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Inwood residents, local officials oppose neighborhood rezoning plan at City Hall hearing

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Many community members are calling upon City Council to vote no on the proposal while others feel it could work with major revisions

Inwood residents continued to express opposition to the city’s proposed rezoning of the neighborhood at a tense City Council hearing held on Tuesday.

The proposal, which was presented last June, aims to reengage the Harlem River waterfront with the community by rezoning it for residential use, require new developments to offer at least 25 percent of its apartments below market-rate, and require any residential buildings constructed on city-owned lots to offer units that are deeply affordable. It also includes imposing a Certificate of No Harassment to help tenants remain in their rent-regulated apartments.

During the hearing, Councilman Francisco Moya asked city officials if they believed that neighborhood rezonings lead to real estate speculation, a primary concern of community members, who fear they will be priced out if the proposal moves forward. Several rent-regulated buildings in Inwood have been sold since the announcement of a possible rezoning. However, New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) president James Patchett noted that rents are already on the rise in Inwood and have been for a few years now.

“It’s our view that real estate speculation is occurring throughout the city and I think it’s evidenced by the increase in rents in Inwood, which have gone up 38 percent over the last 12 years,” Patchett said during the hearing. “Notwithstanding the fact that there has been no zoning action and no affordable housing built in the neighborhood compared to 24 percent citywide.”

Patchett points to the 1961 rezoning of Inwood as creating a divide in the neighborhood, or “two Inwoods,” resulting in the neglect of the area east of Tenth Avenue while the section to the west of Tenth Avenue is where residential buildings and businesses are largely concentrated. City officials believe that rezoning would unify the neighborhood while adding new affordable units.

But there were still concerns as to why rezoning was necessary to address the city’s affordable housing shortage.

“Why are we relying on the market and private development to create affordable housing for New Yorkers and doesn’t the profit motive in the creation of housing mean that it will always skew toward the higher income brackets of our city’s that mean?,” asked Moya. The question was met with an outburst of cheers and applause from community members in attendance.

“[I]n a time where we don’t have unlimited city resources to build affordable housing ourselves, we have to rely on a model that leverages private investment,” replied Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) commissioner Maria Torres-Springer.

Councilman Antonio Reynoso was one of several officials who remained skeptical of the proposal even after hearing from the NYCEDC, HPD, and the city’s Department of Small Business Services. He noted that in Williamsburg, which is part of his district, gentrification unfolded more quickly as a result of the area’s 2005 rezoning, and roughly 30,000 Hispanic residents were displaced. While noting that perhaps the city should consider investing in underserved neighborhoods because “it’s the right thing to do,” without having to build towers, he also acknowledged that development on some level is inevitable over the course of time.

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez agreed that the neighborhood could benefit from new development, but urged the NYCEDC and HPD to do more to preserve the neighborhood’s current affordable housing stock and offer more programs that would benefit the community.

Meanwhile, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer outright opposed the proposal, stating that the city cannot “expect a neighborhood to accept a rezoning that raises the specter of displacement in the short and medium term by telling the community that it is not nearly as bad as what is likely to happen in the long term.” Brewer called for the proposal to be “sufficiently revamped” to offer more incentives for the community and affordability that is accessible to current residents.

“We hope that you listen to the people that elected you and vote no,” said one resident to Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez.