With the economically disadvantaged being priced out of Manhattan, Inwood residents are fighting to hold on to the place they’ve called home.
Residents are fighting the potential rezoning of their neighborhood by the city, fearing being priced out of their homes and small businesses. Holding up signs urging a no vote, residents attended a Manhattan Community Board 12 public hearing, the first of its kind, on the rezoning plan at I.S. 52’s auditorium. With a quarter of Inwood’s residents living below the poverty line, a venue meant to seat 600 people was packed and loud with stakeholders.
The hearing lasted four hours, and it’s the first CB12 consultation with the community in a month when the rezoning process entered the Uniform Land Use Review procedure to determine the proposal’s future. The process should take seven months.
The city’s plan calls for a 60-block rezoning, which would lead to the construction of mixed-income housing, but residents believe it would rip apart the neighborhood that has a large Dominican population.
Rich Perez, pastor of the Christ Crucified Fellowship, spoke at the hearing and said the neighborhood people have recognized is disappearing and the rezoning could contribute to the process.
“It seems that the uptown we knew so well is slipping through our fingers,” Perez told the crowd. “Now, I’m not foolish, I know change to one degree or another is important … and it’s never easy. But the real tragedy to this rezoning plan doesn’t seem to be change, it seems to be a lack of compassion and thoughtfulness.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio went on Brian Lehrer’s show on WNYC radio to plead his case in favor of rezoning. He told Lehrer that rezoning would save affordable housing in Inwood and it’s better than not doing anything at all.
“My argument is, these rezonings give us an opportunity to create a lot of affordable housing in the case of Inwood,” said de Blasio to Lehrer. “I believe the number is 1,300 permanently affordable apartments. That’s enough for 4,000 to 5,000 people in this city to have affordability long term. That—the difference in rezoning, the way to think about it is, if you don’t do rezoning you don’t get that affordable housing for 5,000 people.”
The mayor concluded, “If you do the rezoning, you’re able to do that. You’re able to get a lot of other benefits and other investments in the community.”
In a joint statement, the organizations Inwood Preservation, Northern Manhattan Is Not for Sale and the Inwood Small Business Coalition said the mayor’s administration needs to engage with the people of Inwood more.
“Mayor de Blasio has missed the opportunity to engage Washington Heights and Inwood residents in creating a rezoning plan that could benefit our community,” read the statement. “Instead, he has chosen a massive upzoning of Inwood that will result in gentrification and displacement of our majority-Latinx community and immigrant-owned small businesses, will dangerously strain the ancient infrastructure of the neighborhood and will exacerbate the impacts of development pressures and landlord harassment in targeted areas through a haphazard application of new zoning designations.”
According to NYCEDC, market rents in Inwood currently average $2,200 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, with a family of three needing approximately an $80,000 annual income to afford the space. Under the two suggested incomes for mixed-income housing, 25 percent of rental space would be set aside for those earning 60 percent or less of the Area Median Income or 30 percent would be set aside for those making 80 percent or less of the AMI.
But residents and other stakeholders have come up with a plan they believe wouldn’t be as much of a shock to the neighborhood’s system.
Uptown United is a coalition consisting of several small business and tenant stakeholder groups that presented their own rezoning plan that includes more comprehensive protections for current tenants and more affordable housing than guaranteed under the new mandatory inclusionary housing policy.
Uptown United’s plan merges the plans of multiple local groups and calls for preserving existing housing, protecting small businesses and fortifying local infrastructure. The plan also calls for the construction of 100 percent affordable “community-controlled” housing on public land, “including the ConEd site on the Harlem River, through Community Land Trusts and nonprofit developers.”
The de Blasio administration has gone on record before saying they can’t force private entities to build 100 percent affordable housing because that would be ruled unconstitutional.