Public Advocate Pushes Racial Impact Rezoning Bill at City Council

A bill from Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams which would require a racial impact study ahead of potential rezonings

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A bill from Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams which would require a racial impact study ahead of potential rezonings is receiving a hearing Monday morning in the New York City Council.

The legislation is aimed at combating the displacement and community harm which often accompanies rezonings, particularly in neighborhoods of more color. Watch the hearing here.

Intro 1572-A is co-sponsored by Council Member Rafael Salamanca, the Chair of the Committee on Land Use which is conducting today’s hearing. The hearing follows several highly controversial rezoning proposals, including the Industry City project, which was recently rejected following community opposition, the Inwood rezoning, which was originally blocked and ultimately allowed by court order, and the Flushing proposal, which was just approved by the City Council despite significant resistance.

“In neighborhoods across the city, we have seen rezonings lead not to stronger community growth, but to rising rents and displacement. Particularly in communities of color, these forces have been unchecked in the name of development, and a failure to recognize the racial impact of these projects has been detrimental,” said Public Advocate Williams about the bill. “I thank Chair Salamanca and Churches United for Fair Housing for their long support of this legislation, as well as Speaker for addressing this priority, and I look forward to continuing the work with my colleagues in the City Council and advocacy organizations to pass a bill that meets an urgent need in this moment of crisis, rebuilding, and recovery.”

The bill would mandate a report on the racial impact of rezonings of at least four adjacent blocks or 50,000 square feet to be conducted and presented as part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP.) The report must include, but is not limited to, an analysis of demographic, social, economic, and housing conditions and trends as well as identification of potential measures that may address any identified disparities or displacement risk. Those mitigating measures may include certificate of no harassment protections, right to counsel protections, workforce development programs, or other initiatives or policies that would achieve greater racial and ethnic equity.

Rezonings can dramatically accelerate gentrification and displacement, having an outsized negative impact on communities of color. Following the 2005 Williamsburg rezoning, the waterfront area’s white population increased by 44 percent, compared to a 2 percent decline citywide, while the area’s Latinx population declined by 27 percent, compared to a 10 percent increase citywide.

In a statement prior to testimony from the de Blasio administration and housing advocates, the Public Advocate argued that “Including a racial impact analysis in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure is long overdue. The way in which land is rezoned in our City has subsequently made it difficult for many New Yorkers to find a home, let alone stay in their homes. The land zoning process, coupled with the use of the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program as it is currently crafted, has led to massive gentrification, exclusion, and displacement across the City.”

Read the full statement from the Public Advocate for today’s hearing here.

“In 2021, New York remains a divided and inequitable city, with persistent disparities between Black and Latino families and White families,” stated Council Member Salamanca. “Much of this persistent inequity is due to the legacy of decades of explicitly discriminatory housing and land use practices from redlining, to urban renewal, to exclusionary covenants. Requiring analysis of potential disparities from the very beginning of a proposal, Intro 1572-A begins to institutionalize the goal of racial equity in our land use decision making process by providing stakeholders the needed information to push for more equitable outcomes. I thank Public Advocate Jumaane Williams for his leadership on this issue, and look forward to working with the Public Advocate, the Council and the administration to make this bill a reality.”

“Time after time communities of color have seen lofty promises of equity and affordability, only to be pushed out of their communities because of gentrification and skyrocketing housing costs. Actions like the Greenpoint and Williamsburg rezoning in 2005 led to the loss of thousands of black and brown families because land use changes were made without considering the racial impacts. This Racial Impact Study legislation will help address New York City’s obvious racial inequities in housing going forward,” said Rob Solano, Executive Director of Churches United For Fair Housing.

“There must be justice in land use. Many past rezonings have failed to address the inequality that has plagued our City for decades,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “This racial impact study will shine a light on the problems we need to fix involving rezonings and the displacement they can cause to vulnerable communities. Our City continues to be segregated and some past rezonings are at fault for that. Developers who want to build here should have to answer questions on whether they are helping fix segregation or making it worse. Thank you to Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Land Use Chair Rafael Salamanca for focusing on this issue.”

“We commend the Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Council Member Salamanca for pushing this legislation forward. By analyzing the racial impacts of proposed land use actions, the City will be better positioned to increase housing opportunities across New York City and ensure that BIPOC people and businesses can remain in their communities, even in the face of neighborhood change. We look forward to working with the RIS Coalition, the Public Advocate, and the City Council to further strengthen the legislation as it moves forward,” said Barika X. Williams, Executive Director of the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development.

“Rezonings have been a primary source of displacement and homelessness in New York City, impacting New Yorkers of color at a disparate rate,” said Adriene Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “This is a racial justice issue. At the very least, the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure must take into account the racial impact behind any potential rezoning. This will help ensure that some of our most vulnerable neighbors will remain in their homes, defended against the forces of gentrification that rezonzings usually accelerate. The Legal Aid Society applauds Public Advocate Williams for introducing this legislation, and we urge the City Council to advance this matter at once.”

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