We all know the affordable housing is not affordable,” said community organizer Pati Rodriguez at the Bushwick community forum on rezoning, facing the sweating crowd sheltering from the torrid heat of June 17, 2018.
The meeting was attended by residents from Bushwick, a largely Hispanic neighborhood in northern Brooklyn, who were concerned about the possible effects of a proposed rezoning plan for their community. The draft rezoning plan had been released by the Department of City Planning in 2017, but was due to be discussed at an upcoming Bushwick Community Board 4 meeting.
Zoning is a regulation used to determine the size, height and type of building that can be built on a specific area. Some zones are majority residential, commercial or manufacturing zones. Its purpose is to designate an area to a specific function, and to ensure factories and residential buildings aren’t sharing the same zone. Rezoning is an action that allows either the city or private property owners to alter the current zoning regulation in a specific area. Rezoning has two components—dezoning and upzoning. Dezoning places height restrictions on communities while upzoning allows for taller buildings.
They were especially skeptical about MIH as a solution to their community’s affordable housing crisis. According to Alicia Boyd of the Movement to Protect the People, “When Mandatory Inclusionary Housing was presented in 2016 to the City Council, 52 out of 59 community boards voted against it.” But despite the objections, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) was adopted by the De Blasio administration in 2016 as a solution to the city’s affordable housing crisis. The policy, which applies to certain parts of the city whose populations are set to increase as a result of rezoning, requires that developers, whose buildings contain more than 10 units or are larger than 12,500 square feet, set aside between 20 to 30% of their units for affordable housing. The remaining 70 to 80% of their units can be rented or sold at market rates.
MIH gives developers four options to fulfill their affordable housing requirement. The first option is that 25% of the units be affordable to those who earn 60% of the area’s median income (AMI) with a minimum of 10% of units for those who earn 40% of the AMI. The second option is that developers make 30 percent of units in their building affordable for those who earn 80% of the median income. The third option is that 20% of their units be for for those who earn 40% of the median income. The final options is that 30% of units are set aside for those who earn an average of 115% of the median income, with 5% of units for those who earn 70% of the median income and another 5% for those who earn 90% of the median income.
For Boyd and many others gathered at the Bushwick forum, their main problem with MIH is its measure of affordability. MIH measures affordability based on the city’s Area Median Income (AMI). According to StreetEasy, “median income means that half of a geographic area’ s income is above that midpoint, while the other half is below that amount.” New York City’s AMI is calculated based on the incomes not only of residents in its five boroughs, but also of those in the surrounding wealthy counties of Putnam, Rockland and Westchester. In 2018, NYC’s AMI is $93,900 for a three-person household.
In Bushwick, a developer could meet the MIH requirement by setting aside 30% of their newly constructed units to families who make around $75,120, which is the equivalent of 80% of AMI for 2018, or 20% of newly constructed units to families who earn 40% of the AMI, which is 2018 is 37,560 for a three-person household. But the problem is that these figures are still unaffordable to the majority of families in Bushwick, where the median income in 2o16 was $49,378. A more realistic measure of affordable housing would be 40% of $49,378, which is $19,751.
The result, according to Dan Kaminsky from Social Justice Tours, is that the newly constructed affordable housing units are affordable to NYC’s middle class but “do very little for the people who are most vulnerable.”
According to Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Presentation, upzonings also disproportionately impact “ low income communities of color who have either no political clout or money in their pockets.” Boyd explained that since the implementation of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing in 2016, there have been 15 rezonings and these have impacted differently on majority White or non-White communities. White middle class communities have been subjected to height restrictions and downzoning, which helps protect and preserve the community while increasing its value. Communities of color, on the other hand, were upzoned, which has spurred gentrification.
Professor of Sociology Roger Salerno, a former city planner, was involved with rezonings in lower Manhattan during the 1970s and ‘80s and walked away after observing the dire effects of rezonings on lower income communities of color. He gave his opinions on the rezonings of Bushwick: “The plan you have before you has basically New York styled gentrification written all over it. With the goal of replacing working class African Americans and Latinx’s in Bushwick, to put in professional Whites, [wealthy] immigrants, trust fund millenials, and artists from wealthy families. It will replace the bodega with the trendy coffee house, and replace a rent that’s now barely affordable with one only a young attorney with a six figure salary could afford. It will serve the interests of absentee landlords, real estate developers, and bankers. Not the people who live here.”
Imani Henry ended the Bushwick Community Forum by describing Bushwick’s rezoning actions: “It truly is racist, classist, it is anti-family, it is anti-small business and it really is destroying the sociolinguistic, economic, cultural diversity in Brooklyn and racial diversity of New York City, that’s real. [...] The majority of people in NYC are low to middle income people. The majority of the housing should be for us. We don’t need 20% [affordable housing] we need 100%.”
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