On Fourth Anniversary of Occupy, Anti-Gentrification Activists Rally at City Hall

By LOUIS FLORES

Dozens of community activists and advocates for tenants' rights assembled on Thursday afternoon on the steps to New York City Hall to criticize city planning and land use policies of the de Blasio administration.

Activists linked the administration policies of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) to gentrification, tenant displacement, homelessness, and police brutality.

"Many people feel like there is nothing they can do about gentrification -- that's what the landlords and real estate developers want us to feel," said Imani Henry of the group, Equality For Flatbush, one of the rally's organizers and sponsors, in a prepared statement issued before the rally, adding that, "They want us to take buyouts or succumb to their harassment and give up our homes.  We believe that New York City is worth fighting for and that we everyday people can change things.  The time is now for us to come together and fight." 

In language that was often critical of the de Blasio administration, some of the activists denounced Mayor de Blasio's city planning and land use policies.  Some saw a pattern in the closures, sales, and conversions of public 501(c)(3) charity hospitals, park lands, libraries, and playgrounds belonging to the residents of New York City Housing Authority developments into luxury housing as harsh, anti-tenant policies that have been in contravention to the de Blasio administration's stated goals of fighting income inequality and "A Tale of Two Cities."

"The sale of the libraries is connected to the sale of other public assets," said Michael D.D. White, a Brooklyn activist and a co-founder of the group, Citizens Defending Libraries, adding that, "and what connects it is it's the same lack of representation.  It is the same people, or operatives, behind the scene over and over again.  It's the same playbook that they've used :  Under-fund our public assets -- deliberately under-fund them -- drive them into the ground and say, 'Oh, well !  It's not working.  You see, we have to sell it off and privatize.' "

Many activists were extremely critical of Mayor de Blasio's decision to upzone various neighborhoods in New York City to accomplish his decade-long goal of building or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing.  The plan has been panned by many neighborhood activists as not creating housing that is truly affordable.  Still yet others have complained that the construction boom for the luxury housing component will lead to further secondary displacement of tenants as neighborhood rents continue their upward spiral from the spread of luxury apartments.

One such neighborhood being targeted for upzoning is Prospect-Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn.  An activist, Alicia Boyd, who represented the group the Movement to Protect the People, has been leading the community's opposition to the gentrification resulting from the changes in zoning in her neighborhood.

On the origin of the threat of gentrification that is spreading in her neighborhood, Ms. Boyd said, "You know what brought it ?  The idea of a rezoning.  They decided," Ms. Boyd said, referring to city planning officials and to real estate developers, "that they were going to rezone and put up towers.  But why would you want to put up towers in the densest community in Brooklyn -- that's also the second-most affordable community in Brooklyn, because it is a very moderate community ?  Why do you want to do that ?  Well, take a guess ?  The park views, people !  The park views !  That's why they singled out the community."

Mr. White, of Citizens Defending Libraries, had also noted at the rally that the new high-rise development being proposed to replace the Brooklyn Heights branch of the Brooklyn Public Library will overlook a leafy park.  As Progress Queens has previously reported, one of the project-based, Section 8 buildings that the de Blasio administration sold from NYCHA to a consortium of real estate developers overlooks Saratoga Park in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Over 80 tenants' rights groups, community organizations and small businesses endorsed the rally at City Hall.  The sponsoring and endorsing groups expressed solidarity with the principal coalition that was responsible for the planning of the event, the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, or BAN.  The rally was one of many events organized by BAN and other groups marking the September 17 anniversary of the start of Occupy Wall Street, a date known on the Twitter social media platform by the hashtag #S17.  Progress Queens joined other groups in endorsing the rally at City Hall.  The publisher of Progress Queens and the author of this article also delivered remarks at the rally.

After the rally came to an end, dozens of activists from the City Hall rally marched to the offices of the New York City Department of City Planning to further protest the city's land use policies that are leading to gentrification and tenant displacement.  

Early in the evening, the mayor's office and several members of the New York City Council engaged in a softball tournament on Staten Island.  During the singing of the national anthem, a separate group of activists were on-hand to chant the anti-police brutality epitaph, "I can't breath," according to a tweet posted by the journalist Anna Sanders.