Fearing Displacement, Latinos Slam Broadway Triangle Rezoning

Concerns arise due to Williamsburg’s Broadway Triangle renewal plan. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Last October, the City Council approved the rezoning plan for the so-called Broadway Triangle in Brooklyn, where eight buildings with some 1,200 apartments are set to be erected. While the city is a staunch defender of the project, to be built in the area where a Pfizer factory was located for years, the plan has sparked concern and criticism among residents and activists.

The biggest worry of the predominantly Hispanic and African-American community in the area is that the new buildings will only benefit people with higher incomes and the Hasidic families living nearby, worsening the displacement of Hispanic families which activists say has increased 25 percent in the last few years.

Vicente Reyes, owner of South Side Auto Repair – which has operated for 15 years at the triangle between Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy and Bushwick – said that the city ignored residents during the development plan’s decision-making process, and that it will leave them behind when the time comes to “share the cake.”

“Nobody has come here to take a closer look at what is happening or to try to help us. The mayor himself knows that this plan will only help the Jews and the wealthy. You can see that from a mile away; you don’t even need to ask him,” said the Puerto Rican-born business owner, who called on Mayor de Blasio to redo the project and show that the city is interested in helping low-income people.

“They have been setting aside this triangle for themselves for about 15 years. If the mayor is acting in good faith, he should learn about who lives here and give those buildings to us instead of kicking us out,” added Reyes. “When the project is done, we’ll see who really ends up living there. And, as is always the case in this city, we Latinos will be thrown out.”

Vicente Reyes, auto mechanic (left.) Brooklyn residents are concerned about the Broadway Triangle development in Williamsburg. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Noel de Jesús, from Puerto Rico, who has lived in the area for 38 years, joined the criticism saying that the Broadway Triangle rezoning plan is not only “discriminatory” but also aggravates the problem of displacement of Hispanic families that has been escalating for years.

“Hispanics here are dwindling. Now you see lots of Manhattan ‘whiteys’ who get a larger space here for less money, but the Latino poor will not be able to stay in this area, where the landlords are already harassing and kicking people out,” he said, although he defended the Jewish community and blamed the local authorities for their poorly conceived urban planning.

“It’s not the Jews’ fault. Politicians are to blame because they always botch those things. We have a good relationship with the Jewish community – they don’t meddle with us and we don’t meddle with them – but it’s obvious that they will benefit [from the plan] (…),” added de Jesús.

Noel de Jesús, resident (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

In the hopes that the courts will deem the project “discriminatory” and halt it, the organization Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH) and the group Brooklyn Residents Against Segregated Housing (BRASH) filed a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court on March 19, where a judge issued a temporary restraining order against the city and developers Rabsky Group, ordering them to stop construction for the time being. They argue that the developers infringed the Fair Housing Act by not carrying out research on the project’s impact on racial segregation for their rezoning report, directly excluding Hispanic and Black residents.

On May 29, the two parties will appear in court to hear whether the judge will reiterate his original position. If so, according to CUFFH organizer Brian Cahill Moledo, the de Blasio administration and Rabsky Group will be required to perform a deep impact study of the rezoning plan that includes assessments regarding both the environment and race to guarantee that new housing projects will not reinforce or exacerbate segregation patterns.

“Housing injustice is racial injustice”

The plaintiffs insist that, when it devised the project, the local administration failed to consider the segregation effect the rezoning would have in the neighborhood, adding that they will not rest until the plan is reformulated.

“Our communities will not accept further segregation,” said the CUFFH representative, who demanded that the city exercise its responsibility to sponsor fair housing by rectifying the Pfizer urban development plan. “Housing injustice is racial injustice, and the city is under the obligation to correct its mistakes and create an integrated and accessible New York for all,” said the activist. He also criticized the mayor’s affordable housing generation and preservation plan, calling it insufficient.

“It is unacceptable that only 25 percent of the housing in the plan is affordable. If you analyze this zone, it should be 100 percent,” said the activist. “In exchange for this small percentage, which has only preserved 74,000 units in four years, developers are exempt from paying taxes, which costs the city $2.4 billion per year. If that money was used directly to build housing, it would have greater impact.”

Cahill Moledo added that another problem the Broadway Triangle will unleash is competition between Hasidic Jews and Latinos for the 25 percent of affordable housing units, “when the remaining 75 percent will go only to wealthy people.”

Antonio Reynoso, council member for District 34, where the controversial triangle is located, joined the residents’ complaints (…).

“North Brooklyn has been the site of multiple lawsuits and housing disputes in the past, so the city’s failure to analyze the segregation effect that this rezoning will have is deeply worrying,” said the Brooklyn political leader. “The size of the housing units proposed for affordable housing disproportionately favors one group in an area where most families are Black and Latino.”

Reynoso also said that 75 percent of the units that will be put in the real estate market will significantly affect the poorer residents of the area, who have long endured abuse. “That will unleash an influx of wealthy residents and further exacerbate harassment against low-income tenants, which is already prevalent,” he said.

Despite the criticism and profound concerns expressed by Williamsburg residents and the warnings of leaders and activists in the area, the city continues to defend the project, stating that it is a step toward its goal to defend and promote more than 200,000 affordable housing units in 10 years.

“The city trusts that the project will go forward so it can offer additional affordable housing, which Brooklyn urgently needs,” said a spokesman of the de Blasio administration’s legal department, although he did not address the plaintiffs’ complaints of discrimination and marginalization.

Brooklyn Council member Stephen Levin said that the rezoning of the area had been complicated but “at the end of the day, serves the interests of all North Brooklyn communities.”

Tom Corsillo, spokesman for the Rabsky Group, said that the claims are baseless, that he is confident that the project will not be halted and that the allegations of the plaintiffs “will not prevail” in court.

Francisca Villa, who lives in a shelter with her daughter just a few blocks away, said that the city should assign a larger percentage of the units in new buildings to homeless single mothers.

“The fair thing to do would be for those of us who already live here to be able to have our own place in those buildings,” she said. “I believe in the mayor, and I think he will yield and give all those apartments to poor people like us.”


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