BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Councilmembers Margaret Chin and Carlina Rivera are finally seemingly jumping on the bandwagon with opponents of the mayor’s Soho-Noho rezoning plan who argue that it would not guarantee that even one single unit of affordable housing would ever be built.
With time fast running out on lame-duck Mayor de Blasio’s final term in office, the two politicians, whose districts both cover parts of the rezoning area, are urging the Department of City Planning to “return to the table now” and tweak the plan to ensure that it would, in fact, produce affordable housing.
But the plan’s leading foes scoff that the politicians’ alarm is too little too late. Plus, they say there are still a wealth of other problems with the rezoning proposal for the two iconic landmarked districts — including that the scheme would cause demolition of existing affordable housing, displacement of working-class tenants and overdevelopment of high-rise towers for one-percenters.
In a joint statement, Chin and Rivera said, “We want to make one thing absolutely clear when it comes to the Department of City Planning’s Soho-Noho rezoning — affordable inclusionary housing shouldn’t be an option — it should be the only option.
“Regardless of the larger issues with the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program — which the de Blasio administration has refused to review in its remaining time in office — the fact remains that D.C.P. has not addressed real issues raised by sincere housing and community advocates. These advocates have tried earnestly to work with the City and recently announced their serious concerns with the current proposal ahead of Community Board 2’s advisory vote on this proposal.
“While there has unfortunately been a fair amount of fearmongering and disrespect shown during this discussion,” the two pols said, “the outright disregard of groups like Cooper Square Committee and Noho Bowery Stakeholders from D.C.P. is incredibly troubling to us.
“We care very strongly about not only building affordable housing, but preserving the affordable housing that already exists within rezoning lines, as well as within the surrounding neighborhoods. At a time when our city is desperately in need of affordable homes — particularly in wealthy, centrally located neighborhoods where no new affordable housing has been built and no affordable units currently exist — we must do better.
“We call on D.C.P. to return to the table now — not in three or four months — with real plans for how the Soho/Noho plan can guarantee the most affordable housing possible for our communities,” Chin and Rivera said. “We must have real and clear direction in the next month in order to address key issues more sufficiently prior to the City Planning Commission hearings.”
In addition to Cooper Square Committee, a number of other affordable-housing groups are on record opposing the Soho/Noho rezoning, including the Chinatown Working Group, Met Council on Housing, New York City Loft Tenants and Tenants PAC.
Meanwhile, prominent critics of the 11th-hour rezoning push said Chin and Rivera’s statement only validates what the opponents have been saying all along.
Christopher Marte, who won the June District 1 primary election and is the favorite to succeed the term-limited Chin, accused her and Rivera of “continuing to spread lies” about Soho and Noho residents. He also declared that the two councilmembers should now step aside and let the new City Council consider a rezoning “more responsibly” instead of in the current frantic rush.
“It is clear from their own statement that the upzoning of Soho and Noho is not going to provide sufficient, if any, truly affordable housing,” Marte said. “The current proposal should be entirely scrapped, instead of being rushed through in the waning days of this administration.
“It is sad, but not surprising, that these two councilmembers continue to spread lies about their own constituents — especially those who live in rent-regulated apartments within the rezoning and on its borders.
“The primary election results for City Council showed that we have a mandate for rezonings to be community-led and that luxury developers are not to be trusted with building affordable housing,” Marte stated. “I hope that the city will respect the democratic process instead of continuing to strengthen its legacy of displacement, and allow the next administration and my Council office to conduct this rezoning more responsibly.”
Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, said Rivera and Chin’s statement does not go far enough in addressing the plan’s many “pitfalls.”
“It’s gratifying to see the councilmembers recognize one of the deficiencies in de Blasio’s scheme,” Sweeney said. “However, it is telling to note they fail to mention the many pitfalls.
“Some of these dangers include the fact that loopholes guarantee not a single affordable unit might ever be built; their failure to admit that a lottery for racially diverse affordable apartments is a red herring because, random by its very nature, a lottery guarantees nothing; their failure to address the introduction of big-box destination retail stores; their failure to recognize that the $100-per-square-foot flip tax to convert from artist residency to straight residency is an extortion racket; their seeming willingness to uproot 55 years of historic preservation laws and upzone iconic, low-rise historic districts, to list just a few of the many flaws.
“Also noteworthy,” Sweeney added, “is their casual accusation of ‘fearmongering.’ The councilwomen must surely realize that when there are legitimate reasons to fear, fearmongering is a virtue, not a vice.”
Also, while Chin and Rivera spoke of “disrespect” during the rezoning review process, the plan’s opponents charge that it is they who have been disrespected — by the Department of City Planning. At a July 8 Community Board 2 meeting on the rezoning, Sylvia Li, a City Planning official, said that Village Preservation’s Community Alternative Zoning Plan “encourages people to engage in magical thinking that is not rooted in reality… . We think that is not a plan that is motivated by a genuine concern for displacement,” she said, “or…desire to introduce more housing affordability.”
“It’s incontrovertible,” Berman told The Village Sun, “that the current plan will incentivize and greatly increase the chance of demolition of many of the several hundred units of rent-regulated or Loft Law affordable housing in the rezoning area, the occupants of which are disproportionately lower-income, seniors, Asian Americans, and/or artists.
“It’s also clear that the plan, as currently structured, grants developers a broad range of exemptions to the supposed affordable housing requirements, making it likely that little if any affordable housing will be included along with the flood of luxury condos and rentals, high-end offices and hotels, big-box chain retail and N.Y.U. dorms this plan will engender.
“And we know that the ‘affordable housing’ that the plan promises, but is unlikely to deliver upon, is actually reserved for people of higher income, with the ability to pay higher rents, than a significant percentage of the least well-off people in the rezoning area,” Berman said.
“We also know that the rezoning plan’s allowance for huge mega-chain retail and eating and drinking establishments will drive out small businesses and arts-related groups and uses.
“So if they are talking about changing the plan to something radically different that doesn’t do these things — like the Community Alternative Plan, which calls for deeper and more broadly affordable housing, without threatening existing residents, historic buildings, small businesses and arts groups, and without the giant giveaways to the developer/donors who have lobbied for this plan — then we’re in agreement,” Berman said.
“But if they are talking about rearranging the deck chairs on this Titanic disaster of a plan, then we are not. None of us have heard any specifics or anything from either Councilmember Chin or Rivera, so I can’t say that I know what their thinking is.”
In addition, he called it “a lie” that adding anti-harassment provisions would really safeguard existing low-income tenants from luxury developers raring to do a land rush and cash in on Soho and Noho’s world-renowned cachet.
“I’ll add that there has been some talk about adding anti-harassment provisions to the rezoning to ‘protect’ tenants,” Berman said. “While this is better than nothing, it is an absolute lie to say that this will prevent tenants from being forced out of their homes or rent-regulated housing from being being lost.
The preservationist, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, added, “For the last 30 years I have lived in the city’s first district with anti-harassment protections and have worked on housing issues here. I know these kind of protections are far from a guarantee that this type of displacement won’t happen over and over again — and that’s without the massive upzoning the mayor is proposing for Soho and Noho, which adds much greater incentive for this to occur.”