City Council to require racial equity reports for rezonings

Vote expected Thursday

Council member Rafael Salamanca Jr and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (Getty, Facebook via Salamanca Jr.)
Council member Rafael Salamanca Jr. and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (Getty, Facebook via Salamanca Jr.)

The City Council is set to pass a bill forcing developers to include a “racial equity report” with certain rezoning applications.

The measure requires the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of City Planning to create a database with current and historic information on neighborhood demographics, affordability and displacement risk.

This “equitable development data tool” would include a two-decade lookback, disaggregated by race and Hispanic origin, aimed at spotting trends in these categories over time.

The data tool was added to the latest version of the bill to make it easier for rezoning applicants to get information, according to Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, one of the sponsors.

The initial bill, introduced in May 2019, would have required a racial impact analysis in every environmental impact statement mandated by the city’s land use review process. The version amended Monday applies the new requirement in specific cases.

The City Council is expected to vote on the bill on Thursday. It would take effect in June 2022.

Applicants would have to file a racial equity report — using the data tool — for citywide zoning changes that affect five or more community districts, historic district designations of at least four city blocks, and rezonings that allow projects of 50,000 square feet or more.

The report would also be required when an applicant seeks zoning to increase residential floor area by 50,000 square feet or more and non-residential space by at least 200,000 square feet. The requirements would also kick in for certain decreases to floor area or housing units, and for proposals to change use in manufacturing districts for buildings of at least 100,000 square feet.

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The report itself must include a summary of the project, including details of income-restricted apartments, types of jobs being created and a summary of local economic and social trends and distribution of households by income and race. Applicants must also submit a statement describing how their project abides by the federal Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which the Biden administration recently restored.

“Many times when we hear about these rezonings, it is presented that it is going to be great for the city,” Williams said. “What we have found is that it only helps certain parts of the city.”

An earlier version of the measure, first introduced in May 2019, received pushback from the de Blasio administration, which maintained that it found no “causal link between our rezonings and gentrification.”

The Real Estate Board of New York had called for a more standardized system for creating racial impact reports.

“REBNY supports the goal of reporting on the impacts of land use actions as part of a data-driven approach to producing much-needed housing and promoting equitable development,” President James Whelan said in a statement Tuesday.

Council member Rafael Salamanca Jr., who represents the South Bronx and chairs the chamber’s land use committee, killed the de Blasio administration’s proposal to rezone Southern Boulevard in the Bronx. At the time, he said he would not lend his support to the plan until a racial impact study was conducted.

Salamanca, a co-sponsor of the bill on tap Thursday, said developers would need to submit a racial equity report before an application begins the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

While some developers engage with community members early in the process, others do not, he said. That means conversations about how a rezoning could affect the racial makeup of a neighborhood and exacerbate displacement trends don’t happen until late in the public review process. Under the bill, such issues would need to be addressed upfront.

“It gives a local community an opportunity to see what this would really mean to the community,” he said. “And that isn’t too much to ask.”