Protests and Injuries Interrupt Final Vote on de Blasio Housing Plan

Council security and police try to pry protesters from their seats in the balcony.

Council security and police try to pry protesters from their seats in the balcony. (Photo: Will Bredderman for Observer)

Roughly a dozen demonstrators clashed with City Council security during a crucial vote on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan today—a confrontation that ended with police forcibly ejecting six objectors from the legislative chambers and medics taking one away in a wheelchair.

As the Council began to vote on the mayor’s proposals to rezone the city to require developers to set aside a proportion of all new apartments for below-market tenants, opponents of the plan packed into the balcony seats erupted in chants. The protesters seemed to echo concerns that the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposals would not create cheap or plentiful enough apartments for the lowest-income New Yorkers.

“City Council vote ‘no!’ MIH has got to go,” the protesters chanted.

As security staff and police attempted to disperse the disturbance, individual objectors loudly accused the Council members of being “sell-outs” and of making the city unaffordable for their constituents.

Council staffers told reporters that the demonstrators had superglued their hands together, and security staff and police struggled to pry the young objectors from their chairs. Several of the protesters screamed in apparent pain while getting removed from the Chamber, one shouting repeatedly “you’re breaking my arm, you’re breaking my arm.”

One African-American man seemed to have gotten hurt badly enough in the struggle that he was unable to exit the chambers. Police called for an ambulance, and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito—who negotiated the plan with the administration—briefly adjourned the hearing. She went up to the balcony and kneeled over the young man until EMTs arrived and removed him in a wheelchair, attached to an oxygen tank.

Council staffers said there were no arrests. Ms. Mark-Viverito ordered the entire balcony, seating roughly 40 people, cleared.

The measures ultimately passed overwhelmingly, with council members arguing that the final version of the plan takes into account the protesters’ concerns.

Under the original de Blasio proposal, MIH would have changed zoning laws citywide to obligate developers to set aside a percentage of apartments for middle and lower-middle class tenants in new buildings. When reviewing a new project, the Council would choose what amount and level of affordability to mandate from a menu of options.

The first option would have required the builder to allocate a quarter of their new units to people making 60 percent of the federally-set area median income—meaning the apartments would be priced for a family of three making $47,000 annually.

The second would have obligated the developer to set aside 30 percent of their new building for people making 80 percent of the area median income, or $62,000 for a family of three. The third—which troubled several council members—would allocate 30 percent of the apartments in a project to people making 120 percent of the AMI, or $93,000 for a family of three.

The revised plan approved today retains many of the same elements. But it creates a new menu option that would require the builder to set aside 20 percent of the new units for tenants making an average of 40 percent of the AMI, or $31,000 for a family of three. In addition, it tweaks with the third option, reducing the income bracket to an average of 115 percent of the AMI, and requiring that the developer price one-sixth of the affordable units for families making 70 percent of the AMI, and another six for families making 90 percent.

“I understand the passion that was exhibited here today,” Ms. Mark-Viverito said. “This is going to go along way in helping struggling communities.”

The protesters appeared to have no gripes with Mr. de Blasio’s Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposal, which will waive parking requirements and height restrictions for subsidized senior centers, allowing them to build more low-cost apartments for the elderly. ZQA also passed overwhelmingly.

The twin proposals now need only the mayor’s signature to become law.