TESTIMONY: Jerome Avenue Scoping Session

TESTIMONY:

Jerome Avenue Scoping Session
Bronx Community College
September 29, 2016

Harold DeRienzo, President
Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, Inc.

Testimony Focus: The need, and requirement for, a cumulative impact assessment on potential tenant displacement.

A. Basis for a Cumulative Impact Assessment: Under the 1986 Chinese Staff Workers case, when a proposed action is inconsistent with area character and is likely to change neighborhood population patterns and community character, the city is required to consider secondary, as well as cumulative, impacts. The proposed zoning is directly inconsistent with the current area looking to be rezoned. The draft scope’s call for affordable housing provisions consistent with Mandatory Inclusionary Housing further supports the need for a cumulative assessment of displacement since MIH and existing Affordable Housing HPD programs exclude the majority of residents in the zoning and surrounding areas.

B. Scope of Cumulative Impact Assessment: In assessing cumulative displacement, the President’s Council on Environmental Quality explains that consideration should be given to a proposed action’s cumulative effects in the context of “past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of who undertakes the action.”

C. Areas of Assessment: The cumulative assessment for the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning should encompass an area that at the very least covers Bronx Community Districts 1 through 6. Considerations should include, but not be limited to, direct and indirect resident displacement; loss of political power; loss of cultural expression and interaction; loss of access to necessary and affordable goods and services; loss of social networks, destruction of social capital, and loss of institutional affiliations, including churches. [As an example, see “Some Harlem Churches Fight for Survival,” Trymaine Lee, New York Times, 5/23/10.]

D. Applicability to Jerome Avenue Rezoning: It is necessary to place the Jerome Avenue rezoning in a broader context of past, current and future actions, and within the context of public and private actions. To the North, the Webster Avenue rezoning has already spurred private investment in the surrounding area (see http://newyorkyimby.com/2016/09/permits-filed-235-west-kingsbridge-road-kingsbridge-heights.html) for permits filed or anticipated to be filed for market development — site on West Kingsbridge Road reported on as an example). To the South, there is market rate development ongoing in the Port Morris Section of the Bronx, along with aggressive efforts to “re-brand” the area as the “Piano District,” a rebranding approach that has preceded every area being gentrified in the city to date. This market-based development is complemented by the Melrose Common Urban Renewal Plan, substantially developed for affordable housing at 60% AMI and above, which excludes the majority of area residents, targeting “affordable” units for those earning two or more times the incomes of the area residents. To the east, there are plans underway for transforming of the Sheridan Expressway, providing new boulevards and new housing, along with an expanded park and various points of entry for waterfront access. The “impact area” for that proposal stretches from Bronx Park South to the tip of Hunts Point. Now, to the west, there is the Jerome Avenue Rezoning Plan, anticipated to spur the development of over 4,000 units of new housing along 73 blocks, relying on MIH to provide permanent affordability, which is not affordable to the vast majority of local residents, displacing hundreds of jobs, and likely already encouraging displacement and tenant harassment in adjoining neighborhoods by its simple announcement. All of these past, present and anticipated future actions need to be part of the cumulative impact assessment on South Bronx residents as a result of the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning.

E. Stated Organizational Proposals Regarding Scope, Approach and Mitigation:

  1. All development projects with public subsidy should require affordability levels reaching deeper affordability than MIH or HPD’s current ELLA finance program to better reflect the needs of the communities likely to be impacted by this action. A group of CDCs has developed terms sheets for projects that, developed on a not-for-profit basis, can provide for mixed income, affordable units for households earning from below $25,000 to over $50,000 a year, distributing the benefits equally among those at 27% AMI, 37% AMI, 47% AMI, and 57% AMI. This should be a mitigation requirement embodied in the development of all City-financed projects.
  2. All development projects of a substantial scale should utilize union labor. The Trades Council and numerous trades unions have already agreed to open up apprenticeships for local residents. In this way, in a socio-economic assessment of “winners and losers,” local residents will have a pathway to enhanced income and careers as a mitigation measure to offset anticipated rising rents.
  3. Certification for ULURP for this Zoning Action Should Not Be Done Until:
  • A Full EIS is completed so that when each step in the review and approval process is taken as part of ULURP, each such entity knows the full impact of what they are voting in favor of, or against. Likewise, each entity can more adequately consider appropriate mitigating approaches to anticipated negative impacts.
  • Enforceable anti-harassment measures or anti-harassment districts are in place to ensure that no permits are issued until it is determined that such development opportunity was not made possible through harassment and displacement of former tenants.
  • City Council Intro 214-A has been passed so that every eligible tenant has a right to counsel in Housing Court.
  • HPD puts in place finance programs that ensure deeper affordability levels more reflective of the impacted areas.

F. Concluding Comments: In a recent conversation with a city official I was told that zoning in and of itself does not create displacement. That is true to the same extent that guns do not kill people, people kill people. Of course both arguments are absurd on their face. Zoning creates an environment that promotes private development as a matter of public policy. We have seen in gentrified areas throughout the city how this “environment” – whether created by privately-generated economic demand or city-sponsored actions or both – displaces people. Bedford-Stuyvesant is an area that gentrified almost overnight between 2005 and 2009. Coincidentally, this is also one of a handful of neighborhoods that created the most homelessness during this period of time. (See “Gentrifying Into the Shelters,” by Ginia Bellafonte, New York Times, 7/6/13.) Increasingly, many residents in the shelter system who come to our organization for housing were displaced from such gentrified areas.

One current resident of a Cluster Site Shelter is preparing to leave the shelter system and become a Banana Kelly tenant. She recounts her experience as a tenant in a gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood, where new residents referred to her and other long-time residents as “left-overs.”

This attitude on the part of gentrifiers who look down on current residents and feel that they are some kind of pioneers who discover areas for resettlement, are causing residents to view city zoning proposals as promotion of a new form of urban colonialism, where government, investors and developers work together to replace one population group of existing residents for higher income residents who can support not only more privately financed development, but levels of profit deemed acceptable to private, for-profit developers.

I urge City Planning to make sure that the proposed scope of the Environmental Impact Statement takes the most comprehensive direct, secondary, and cumulative assessment of the likely impacts of this proposed rezoning action on existing residents, particularly as it pertains to potential displacement. And further, we call on the City Planning Commission not to certify the review and approval process for ULURP until the recommendations made herein and by the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision are implemented.