A large group of children, parents and East Harlem residents of all ages marched in front of Mayor De Blasio's home at Gracie Mansion yesterday chanting “El Barrio is Not For Sale! It is to be loved and defended.” At the protest’s height late yesterday afternoon, over a 100 members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio, all immigrants and people of color, clad in blue t-shirts, marched holding signs reading “East Harlem Against Mayor De Blasio’s Luxury Housing Plan!” Children ages 4 to 14 held up a “Turkey of the Year” Award, determined to deliver it at Mayor De Blasio’s doorstep during this, Thanksgiving week. However, rather than face these East Harlem families, Mayor DeBlasio got in his car as protesters pumped up the volume, chanting “We don’t want luxury housing!” They held the “Turkey of the Year” Award high, directly in the Mayor’s path, so that he couldn’t avoid them as he attempted to drive by.
Members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio, East Harlem families, were there to demand that the Mayor's rezoning plan be replaced with the implementation of their own community generated plan - their 10 Point Plan to Preserve Rent-Stabilized Housing. Movement members cite the 8,000 East Harlem residents that came together through their Consulta del Barrio – a broad community-wide consultation – over the course of a year to create this plan and oppose the Mayor’s “luxury housing plan.”
Josefina Salazar, mother and member of Movement for Justice in El Barrio said, “We insist that they halt the rezoning and implement our 10-Point Plan. When our 10-Point Plan is implemented, landlords will be forced to follow the law so that we tenants can stay in our rent-stabilized homes. Our plan provides protection for low-income tenants, including families with children like ours, in rent-stabilized units.” Ms. Salazar and others at the protest assert that these protections are vital, and they point to a recent report by the Regional Plan Association as support. The report states, “because East Harlem is a gentrifying neighborhood, aggressive protections for existing vulnerable residents will be critical in order to prevent displacement.”
The city’s plan estimates an addition of 4,000 residential units through the rezoning process. At yesterday’s protest, Ms. Salazar argued that if the market is flooded with these thousands of new luxury units, that could cause rapid rent increases in the community, potentially displacing long-term, low-income residents of color from their rent-stabilized units as has been seen in rezonings of other “hot markets” like Chelsea and Williamsburg. She complained that landlords already employ a variety of legal and extra-legal means attempting to displace rent-stabilized tenants and remove their units from the rolls of rent-stabilization.
Jose Garcia, member of Movement for Justice in El Barrio, said the Mayor’s rezoning plan must be stopped for another reason: “None of these 4,000 units will be affordable to us, the low-income people of color and immigrant community of El Barrio because in every form of the Mayor’s luxury housing plan, the great majority of new apartments are market-rate, luxury units and the so-called ‘affordable’ units are not within the reach of all of us here, low-income tenants of East Harlem. This is a luxury housing plan, plain and simple.”
Members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio says their 10-Point Plan will defend their community and its culture by preserving rent-stabilized housing. The RPA report also warns that “East Harlem in particular, a neighborhood characterized by diversity and opportunity throughout its history, is under threat.” Maria Escobar, East Harlem resident and member of Movement for Justice in El Barrio said “we must protect and preserve rent-stabilized housing and the culture and community of our beloved Barrio by implementing the only community-generated plan aimed at preventing displacement and keeping long-term low-income residents of East Harlem in our homes! When the Mayor's rezoning plan is replaced with the implementation of our 10 Points, then we will give thanks.”
The rezoning of New York City’s East Harlem neighborhood has been the subject of renewed debate, discussion and protest since the Department of City Planning released its draft rezoning proposal at a neighborhood hearing in October. As part of the rezoning approval process, the city will study residential displacement among other potential impacts, which Movement for Justice in El Barrio says is the greatest threat to their community. The city’s draft rezoning plan includes proposed 35-story high towers in high density areas and covers blocks from East 104th St to East 132ndStreet. At the October and November 2016, East Harlem community hearings regarding rezoning, Movement for Justice in El Barrio says that their 10-Point Plan, the only proposal aimed at preserving rent-stabilized housing, was completely disregarded.
Movement for Justice in El Barrio argues that Mayor de Blasio’s Department of City Planning has their report but are ignoring it and have excluded the 8,000 East Harlem low-income community residents who created it, from these hearings. Ms. Salazar showed this reporter a letter from the Department of City Planning acknowledging receipt of the 10 Point Plan on 11/23/15. The organization also submitted the plan as written testimony to DCP and City Council hearings in December of 2015 and February of 2016. The report has been sent to multiple city agencies and Movement for Justice in El Barrio made public presentations on their 10-Point plan at Community Board meetings in November of 2015. They say they will keep protesting and speaking out until the Mayor replaces the rezoning plan with the implementation of their 10 points, thereby preserving rent-stabilized housing.
Ms. Salazar said, “if the City really cares about the low-income and immigrant community of El Barrio they stop this rezoning plan and they will implement our 10 Points and preserve rent-stabilized housing. Instead they want to impose a luxury housing plan on our community and for this they deserve this ‘Turkey of the Year’ Award presented by our children. During this Thanksgiving week, they need to listen to the people of El Barrio and implement our 10-Point Plan.” The crowd cheered as the children held up the “Turkey of the Year” Award.
After the press conference, many members joined the ranks of the protest in the late afternoon. Ms. Salazar led a delegation up to the Mayor’s doorstep where a group of children left the “Turkey of the Year” Award for him. Tucked in under the award was a copy of their 10-Point Plan. “We’re here to stop the rezoning plan and to get the Mayor to implement our plan, and we won’t let him forget it,” said Ms. Salazar as the crowd of over a hundred chanted “De Blasio, listen up! We will not be moved!”
The next step in the city’s rezoning process is a public hearing on the draft scope of work in mid-December.
Tricia Schultz is a special education and English as a New Language teacher who has worked for Jobs with Justice and labor unions.