As Mayor de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito were rallying in Foley Square, celebrating the passage of their affordable housing plan Wednesday evening, East Harlem residents gathered to denounce what they refer to as the mayor’s “luxury housing plan.”
In response, Teresa Tapia, member of Movement for Justice in El Barrio, said “This plan is nothing more than a land grab for the rich, and now they are celebrating it. It’s shameful.”
On Tuesday, the City Council voted in favor of two zoning amendments that are the cornerstones of the mayor’s housing plan and pave the way for rezoning in fifteen communities citywide, which are composed of predominately poor and black and Latino residents. East Harlem is one of these communities.
East Harlem residents responded to the City Council vote by holding their own rally Wednesday evening, denouncing the plan outside the “Landlord Resource Fair” hosted by the de Blasio administration. “We are here outside of this fair in East Harlem which the mayor’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development has organized to offer support and resources to landlords,” said Ms. Tapia. “This demonstrates yet again and very clearly that the mayor favors wealthy landlords over poor tenants.” This was met with a chant of “Listen up, de Blasio! We will not be moved!” led by area resident Josefina Salazar, whose children stood at her side chanting and holding signs that read “East Harlem Tenants Against de Blasio’s Luxury Housing Plan.”
Ms. Salazar laid out the reasons she and her neighbors oppose the plan, beginning with the new provision that gives real estate developers the option of building 80% luxury, market-rate units. She continued, “The other 20% of apartments will be designated as what they call low-income housing. But we know very well this is a lie, because the low-income people of El Barrio don’t earn enough to pay those high rents.” The mayor and the City Council claim, under this option, the 20% affordable housing units, which will be eligible to residents earning $34,500 for a family of four, will indeed be affordable to low-income residents from the area.
Residents spoke about the gentrification and displacement they say the new plan will bring. “We know when those rich people move to El Barrio, our landlords will do everything in their power to displace us from our apartments in order to replace us with people who can pay more than three times what we pay for rent,” Ms. Salazar said. “We don’t want El Barrio to be converted into a neighborhood for rich people as happened in other communities like Park Slope and Chelsea, but that is what the mayor and Ms. Mark-Viverito want to happen here.” Ms.Tapia added, “we don’t want their ‘housing plan’ to push us out of our homes.”
Tenants citywide, including those in East New York, one of the fifteen low-income, people of color communities targeted for rezoning, are speaking out against the plan, saying even the lowest income options are not affordable to the poor people in their communities. They, like the tenants protesting tonight, say even the so-called “affordable” units are not intended for the current residents of their communities and will draw higher income residents from outside the community, just as the market-rate units will.
This was in stark contrast to the simultaneous celebration at Foley Square, where Mayor de Blasio said developers will be required to add a set amount of affordable housing — between 20 and 30% — in rezoned areas.
In the past, under Mayor Bloomberg, the City Council had a documented history of approving legislation introduced by the mayor, including rezoning and development projects. Many, including members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio, are now drawing parallels to the current City Council’s overwhelming approval of Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning changes, despite citywide opposition from community organizations. Other groups across the city protested the City Council’s vote on this rezoning and delayed it by 20 minutes on Tuesday. Ultimately, the vote went ahead as planned. Mayor de Blasio is presenting this massive real estate development undertaking as part of his progressive agenda to challenge the “tale of two cities”, the theme of which was a major focus of his electoral campaign. The mayor, for his part, has made it clear he will do what it takes to “address the affordable housing crisis” through his rezoning plan.
In this vein, the mayor says his rezoning plan will make it harder for developers to build more luxury towers and that they will be required to also build affordable housing. However, East Harlem residents question how hard it will be for developers who are “excited to pioneer” these neighborhoods targeted for rezoning. Residents assert that developers are overjoyed by this new “luxury housing plan” because, according to them, business will be booming for real estate developers who will be busy creating 70-80% market rate units in new luxury towers. “This is just another luxury upzoning,” Ms. Salazar said, “—this time wrapped up in the language of affordable housing and served up by our local politicians who are in the service of the real estate developers who fund their campaigns.” Mayor de Blasio’s largest contributions come from real estate developers who have also provided funding for the Campaign for One New York, for “affordable housing” and other projects. The mayor and the City Council stand behind their plan, which they say is the most progressive housing plan in any city in the country.
Movement for Justice in El Barrio says they reject the rezoning plan outright. “We oppose any configuration of the rezoning plan that is being imposed on our community because we know it will displace low-income tenants and small businesses, including street vendors,” says Ms. Tapia. “We offer our own ten-point plan to preserve rent-stabilized housing instead of destroying it, like the mayor’s and the Council’s plan will.”
The group has a proposal of their own, a ten-point plan to preserve rent-stabilized housing that they say will truly address the need for low-income housing in their community and citywide. According to them, this ten-point plan is the result of a nearly year-long community-wide consultation process convened by Movement for Justice in El Barrio through which community members analyzed the mayor’s plan and developed a position and plan of their own. The group has sent copies of the plan to all parties involved in the proposed re-zonings, including the mayor, and says they will keep struggling until their ten points are implemented. Wednesday’s rally by Movement for Justice in El Barrio follows a series of protests and actions since the organization first came out publicly in opposition to the mayor’s plan last fall. Earlier this year, the organization convened the first citywide gathering in opposition to the mayor’s plan bringing together over 90 groups from across the city, the country and internationally. At this “Encuentro”, the group released a video outlining their fight against the mayor’s rezoning plan.
To close Wednesday’s protest the crowd chanted a message to the mayor, ”de Blasio, listen up! We will not be moved!” followed by their message to his staff leading the Landlord Resource Fair inside, “HPD, listen up! We will not be moved!” The mayor and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, meanwhile, rallied at Foley Square with leaders of the AARP and several unions who have been strong supporters of the administration as they have shepherded the new plan through the approval process.
Liz Roberts is an activist and writer. She works with War Resisters League and does Palestine solidarity work.