When we last checked in with the Bushwick Community Plan that stakeholders are formulating for the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal were hoping to introduce it to the City Council sometime this year. But it now looks like it won’t happen until the end of 2018, Reynoso said in an interview with City Limits.
“Through negotiations and the work that they’re doing, we’ve noticed that we’ve had to push the timeline back a year,” Reynoso told the site’s publisher, Jarrett Murphy.
Reynoso, whose district includes parts of Williamsburg and Bushwick, said he was disappointed by the delay. “As long as we don’t rezone, a lot of these non-contextual developments are going to go up,” he admitted, referring to a glut of new buildings, like the controversial Rheingold brewery development, that don’t fit the height or aesthetic of neighboring ones. “And that’s a concern to me. But the community is the driving force here and they said they want to push it back a couple of more months and that’s what happened.”
In addition to disagreements during negotiations, Reynoso also said there is a lack of trust between the community and the Department of City Planning and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. “The trust issue is very difficult right now,” he said. “The community thinks that DCP and HPD have an agenda. And DCP and HPD think that the community is going to ask for too much. And because of that it’s hard to get them to the middle.”
Reynoso remains an advocate of rezoning parts of Bushwick to require new developments to include affordable housing. But he admitted that the Bushwick Steering Committee– made up of about 70 residents, activists, developers, shopkeepers, and other stakeholders– might not necessarily call for that. “There is a chance that there won’t be a rezoning,” Reynoso said. “I don’t want that [outcome] to happen. I feel like we’ve put in a lot of time and resources on this. But the communities, their goal is mostly preservation.”
Still, he said, the steering committee understood that “there’s opportunity for height [in exchange for affordable housing] in certain areas in the community, and I think that once everything is hashed out we can get to something.” Stakeholders “don’t want [just] any rezoning,” Reynoso said. “They want a good rezoning. And that’s important.”
The councilman stressed that community members were the ones doing the heavy lifting. In February, nearly 200 Bushwick residents came out to discuss a possible rezoning that would include height limitations, industrial preservation, a historic district, and mixed-use areas. As for his role? He said he won’t vote and doesn’t participate in or attend most of the meetings, but is making sure all parties are working together.
According to the DCP, the current zoning in Bushwick doesn’t require affordable housing. As a result, developers rarely have to involve community members when deciding what to do with their land. Reynoso remains focused on changing that process as well as preventing tenant harassment by landlords who want to hike up rent and deregulate units. Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman introduced a bill that he said would curb tenant harassment.
Above all, Reynoso said, the definition of “affordable” housing needed to change. “If the majority of the folks in my district are making less than almost $20,000 a year, then we also have to look at building housing for them as well,” Reynoso said. “I think we need to build housing for the extremely poor folks.”
A crucial step will be presenting the plan to Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We can’t continue to go through these rezonings if every time the mayor goes through one it’s like, ‘The mayor’s pushing gentrification. He’s pushing displacement.’ It’s the complete opposite,” Reynoso said. “The mayor wants to figure out a way that he pushes a rezoning and it’s a win.”