Above Photo: A new high-rise in Bushwick at 358 Grove Street SCOTT HEINS/GOTHAMIST
Mayor Bill de Blasio has rejected a community-driven rezoning proposal for Bushwick, dealing a significant blow to local residents who spent years drafting a blueprint aimed at addressing gentrification and displacement in the rapidly changing neighborhood.
The administration’s decision was outlined in a letter delivered to local stakeholders this weekend by Deputy Mayor Vicki Breen, who said she was “deeply concerned” that aspects of the community plan amounted to a downzoning.
The notice came after Bushwick Councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal called on the Department of City Planning to consider the community’s vision as it moves forward with a controversial rezoning of 300 blocks of Bushwick. Just last month, the mayor’s upzoning proposal for Inwood was rejected by a judge, after opponents filed a lawsuit alleging that local residents were not adequately involved in the plan’s formation.
By contrast, the 74-page Bushwick Community Plan was the result of a collaborative, community-led process spearheaded by Community Board 4 more than five years ago. The plan aimed to limit large-scale development on side streets, while permitting higher density building on mixed-used corridors like Broadway. It also called for creation of new historic districts, preservation of affordable housing, and an increase in funding for local parks.
In a statement issued on Monday, Reynoso and Espinal accused the mayor of ignoring the needs of longtime Bushwick residents, while pushing through an unpopular rezoning that would ultimately act as a catalyst for gentrification.
“The Mayor’s decision to walk away from Bushwick, continuing the cycle of government neglect the neighborhood has suffered under for the past 50 years, is shameful as it ignores the voice and will of a community,” the statement reads. “The status quo remains the same, our community continues to be displaced, but now the Mayor has rubber stamped his approval on this crisis.”
Bushwick saw a 44 percent increase in average rent between 1990 and 2014, making it one of New York City’s fastest gentrifying neighborhoods, according to a report from NYU’s Furman Center. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood was $2,323 as of last year.
This past summer, the de Blasio administration unveiled its own plan to rezone Bushwick, which would create an estimated 5,600 additional units of residential housing, 30 percent of which would be deemed affordable. The community proposal, meanwhile, called for no more than 2,000 new units in total—with the stipulation that all of them be “deeply affordable.”
According to Deputy Mayor Been, those demands “run counter to the City’s goals of the rezoning, which would be to encourage new mixed-income housing to prevent displacement spurred by current market forces while promoting a diverse, healthy and inclusive neighborhood and city.”
But advocates of the community plan—including Make the Road New York, Churches United for Fair Housing, and Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation—argue that a more restrictive approach is needed to stave off displacement. They point to the large-scale rezoning of the East River riverfront under Mayor Mike Bloomberg—and the ensuing jump in median income in the area from $39,550 to $67,830—as evidence against the de Blasio’s zoning theory.
Meanwhile, some anti-gentrification groups say the community plan was doomed from the start. Members of the group Mi Casa No Es Su Casa, which has opposed any rezoning effort, say that local residents should focus their attention on pressuring Reynoso and Espinal to vote against the city’s proposal—something they have not yet committed to doing.
“Nothing is surprising here,” Nancy Torres, the spokesperson for Mi Casa No Es Su Casa, told Gothamist. “We know that DCP never accepts the community’s plan. If Reynoso and Espinal are shocked by this, then they clearly haven’t been paying attention.”