With Bushwick’s future at stake, neighbors vie to be heard

June 28, 2019 Phineas Rueckert
Row-houses on Irving Avenue would be included in the Northeast Bushwick historical district suggested by the Bushwick Community Plan. Eagle file photo by Paul Stremple
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Anti-gentrification activists went on the offensive Thursday night in the “Battle for Bushwick,” interrupting a public scoping meeting for the controversial Bushwick rezoning project.

Community members looked on as seven members of the Mi Casa No Es Su Casa collective unfurled banners reading “Battle 4 Bushwick,” “Rezonificación es Violencia” (Rezoning is Violence), and “#NYNoSeVende” (New York is not for sale”).

The protest came as the Department of City Planning listened to input about its Bushwick Neighborhood Plan, a rezoning project that has been met with resistance from residents who are calling instead for the adoption of the Bushwick Community Plan, an alternative proposal designed by local residents and politicians that focuses on downzoning.

Community Board 4 Chairperson Robert Camacho and elected officials, including Councilmembers Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal, also spoke at the meeting.

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“We have created something that is enactable and impactful,” Espinal said of the community’s plan. “Simply put: It’s the only plan for Bushwick.”

Throughout the night, community members pushed back against the DCP’s proposal, which they say will displace low-income communities of color in favor of luxury development. Linda Kelly, who has lived in Bushwick for 70 years, told DCP that her landlord was trying to evict her and said that a $50,000 median salary requirement for affordable housing was “nuts.”

“This is our homes. This is where we live,” she said to cheers from the crowd. “It ain’t never going to change — because the only way I’m getting out is in a pine box.”

Camacho, the community board’s chairperson, brandished a copy of the BCP in front of the city’s panel. “There is a history and you have to respect that history,” he said. “We need you to study the community’s plan.”

Mi Casa activists, on the other hand, positioned themselves against any type of rezoning, community-driven or not.

“We believe that the struggle of our community to remain in their homes is not one of simple policy solutions as DCP embodies, but a political question of the true value of our homes and the land it lies on,” said Pati Rodriguez, a spokesperson from the collective. “Mi Casa No Es Su Casa prioritizes people over profit, and our right to housing over the ability to buy and sell our community as a commodity.”

Rodriguez told the Brooklyn Eagle afterward the meeting that the group did not support either the DCP’s rezoning plan or the community’s rezoning plan.

“Today we’re here to tell the community board to stop engaging with the DCP because the DCP never does what benefits the community,” Rodriguez said. “All the services and benefits that they are looking for through the rezoning — they are things that the community already deserves. Why should it be based on luxury development all the time?”

According to city data, Bushwick has seen rents rise at twice the rate of other neighborhoods. The area has not been rezoned since 1961, and the current zoning does not include any requirements for affordable housing.

The BNP — the city’s plan — will focus on directing growth to where it can foster new and affordable housing, a DCP representative told the Eagle.

Community residents have argued that the plan does not include sufficient Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, a program that dedicates a certain percentage of housing to “affordable units.” Opponents criticize those “affordable” rents — which are determined by a formula — as still too expensive for many long-time Bushwick residents.

Attendees on Thursday also called for a racial impact study to explicitly address the manner in which rezoning changes a neighborhood’s ethnic makeup.

Many expressed concern about converting former manufacturing buildings into residential spaces, which they said contributed to rapid gentrification in neighborhoods like Williamsburg.

“Private capital is not needed to make a community great or better,” said Boris Santos, a representative from State Sen. Julia Salazar’s office.

The DCP will accept public comments on the Bushwick Neighborhood Plan until July 12. Submit ideas and feedback to: [email protected] and visit the DCP’s website to stay up-to-date on events.

Meanwhile, Mi Casa has invited residents to attend a meeting to organize against rezoning on July 28.

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