City Council bill demands racial disparity study for some rezonings

Measure would require developers to address displacement risk

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams introduced the bill in May of 2019. (Jumaane Williams)
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who introduced the bill in May 2019 (Jumaane Williams)


Certain rezonings may soon require an extra step in the city’s land use review process.

The City Council’s land use committee is set to hold a hearing Monday on a bill that would mandate a racial disparity study for applications that seek a density boost or change in use or involve four or more adjacent blocks.

The bill would apply to proposals going through the seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which applies to rezonings, special permits and other actions. The threshold triggering the requirement for upzonings and use-conversions would be 50,000 square feet or more.

The latest version of the bill, which Public Advocate Jumaane Williams introduced in May 2019, differs in a few ways from the original. For one, the initial bill required an “analysis of potential direct and indirect racial and ethnic residential impacts” as part of every environmental impact statement filed with a land use application. Advocates have called for changes to the City Charter to make race part of environmental impact statements.

The bill initially demanded that the analysis determine whether the application adhered to the federal Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. That language was nixed after the Trump administration repealed the rule in July. (President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to restore it.)

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Representatives for Williams and Council member Rafael Salamanca, the chair of the committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, didn’t return messages seeking comment about the changes, which seem to be an attempt to avoid having to revise the City Charter.

A committee report on the measure states that the bill was altered so that it “would not change the form or substance of any EIS.” The City Council can amend the charter — which is what would happen with the latest version of the bill — but certain changes require a public referendum.

The new bill spells out metrics that must be included in the study, including “existing disparities between racial and ethnic groups,” eviction filing rates, median household incomes, and median rent and home prices within a half-mile radius of the project area.

For residential projects, the analysis would also need to include projected rents for all units, as well as the income needed to live in the apartments without paying 30 percent or more of income on rent. The study must also identify potential measures to “address any identified disparities or displacement risk.”

Much of the opposition surrounding recent rezonings — especially neighborhood-wide actions sought by the de Blasio administration — has revolved around the threat of gentrification and displacement. A lawsuit challenging the Inwood rezoning argued that the city’s environmental impact statement did not adequately capture the potential socioeconomic effects of the action.

Though the courts ultimately sided with the city, the judges “suggested that a legislative change was ultimately what the plaintiffs sought,” land use attorneys with Strook noted in a recent memo to clients.

Reggie Thomas, the Real Estate Board of New York’s senior vice president of government affairs, said that the trade group “supports efforts to promote equity and look forward to discussing this legislation with the Council.” A spokesperson would not specify whether REBNY supports the measure.