"Gentrification is like a hostile take-over"
By LOUIS FLORES
Outside of Brooklyn Borough Hall during the lunch rush on Wednesday, over two dozen tenant activists and residents from Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx held a press conference to announce demands to reform the Community Board system of New York City government.
The activists were allied with the coalition group, Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, or BAN.
Alicia Boyd, an activist from one of BAN’s member groups, the Movement to Protect the People, or MTOPP, said that BAN was demanding that Community Board members be elected and have veto power over land use matters.
“The City Council just passed two land use text amendments : the mandatory inclusionary housing zone text and the ZQA, zone for quality [and] affordability. Both had had an overwhelming, negative response from Community Boards, and over ninety per cent. of the Community Boards voted them down. But now, they will be law,” Ms. Boyd said, adding, “This shows how powerless the Community Boards are in New York City when it comes to big-time real estate development.”
Community Boards are local government bodies, which have jurisdiction over some hyper-local issues, like reviewing liquor license applications. Because Community Boards offer residents an opportunity to be heard, they often receive community complaints. Aside from hyper-local issues, Community Boards can also issue advisory opinions about major changes in zoning, particularly in respect of applications made under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP process, that governs major real estate development projects, for example.
Given Community Boards’ jurisdiction over land use matters, Ms. Boyd said that the powers of Community Boards must be strengthened beyond their non-binding authorities. “One of the primary jobs of the Community Boards is to have a say on land use issues, but clearly them being just advisory cannot stop serious development interests from impacting local neighborhoods.”
Ms. Boyd expressed other criticism of the present system for the appointment of Community Board members. She noted that Community Board members were not representative of their communities and that the pro-development leanings of Borough Presidents, who ultimately appoint Community Board members, possibly exerted an influence on land use matters considered by the Borough Presidents’ appointees. Because the activists had conducted the press conference outside Brooklyn Borough Hall, Borough President Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn) was the target of activists’ scorn, particularly because, as an African-American, Borough President Adams had turned a blind eye to the economic devastation that communities of color had experienced as a consequence of the gentrification in Brooklyn, including the secondary displacement of residents that has been the outcome of the construction of so much luxury housing.
Also noted during the press conference was the questionable efforts to hire Carmen Martinez as the manager for Brooklyn Community Board 9. As noted in a report published by The New York Post, Ms. Martinez is a senior advisor to Borough President Adams, and she is a political ally of Clarence Norman, Jr., the former chair of Brooklyn Democratic Party Committee. Mr. Norman, also a former New York State Assemblymember, was the target of multiple corruption probes before he was found guilty of forcing candidates to use specific campaign consultants. Activists questioned the integrity of the making of Ms. Martinez’s appointment, and they were critical about how her political relationships possibly explained why she would receive a manager position at a Community Board.
Requests for comment made by Progress Queens to the office of Borough President Adams were not answered.
During the conduct of the press conference, BAN invited attendees to share stories about their difficult experiences with landlords. After describing issues about the lack of heat and wrongful eviction proceedings commenced by landlords, one activist, Imani Henry, said, “Considering how criminal the landlords treat tenants in this city, we should all be on rent strike,” adding that, “For all that’s going on -- all the slumlords we deal with day-in and day-out -- we should all be on rent strike.”
Attendees of the press conference noted that the realness of the issues and the invocation of possible solutions were starkly different from the rallies organised by the establishment nonprofit tenant advocacy organisations, which would never propose a sweeping game-changer, like calling for tenants to initiate a rent strike.
Talk of the passage of the twin text rezoning amendments championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) was unembellished of the soaring rhetoric in the press releases that have been issued by City Hall and the New York City Council.
Ms. Boyd questioned the logic behind linking the provision of affordable housing to the construction of luxury apartments, as is called for in Mayor de Blasio's changes to the city's zoning law. Since communities have only been seeing the construction of luxury apartment buildings, Ms. Boyd said that activists were looking beyond the lip service being paid by politicians on the subject of affordable housing. This added scrutiny was responsible for community members uniting to object to the upward spiral in rent prices that has been leading to secondary displacement of tenants. As a consequence of the escalating rents, residents also demanded that Mayor de Blasio make good on his campaign promise to provide affordable housing.
“We are here to call on the mayor to keep his promise to stop this from being A Tale of Two Cities,” said Maxine Barnes, whose neighborhood is governed by Brooklyn Community Board 9. “In all neighborhoods, gentrification is like a hostile take-over. Apartments -- a one bedroom that was $1,000 is [now] $2,500 -- who can afford that ?”
Individuals participating at the speak-out portion of the press conference also expressed concerns that the primary and secondary displacement of tenants from formerly affordable neighborhoods, like East New York in Brooklyn, are now not able to find affordable housing in any neighborhood. The lack of affordable housing stock meant that tenants losing the leases to their apartments faced the prospect of moving into already over-crowded city shelters. Ms. Boyd questioned the safety of city shelters, where roughly half of the shelter residents are estimated to be children. Given the unsafe conditions and the social stigma associated with being homeless, Ms. Boyd said that children raised in the shelter system faced tragedy and trauma that would scar them for life.