Proposing a Study of Racial Impact in Rezonings

Members of the coalition supporting the inclusion of a racial impact assessment in the environmental review process, including state Sen. Julia Salazar (at far right) and Assemblywoman Maritza Davila (in grey coat) rally on Sunday. (Photo by Sadef Ali Kully via City Limits)

On Jan. 13 public officials joined housing advocates and other community leaders in front of St. John the Evangelist Church, by the Williamsburg Houses, to call on the city to add a racial impact study to the environmental impact study done in advance of rezoning projects. The move would amend the City Environmental Quality Review Technical Manual.

According to Churches United for Fair Housing, reports City Limits’ Sadef Ali Kully, “the history of rezonings, especially the 2005 Williamsburg waterfront rezoning, which have led to increased harassment, evictions, displacement and ultimately, racial segregation, illustrates why it is vital for the city to acknowledge the problem and take the right steps to solve the problem.”

For CUFFH, concern about the racial impact of land-use actions goes back at least a decade. The Broadway Triangle case was a fight between the Bloomberg administration and the community in 2009. The city had proposed to rezone 31-acre triangular industrial site between Union and Flushing Avenues bounded by Broadway for the development of hundreds of affordable housing units. The area was heavily segregated: Latino, Blacks and the Hasidic community each had their own neighborhood blocks.

The Broadway Triangle Community Coalition said the city’s method to choose who qualified for the affordable housing units would have given a preference to the Hasidic community. A lawsuit halted the development. Later on, the de Blasio administration in conjunction with the coalition came to an agreement to have 375 affordable apartments set aside for a larger swath of low-income Broadway Triangle residents.

Speaking about the environmental review, Assemblywoman Maritza Davila said:

“We can monitor the environment, we can monitor the pipes that go down the street, but who’s monitoring us? No one. It’s an injustice I believe can be dealt with through the racial impact study. We need to study people, not buildings.”

In covering the rally for Kings County Politics, Kelly Mena noted that City Council member Jumaane Williams, who is running for public advocate, attributed some of the displacement issues to the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) law, saying, “We have failed miserably when it comes to MIH and rezonings in the city. And I wish that we had a city council that had the leadership to push back last term when the mayor put forth Mandatory Inclusionary Housing because we did not have to be here.”

How has the Williamsburg rezoning changed the make-up of the neighborhood? Find out at Kings County Politics. There and at City Limits, read more from Williams as well as from state Sen. Julia Salazar on the need for the racial impact study.

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