State Assemblyman Charles Baron says that any development in East New York under the current proposal will be bad news for current residents.
“My man here said that gentrification is coming whether you like it or not,” he said, pointing at a Department of City Planning employee sitting in the front row at a recent community hearing about the city’s proposed plan to rezone the Brooklyn neighborhood. The crowd booed.
Following Baron, community member after community member, and his wife councilwoman Inez Baron, expressed similar sentiments.
Rather than easing fears, community discussions about the pending rezoning of East New York seem to have exacerbated them. The chief concern is that the proposed residential development will set into motion a wave of gentrification that will make the neighborhood unaffordable to those who currently live there.
The proposed plan includes 6,000 new units of housing, 11 percent of the two-bedroom units would be rented at a maximum of $583 a month. Sixteen percent would be at a maximum of $777 a month. Fourteen percent would be at less that $971 a month, 39 percent at less than $1,165 and twenty percent could be rented up to $1,748 a month.
The de Blasio administration is on the defensive. On Friday the Mayor was on the Brian Lehrer show to say that his plan was intended to protect poor neighborhoods from gentrifying market forces, not propel them.
However, in a neighborhood like East New York, threats of the market driving up prices on its own seems out of touch with the neighborhood’s currently reality. The proposed plan, on the other hand, describes an implemented rental market that may threaten the average East New Yorker if protections aren’t put in place or the rates of affordability aren’t deepened.
The numbers that the city uses to define affordability are based on a citywide income average. In East New York, the average family makes about one-third of that. “[The proposed plan] doesn’t speak to the current East New York,” said Andre Mitchell, the Chairperson of Community Board 5, which represents part of the to-be-rezoned area. But, he adds, “We would like to see neighborhood conditions improved, not because we want to move new people in, but to do right by the people who already live here.”
The city did not expect the plan to be an easy sell in East New York, said Carl Weisbrod, Director of the Department of City Planning. “I think it’s part of the dynamic in every neighborhood, fear about being displaced by gentrification,” he said.
Not all community leaders and stakeholders see the plan in such black-and-white terms as the Barons—but this does not mean that they support the current proposal. Lifelong life-long East New York resident and director of a local afterschool program, Jamel Burgess, was excited when he heard that East New York would be the first neighborhood the de Blasio administration would up-zone. “I think change is good,” he said. But like any Brooklyn resident, Burgess has seen the effect of gentrification on nearby neighborhoods. He looked for assurance from the city that East New York would not be the next Williamsburg, or even Bed Stuy. He was given little to work with.
“They started showing us what the twenty-five percent affordable housing would look like,” he said, “it’s not the [area median income] of people in East New York. That’s when I started getting more serious about this.” Burgess is a member of the Coalition for Community Advancement, which has been active in opposing the proposed plan.
Councilmember Raphael Espinal, who represents most of the to-be rezoned area, echoes Burgess’s sentiments. City investment in the neighborhood is a good thing, he said. He believes that the economic development that could—and should, he has advocated—come with residential has the potential to create real, lasting change for the community. He agrees with the mayor that the rezoning plan could create a buffer against displacement for his constituents. “If the government decides to not do anything in East New York we’re going to see what’s going on in Bushwick where hundreds of people are being displaced,” he said.
But this kind of protection is only a potential of the plan, not something that it currently possesses. “What the administration is going to do in East New York is make sure that HPD brings in enough subsidies so that they can provide people affordability levels that reflect the local community,” he said.
The city has not expressed a commitment to this level of investment. Until they do, the opposition will likely continue to escalate.