(Photo by Kavitha Surana)

(Photo by Kavitha Surana)

Last night council members Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez visited Community Board 3 to face the music and explain their votes on the mayor’s affordable housing and rezoning plan, which was approved by the City Council in March. The plan will allow developers to build higher in rezoned neighborhoods, but require them to include at least 25 percent affordable housing in all new buildings.

When the preliminary proposal was first brought up, CB 3 voted no to both Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, like most community boards across the city. Many neighborhood organizations, under the banner of The Coalition to Protect Chinatown, have frequently rallied against it.

But after some modifications to the plan, like deeper affordability levels, Chin, always concerned with senior citizens languishing on housing lists, voted yes to both. Mendez voted yes to MIH and abstained from ZQA.

Mendez said she was initially opposed to ZQA because it would increase height limits in contextually zoned areas like the East Village. She was encouraged to get some concessions, such as keeping intact the “Sliver Law,” which prevents tall, skinny buildings from going up next to short ones, but felt they didn’t go far enough. “There was enough good stuff, I didn’t get everything, so that’s why I abstained on that,” she said.

Chin, a firm supporter of the plan, said that mandatory affordable units had long been a goal for housing advocates and was a strong incentive going into the negotiations with the administration. “For the first time we have an administration who’s putting that on the table and saying: You’ve got to have at least 25 to 30 percent affordable housing from the start,” she said. “And that is just a baseline. And through the discussion I think we were able to advocate for more affordability and for them to have one of the options all the way down to 40 percent of area media income.”

She pointed out that the 40 percent AMI is not a rigid number but can be determined through averages–like having 10 units at 20 percent AMI and 10 at 60. Some areas going through rezoning, like East New York, can lower the AMI to 30 percent. She also said the administration was making good steps towards anti-harassment prevention, to cut down on displacement due to new waves of construction.

Board member Enrique Cruz asked for more specifics on those steps. “Is it funding? Is it a another department to make sure these landlords won’t come after these rent stabilized tenants?” he asked. “What is the tenant protection part that is new or is now going to be increased and what department will it be in?” 

“This administration and the council, we have put in more funding for legal services, for tenant organizers,” Chin said. “There are groups, groups that we have in our community, that will go out there and organize them, and we have to make sure that they have the funding and also the service and support that they need. That’s how we are going to fight to preserve the affordable housing we have and the resources that the city put in.”

Mendez added that a working group has been established to work on tenant protection provisions and new legislation. She also said funding for legal aid has doubled since de Blasio took office.

Cathy Dang, the executive director of CAAV Organizing Asian Communities which frequently helps tenants facing harassment, said her organization, at least, didn’t have access to any of that funding.

“We are glad to hear about these protections coming in the pipeline in addition to pieces of bills being pushed through,” she said. “But I am very concerned about the 40 million that gets passed through legal aid, because we don’t see any of that money.”

Louise Velez, a member of the National Movement for Sweatshop Workers and frequent speaker at Coalition to Protect Chinatown rallies, asked why the Chinatown Working Group proposal, a rezoning plan to institute height caps and other protections that’s been developed over seven years, didn’t get passed along with the administration’s plan.

“We aren’t protected from heights, so why wasn’t it feasible for us to have that kind of law and that protection on the Lower East Side?” she said. “Being that the Extell building is already in progress, and is going to bring a lot of developers into our section and is going to displace us?”

The Land Use committee chair, MyPhuong Chung, explained that the administration had rejected the proposal a year and a half ago. She said CB 3 had been working ever since to cut the plan up into targeted areas, and they are currently working to re-engage City Planning.