Gowanus to city: Fix NYCHA, prioritize environment before rezoning
With the official public review of the Gowanus rezoning looming, residents, activists and local politicians gathered on Wednesday to articulate three demands that they want the city to take into account prior to the neighborhood plan being approved.
Members of The Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice insisted that the area’s NYCHA developments receive up-front funding, that sewage entering the Gowanus Canal be eliminated and that an environmental special district be created.
The city introduced a rezoning proposal in March that prioritizes an increase in housing and industrial space, and seeks to streamline waterfront access.
Residents at the Warren, Wyckoff and Gowanus houses spoke of the many problems plaguing their apartments, including lead, mold and lack of temperature regulation. They chanted, “Fix our homes before you rezone!”
Monica Underwood, chair of Families United for Racial and Economic Equality and a member of GNCJ, argued that what NYCHA residents want is “equity” and improved conditions in their apartments.
“We are enduring a public safety, health and housing crisis,” Underwood said. “Wyckoff Gardens residents and our neighbors living in local NYCHA’s Gowanus Houses and Warren Street Houses have been forced to endure broken and leaky pipes, peeling paint, heatless apartments, dangerous holes in walls and ceilings — which allow in mice, rats and other vermin to come into our homes — and chronically non-working elevators.“
“It is unacceptable to be producing the vast amount of wealth right next door to public housing and to just insistently let people down on the basic warranty of hability in New York City,” added Councilmember Stephen Levin.
“If a private landlord did that, you could withhold your rent, but NYCHA does it and it’s a different set of rules.”
Councilmember Brad Lander, who represents Gowanus, called on local organizations to continue their efforts to hold city agencies accountable and to make changes at the grassroots level.
He referenced the Gowanus Canal Conversancy’s efforts to install green infrastructure in the neighborhood, and the group’s push for the flushing tunnel to be fixed and keeping tabs on the waterway’s cleanup, which is set to start in September.
During heavy storms, rain that flows into city sewer systems can overwhelm waste treatment plants, forcing them to dump untreated sewage into New York’s waterways. When this occurs, it’s known as combined sewer overflow — or CSO. Environmentalists argued that the city needs to explicitly outline how it plans to mitigate the massive amounts of CSO that would threaten the waterway’s cleanup as a result of added density. They want city agencies to commit to achieving a “net zero” CSO rezoning.
Lastly, attendees called for the creation of an environmental justice special district that would have formal recognition, dedicated resources and a local oversight board to hold the city accountable on following through on its commitments.
Levin also said it was important for the city to learn from the failed promises of other rezonings.
“The Downtown Brooklyn rezoning has created a handful of affordable units,” he said. “The Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront rezoning has created thousands of affordable units less than it anticipated developing.
“We need to reinvent the paradigm for how we do rezonings in our city. This is really the first one that I’ve seen … where the community has taken the lead, sometimes dragging the administration along, and it’s centered around our values as a community.”
GNCJ will be gathering signatures and sending a letter to Mayor De Blasio and the Department of City Planning articulating its demands.
City Hall spokeswoman Jane Meyer said the mayor’s office is in talks with Lander to create a plan to address NYCHA’s needs in Gowanus and to make sure the rezoning “improves lives” in the neighborhood.
“This administration is committed to reversing decades of disinvestment in NYCHA that affects the residents that call it home,” Meyer said. “The city is exploring all ideas to address significant concerns related to NYCHA to ensure funding for necessary repairs.”
Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.