The debate at a City Council hearing on Monday largely revolved around a single question: Do New York City’s rezonings cause displacement?
According to the de Blasio administration, the answer is no.
“We maintain that we can’t find any causal link between our rezonings and gentrification,” said Anita Laremont, the executive director of the Department of City Planning.
The hearing, held by the Council’s land use committee, focused on a bill that would require certain rezonings to include a racial disparity analysis detailing neighborhood demographics and residents’ ability to afford housing built as part of the zoning change.
Some officials criticized what they described as the administration’s unwillingness to analyze the long-term effects of rezonings.
“To try to pretend that the rezoning of the city doesn’t have an outsized impact is just wild to me,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who introduced the bill in May 2019.
Bronx Council member Rafael Salamanca Jr., who chairs the committee and is one of the bill’s primary sponsors, cited a 2019 report that detailed population shifts in Williamsburg and Greenpoint after the neighborhoods were rezoned. The report, released by Churches United for Fair Housing, found that between 2000 and 2015, the population in both neighborhoods increased by more than 20,000, but decreased by 15,000 Latino residents.
However, the area was rezoned in 2005, so the report included data that predated the rezoning by five years — and the construction that followed by seven. City Planning conducted its own study, which found that the rezoned area actually saw a reversal in a decline in its Hispanic population that started in 1990.
“We have different perspectives on what happened there,” Laremont said. “We don’t see it as being a rezoning that led to displacement.”
“This is why I think this bill is crucial,” Salamanca responded.
Laremont said City Planning is committed to working with the City Council on the legislation and pointed to the administration’s “Where We Live NYC” plan, which she said has a similar goal. She also noted that the city started working with an outside consultant to analyze systemic racism in the city.
But, Laremont said, the “greatest disparities in New York City exist across and between neighborhoods, rather than within them,” and that multiple forces contribute to displacement.
Even before the initial version of the racial disparity bill was proposed, housing activists were calling for an overhaul of the land use review process. A community coalition challenged the 2018 Inwood rezoning, alleging that the city should have analyzed the plan’s potential socioeconomic impact.
The courts ultimately sided with the city, but indicated that the coalition could seek a legislative remedy, a point that one of its members, Paul Epstein, noted during Monday’s hearing.
“Well, here we are,” he said.
At the start of the hearing, Williams also proposed revamping the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program to require deeper affordability options — specifically, requiring that 75 percent of residential floor area be set aside for tenants earning between 50 and 70 percent of the area median income.
Under the current program, 25 to 30 percent of apartments must be set aside as permanently affordable, and AMI ranges can be between 60 and 120 percent, depending on the option chosen. Such a change would likely require separate legislation.
The de Blasio administration has said that requiring deeper affordability would render projects uneconomical without heavy subsidies and risk generating no housing at all.