Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. got an earful from scores of residents, merchants and even doctors largely opposed to the Jerome Avenue Rezoning plan, a complex and sweeping proposal intended to create more affordable housing across the west and southwest sections of the Bronx.
The plan, now in the middle of a public review, is in the hands of Diaz who held a hearing Nov. 2 on the issue. The lofty proposal looks to rezone 92 blocks of Jerome Avenue between 184th and 167th streets. The plan covers a two-mile stretch along its commercial and major transit corridors within community boards 4, 5 and 7, which make up the neighborhoods of Fordham South, University Heights, Morris Heights, Mt. Eden, and Highbridge.
“This has shown to be one of the rezonings proposed with the most emotion from folks who either support it or don’t support it,” said Diaz in opening remarks.
The New York City Department of City Planning, the lead agency behind the rezoning plan, presented before the public, emphasizing that part of the plan looks to create more than 4,000 units of affordable housing, honoring Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York Plan. New York City Housing Preservation and Development intends to offer tax breaks to developers who build housing for those making a maximum income of $26,720 for a single person, translating to 40 percent of Area Median Income.
But many residents, particularly those from Community Action for Safe Apartments, got stuck on the word “affordable.” Presently, only a small fraction of the residents could afford to pay these projected rents, raising the question that the units are not for the existing residents.
“Every time I walk around and see billboards that say ‘affordable housing,’ I just stare at it and laugh and say ‘for whom?’” Ed Viera Jr., a resident living within the impacted area, said.
During cross-examination of the plan, Diaz had wondered whether HPD would consider lowering the AMI threshold to 30 percent.
Three people who testified spoke of the racial undertone the Jerome Avenue rezoning represents, with Jessica Roque suggesting this is a new form of “colonialism” toward the existing black and Hispanic population living there.
“The settlers here are the people right here on my left,” Roque, a Hispanic woman motioning to the largely white group of city officials tasked to formulate the plan, said. “And the natives is us here.”
Fitzroy Christian, a resident, compared the plan to a form of “ethnic cleansing” aimed at displacing minorities out of those communities. Dyaami D’Orazio, another resident, wondered whether any new businesses that would settle in the area for two years would be owned by “blanquitos” (Spanish for ‘white’) or “cafesitos, and our sandwich, and our empanadas.”
Community Boards 4, 5 and 7 have cast a yes vote to the plan so long some stipulations are met. Some stipulations by Community Board 4 include the creation of a so-called anti-displacement fund, available resources for existing autobody mechanics, and the creation of an LGBTQ center.
Arguably, the most critical voice in the public review process could be Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, whose district largely covers the bulk of the area that will be rezoned (Councilman Fernando Cabrera’s 14th Council District covers some ground on Jerome Avenue). During her testimony, Gibson appeared to lean in favor of rezoning Jerome Avenue so long as certain conditions were met. Her position will determine whether the New York City Council will vote in favor of the project. Council members typically defer their vote to the council member whose project presides in that district.
“As the Council Member of District 16 I refuse to allow our community to be shortchanged nor will I sit by and allow other communities to get the investments that we deserve, that we need today,” Gibson, reading from prepared remarks, said. “Not tomorrow but today.”
The hearing was simply intended to collect the thoughts and enter them into the record. Voting on the matter will happen Nov. 16.