Last night, hundreds of tenants, workers, business owners, and other local community members packed the Department of City Planning (DCP) scoping hearing for the Jerome Avenue Rezoning. Following a rally and march where community members chanted, “Fight, fight, fight, housing is a right” and “Who’s Bronx? Our Bronx,” members of the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision streamed into the auditorium at Bronx Community College. Speaker after speaker expressed concerns about how the proposed rezoning would impact existing community members, and voiced skepticism as to whether, a year and a half into the process, the City was taking seriously the community’s concerns.
“I’m a single mother, work day and night to pay rent, and I know the housing built in the rezoning won’t be affordable for me,” said one community member.
“Where are the autos shops going to go? You have no plan for them!” said another.
These stories and others made it clear that without new, significant, proactive anti-displacement protections, new development would benefit people making higher incomes than most local residents and would simply make these stories of harassment more common. Several specific policy recommendations were highlighted, including the need for citywide Certificate of No Harassment legislation to proactively disincentivize harassment.
Many speakers also pointed out that any new affordable housing created under existing programs – specifically Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and the City’s Extremely Low- and Low-Income Affordability (ELLA) development program – would largely create housing out of reach for a large percentage of current residents. MIH does not reach the nearly one third of New Yorkers whose incomes are at or below 30% of AMI, and the city’s existing programs for creating affordable housing have only a limited ability to target those at the low end of the income spectrum, who are in fact those most in need of affordable housing in the Jerome Avenue area and throughout the City.
Nearly a year ago, the Bronx Coalition put out a policy platform with thoughtful and detailed recommendations to address their four primary areas of concern: the development of new housing at levels affordable to local residents; anti-displacement & anti-harassment policies for residential and commercial tenants; the creation & preservation of good jobs with local hire; and real community engagement in the planning process.
Coalition members strongly made the case that the draft scope put out by DCP last month did not reflect their policy platform nor did it include detailed recommendations made separately regarding how to conduct an environmental review that would appropriately capture a wide range of possible impacts on the community. While the City has engaged in a wide range of meetings and public forums with local community members, speakers last night pointed out that a real community engagement process needs to result in the local community’s interests being prioritized in the actual plans that move forward.
The communities along Jerome Avenue are not simply saying no to change, a point repeatedly emphasized by opposing speakers. But change can come in a variety of forms to a community that is experiencing rising market pressures, and that change will be fundamentally shaped by this rezoning process. Local residents have a right to see their needs prioritized in the plan.