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Bill aims to study how rezonings affect NYC neighborhoods’ racial demographics

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The bill would force a racial impact analysis with the environmental review process

East Harlem is one among several neighborhoods that were recently rezoned for new development.
Max Touhey

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams will introduce a bill Wednesday that would require the city to study how rezonings impact the racial makeup of neighborhoods.

The legislation, which is also sponsored by Bronx City Council member Rafael Salamanca, would force a racial impact analysis as part of the city’s environmental impact statement of zoning changes poised to retool communities. Those studies would zero in on how city-led rezonings—which have faced criticism for targeting neighborhoods of color—can have negative impacts so city officials can work to lessen those effects.

“Rezonings have had a net effect of speeding up gentrification. If people are going to be gentrified out, that should be paid attention to and studied,” Williams said in a statement.

The studies would examine both direct and indirect racial and ethnic impacts of proposed rezonings and major development projects. Analysis would also be required to indicate whether the proposed land use action “affirmatively furthers fair housing” as defined by the federal Fair Housing Act—which protects tenants from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home.

Advocates who have been critical of the city’s rezonings efforts say their impacts require additional study and see the measure as a meaningful step toward ensuring rezonings are equitable for all residents.

“If we do not confront racialized displacement head on, it is certain to continue just as it has in every rezoning we have seen in a low-income community of color,” said Alexandra Fennell, a director with Churches United for Fair Housing. “This legislation has the opportunity to be a powerful tool, to promote access to opportunity and affirmatively further fair housing.”

Williams and Salamanca’s legislation comes amid a concerted push by the City Council to ramp up scrutiny on neighborhood rezonings, with four other proposed bills that would mandate city agencies study how previously enacted changes have impacted transportation, school capacity, and secondary displacement. Those findings would then be compared to the projected impacts predicted by the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) to evaluate their accuracy.

In a stunning admission earlier this month, officials with the Department of City Planning and the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination said they do not revisit projections of how rezonings may impact communities to review their accuracy or to inform future environmental reviews. In some cases, this has left communities to shoulder the burden of an overwhelming surge in population and development—straining infrastructure and creating unintended side-effects.

Williams plans to announce the bill at Wednesday’s full City Council hearing.