Light display floods Bushwick junction as protesters denounce rezoning
A Bushwick anti-gentrification group projected billboard-sized messages onto the Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues subway station on Friday night to denounce what they call a dangerous potential rezoning in the neighborhood.
With the help of art-activist collective The Illuminator, the group Mi Casa No Es Su Casa ornamented the brick wall with messages like “Rezonings are Racist,” “Save Our Homes, Don’t Rezone” and “DCP Always Sides with Developers.” The drive for the action was the potential rezoning of Bushwick, a process that kicked off in April after the city presented a draft plan for the project.
The plan — which the Department of City Planning dubbed the Bushwick Neighborhood Plan — triggered a backlash from a group community stakeholders and local politicians who had been working since 2014 to draft their own version of a plan for rezoning, which they called the Bushwick Community Plan.
But for Mi Casa No Es Su Casa, both plans, no matter their differences, still mean a rezoning — which they see as a threat.
“You could have the best plan coming out of the Bushwick Community Plan … but the fact of the matter is, through rezonings there has never been a saving of the marginalized working-class communities,” said Pati Rodriguez, one of the group’s founders. “They’re calling the dinner bell on us, basically.”
The art collective has hosted similar demonstrations in the past, including projecting messages across the street from DCP offices in Brooklyn Heights, but the recent protest went hand-in-hand with the launch of a petition that demands a stop to the rezoning and asks Community Board 4 and Councilmembers Rafael Espinal and Antonio Reynoso to stop engaging with DCP.
The petition had 42 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
The Bushwick Community Plan was spearheaded in 2014 out of a concern for out-of-context development in the neighborhood. Through downzoning, the plan seeks preservation, workforce development and a limit to the height of new buildings on side streets, among other requests.
“The plan is a blueprint for responsible growth in the neighborhood and is reflective of the community’s needs and desires,” said Reynoso, who represents part of the neighborhood, in an email to the Brooklyn Eagle. “As we work through the rezoning process, I welcome and will continue to listen to voices of all neighborhood residents.”
Espinal, who also represents part of the neighborhood, said rezoning is the neighborhood’s best option to combat gentrification.
“We’re ready to take a hard line with DCP to ensure that the plan, which the community has spent five years creating, is implemented,” Espinal said. “Gentrification and displacement are some of the biggest threats that the neighborhood faces and community-based rezoning is our only tool to stop them.”
But Mi Casa No Es Su Casa members say any rezoning would likely result in raised rents and displacement in the neighborhood.
Bushwick has seen rents rise at twice the rate of other neighborhoods, according to city data. The current zoning, which hasn’t changed since 1961, does not include requirements for affordable housing.
For new collective member Nancy Torres, the fight is personal. Her parents migrated to Brooklyn from Mexico just before she was born. Every four or five years they had to move again, until they found a stable living situation in 2015. “We still face the fear that rents will be raised, that our landlord will sell the three-unit family dwelling to one of the many large corporations that have been buying homes in Bushwick,” Torres said.
“We felt that harassment, we felt that displacement from many landlords growing up,” she told the Eagle at the demonstration. “We have roots here, and we feel that there’s no way that this neighborhood and community that you built, that you are able to just leave it from one day to the next.”
DCP spokesperson Rachaele Raynoff said that through zoning, the community can channel growth and require affordable housing, specifically creating 1,900 permanently affordable homes.
“With four years of community engagement — and literally hundreds of public meetings — collaborative work to preserve and create affordable housing, jobs and more and better open spaces for Bushwick families and their children is positive and ongoing,” Raynoff said. “Working together, we thrive.”
Collective co-founder Rodriguez, though, cautioned that affordable housing is not affordable for many local residents, and she hopes the group’s grassroots opposition will help sway Reynoso and Espinal, who will have a pivotal vote in the process.
“The only people who can stop it is our councilmembers, but we don’t know what they’re going to do,” Rodriguez said. “They sold us out when they called the DCP on us. I know they were trying to save the community, but this wasn’t the way.”
Mi Casa No Es Su Casa will hold a “Battle 4 Bushwick Town Hall” on Sunday, July 28.
Correction (3:40 p.m.) — A previous version of this story said that Torres migrated from Mexico with her parents. She did not; they migrated before she was born. The story has been updated and a quote has been added. The Eagle regrets the error.
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