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City Council bill would require city to study displacement spurred by rezoning

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The data will help the city “no longer leap before we look” into rezonings, said the councilman behind the bill

East Harlem is one among a handful of recent neighborhood rezonings across the city.
Max Touhey

A new City Council bill would require the city to study whether neighborhood-wide rezonings have spurred indirect displacement for existing area residents.

Council member Francisco Moya, who represents part of Queens, says the city lacks data on whether plans to reshape communities into denser development hubs has pushed out existing tenants. He introduced a bill this week that aims to fill that information gap by requiring the city to evaluate if new development and socioeconomic changes brought on by rezonings have contributed to indirect displacement impacts.

“More communities are next in line for these massive rezonings. Unfortunately for their residents, we can’t tell them exactly how a neighborhood rezoning will affect gentrification or secondary displacement because we have absolutely no quantitative data to offer them,” said Moya, who is the chair of the Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises. “This bill will remedy that conspicuous information gap.”

As part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing plan to create and preserve 300,000 affordable apartments by 2026, the city is in the midst of rezoning up to 15 neighborhoods, but has faced criticism for a pattern of reshaping longstanding communities of color, including Inwood, East Harlem, and East New York. The new bill aims to create a well of data that would also serve to concretely determine whether the city’s rezoning policies have racially disparate impacts so that “we no longer leap before we look” into new rezonings, says Moya.

Kat Meyers, an attorney who has represented tenants across the city with the Civil Law Reform Unit at the Legal Aid Society, says the bill would “give City Council a fuller picture of how rezonings affect residential displacement, and will inform policy decisions around land use moving forward.”

Gowanus in Brooklyn and the Bay Street corridor in Staten Island are in the throes of city rezonings. In Manhattan, the Soho and Noho neighborhoods are being eyed for possible plans. Fears of displacement dominate in each community.

If enacted, the bill would require city officials to conduct a study on the relationship between secondary displacement and all neighborhood rezoning plans certified after January 1, 2015. The study would be conducted five years after each rezoning received approval and the subsequent reports submitted to the City Council.

The review would use the same definition for secondary displacement used in the 2010 City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) manual, which is defined as “the involuntary displacement of residents, businesses, or employees that results from a change in socioeconomic conditions created by the proposed project.”

Analysis from CEQR is currently used to estimate displacement and other potential impacts of neighborhood rezonings. But Moya says his bill would provide real data to compare to those projections after initial development has been completed and the early effects of a neighborhood rezoning are beginning to be felt.

If a study reveals five percent more residential secondary displacement than the original CEQR estimate, city officials would include recommendations for amending the manual for more accurate accounts of potential displacement.