found that the rezoned area actually saw a reversal in a decline in its Hispanic population that started in 1990.
“We have different perspectives on what happened there,” Laremont said. “We don’t see it as being a rezoning that led to displacement.”

“This is why I think this bill is crucial,” Salamanca responded.
Laremont said City Planning is committed to working with the City Council on the legislation and pointed to the administration’s “Where We Live NYC” plan, which she said has a similar goal. She also noted that the city started working with an outside consultant to analyze systemic racism in the city.

But, Laremont said, the “greatest disparities in New York City exist across and between neighborhoods, rather than within them,” and that multiple forces contribute to displacement.
Even before the initial version of the racial disparity bill was proposed, housing activists were calling for an overhaul of the land use review process. A community coalition challenged the 2018 Inwood rezoning, alleging that the city should have analyzed the plan’s potential socioeconomic impact.

The courts ultimately sided with the city, but indicated that the coalition could seek a legislative remedy, a point that one of its members, Paul Epstein, noted during Monday’s hearing.
“Well, here we are,” he said.
At the start of the hearing, Williams also proposed revamping the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program to require deeper affordability options — specifically, requiring that 75 percent of residential floor area be set aside for tenants earning between 50 and 70 percent of the area median income.

Under the current program, 25 to 30 percent of apartments must be set aside as permanently affordable, and AMI ranges can be between 60 and 120 percent, depending on the option chosen. Such a change would likely require separate legislation.
The de Blasio administration has said that requiring deeper affordability would render projects uneconomical without heavy subsidies and risk generating no housing at all.

David Goldsmith

All Powerful Moderator
Staff member
Gowanus rezoning on hold — for now
A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 27

A state Supreme Court judge has temporarily halted the Gowanus rezoning proposal.
The City Planning Commission can’t certify the rezoning application until after a hearing is held on Jan. 27, according to an order signed by Judge Donald Kurtz on Friday. The order was in response to a lawsuit filed last week by a coalition of neighborhood groups seeking to block City Planning from certifying the application, which would kick off the city’s seven-month land use review.

“This is a huge relief to our clients and many other community members, who have serious concerns about the lack of equity, access and transparency around the project, and want a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” attorney Jason Zakai, who represents one of the groups in the coalition, Voice of Gowanus.
The city is seeking to rezone 80 blocks in the Brooklyn neighborhood, which would pave the way for the construction of an estimated 8,200 residential units, of which 3,000 would be affordable. Though the city is keen to complete the rezoning before the end of the de Blasio administration, it has yet to commit to including capital funding for two local New York City Housing Authority developments as part of its proposal. Support from Brooklyn Council members Brad Lander and Steve Levin hinges on this funding, and the rezoning hinges on their backing.

The lawsuit claims that it is unlawful for the city to move forward with the Gowanus rezoning because it would need to hold hearings virtually rather than in-person. Doing so as part of the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure would wrongfully “deprive” community members “the opportunity to physically attend public hearings alongside like-minded attendees and show solidarity in support of a certain position with respect to the Massive Rezoning.”

The complaint also alleges that City Planning failed to send application materials to local community boards and the Brooklyn borough president in a timely fashion, as required under Ulurp.
Despite its failure to adequately notify the public, City Planning expected to certify the Gowanus rezoning application on Jan. 19, according to the lawsuit.

In response to the judge’s order, a representative for the mayor’s office said the city is looking forward to “winning this case, beginning certification, and delivering a rezoning proposal New York City can be proud of.”
“If it were easy to bring affordable housing to Gowanus and clean up the canal, then someone would’ve done it already,” Mitch Schwartz, a spokesperson for the city said in a statement. “Virtual meetings aren’t just legal and obviously appropriate in a pandemic – they have increased participation and opened the process to those unable to attend in person.”

Throughout the pandemic, various government bodies, including the City Council, have held public meetings remotely. Last year, concerns were raised about the city’s Rent Guidelines Board going virtual with its meetings. The board’s tenant representatives had called for the hearings to be delayed, saying virtual proceedings would prevent crucial interactions between tenants and board members. Those hearings, however, ultimately moved forward.

“Look, this is a pandemic. [The Gowanus coalition’s case] sounds like the arguments that you can only vote in person, that you can’t vote by mail,” said Gary Tarnoff, co-chair of Kramer Levin’s land use department. “People who are opposed to this are just grasping for straws, in my view.”