De Blasio Commissioners Face Off With Protesters Over Brooklyn Rezoning Plan

Mayor Bill de Blasio at the announcement of his affordable housing plan. (Photo: Ed Reed for NYC Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio at the announcement of his affordable housing plan in 2014. (Photo: Ed Reed for NYC Mayor’s Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s top housing officials ran into stiff resistance at a hearing today over the city’s plan to rezone the historically low-income neighborhood of East New York for new development.

At a hearing of the City Planning Commission, held at Brooklyn Borough Hall, the administration’s team made its case for the first neighborhood rezoning of the de Blasio administration affordable housing plan, which calls for allowing taller residential buildings along several major corridors in the predominantly black section of eastern Brooklyn. East New York has longstanding problems with crime and poverty, and has more recently become a refuge for minorities fleeing escalating rents in other parts of the borough—and activists fear the mayor’s proposals, which would allocate the bulk of new housing to people making $31,000 to $50,000 a year, would lead to current residents getting priced out.

The administration argued that the neighborhood’s growing population and creeping gentrification will lead to displacement if the plan does not go through. Today, it promised that the rezoning will reserve half of all new units for current residents and that the 1,200 apartments built in the first several years would all be subsidized and below-market rent.

“We do not want to displace anybody. We want to provide affordable housing that can keep people in their neighborhoods,” Vicki Been, the commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, testified. “The zoning proposal before you today is not a trigger for displacement. It is a preventative measure.”

The protesters in the audience, many of them from the liberal groups New York Communities for Change and Real Affordability for All, seemed unimpressed—and chanted “this plan is not for us” as Ms. Been concluded her testimony. Both groups are linked to neighborhood organizations, as well as construction unions that have long objected to the mayor’s refusal to mandate prevailing wages for those building the new housing in his plan.

Carl Weisbrod, the director of the Department of City Planning, argued that the plan provided for the most and lowest-cost affordable housing the city and the market could support without more assistance from the federal government. In particular, he said the city’s limited number of Section 8 housing vouchers made it difficult to provide for the very poorest.

“We hope to do better, if we had more Section 8 vouchers,” he told Michelle Neugebauer, executive director of the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, who had called for greater affordability. “Every community wants Section 8 Vouchers, I certainly understand that, but the city doesn’t manufacture those Section 8 vouchers.”

Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna, appearing on behalf of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, called for minor tweaks to the mayor’s plan. In particular, she insisted on making the new units permanently below-market—instead of letting developers opt out of the city subsidy program in a decade—designating more of the new apartments for the lowest earners, tailoring the upzoning to light and air needs in some areas and providing residents with free representation in housing court.

She also insisted the city invest in local schools, parks and sewer infrastructure to accommodate additional residents.

“As the stewards of this great city, we must demand what will not be beneficial only to the environment, our local and regional economy and our quality of life, but an East New York community plan that will benefit generations to come,” she said.

The mayor appoints seven of the CPC’s 13 members, and the body is likely to ultimately approve the plan. It will then go before the City Council, which customarily complies with the wishes of the local member.

Most area covered in the proposed rezoning belongs to the district of Councilman Rafael Espinal, a supporter of the plan, though some lies in the turf of Councilwoman Inez Barron, an ardent opponent.

De Blasio Commissioners Face Off With Protesters Over Brooklyn Rezoning Plan