Photo: Renata Tyburczy / Getty Images
When city council approved redevelopment plans for a 59-block stretch of Inwood in 2018, dozens of residents watching the vote at town hall rose from their seats, shouting “Shame!“and”We will not surrender!“As is often the case with large development plans, the months leading up to the vote were dominated by concerns that rezoning would disproportionately displace longtime residents in the predominantly Latinx neighborhood. Community groups called for a study of its impacts by race, ethnicity and income. But since it was not mandatory, the city did not do it and the rezoning was adopted without it.
For future rezoning, this may no longer be the case: the board approved the Racial impact study bill, which would make such an analysis mandatory for many development projects requiring rezoning. (Mayor de Blasio supports the bill, and it will soon become law.)
Here is what we know about the bill.
What exactly are racial impact studies?
If a developer comes up with a multi-tower complex that requires rezoning in a working-class neighborhood with predominantly black and brown residents and claims the project won’t turn neighbors away in the long run, there’s usually not a lot of data for their prove it right or wrong. But having this information at the start of the exam would save a lot of time and rhetorical effort.
The bill will require anyone running a project, whether a developer or the city, to use a new online data tool to produce a report based on a region’s demographics (race, ethnicity, income levels), housing security and affordability, among other socio-economic factors, and creating what the bill calls a “displacement risk index”. If a report were to come back showing high travel risks, the local council member (who usually has the deciding vote on a project) could leverage that information to demand concessions or changes from the developer, or vote against. . But the reports are not limited to slamming the dezoning offers. A project with a low displacement risk index could garner more community support – and even more funding. Reports must also indicate how a project reduces racial segregation, as mandated by the federal government. Promote in a positive way the rule of fair housing (which was recently restored by the Biden administration).
Who lobbied for this legislation?
Public attorney Jumaane Williams and Bronx City Council member Rafael Salamanca, who heads the council’s powerful land use committee, spearheaded the bill. Twenty-four other lawmakers have sponsored the legislation, including Comptroller candidate Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso (who is currently leading the Brooklyn borough presidential race) and Vanessa Gibson, the likely next borough president. from the Bronx.
Critics of city-led development plans – including groups like Churches United for Fair Housing and the Association for Housing & Neighborhood Development – have long called for racial impacts to be considered in assessing neighborhood dezoning. run by the city, like those currently on offer. for Gowanus and Soho.
Where is the evidence that we need this?
Housing advocates point to two zoning from the Michael Bloomberg era. Following the rezoning of the Greenpoint and Williamsburg waterfront in 2005, a report by Churches United for Fair Housing revealed that between 2000 and 2015, neighborhoods saw a decrease of nearly 15,000 Latinx residents while the overall population grew by 20,000. (The town planning department, which carried out its own study, states that the dezoned area has in fact seen a setback in the decline of its Hispanic population that began in 1990.) Similarly, a dezoning of Park Slope in 2003 contributed to a decrease approximately 5,000 black and Latin residents between 2000 and 2013; the total population increased by about 6,000 people over the same period, most of them Caucasian.
Will this now apply to all rezonings?
No. Racial equity reports will be required for large-scale proposals, including city-wide zoning changes that affect five or more community neighborhoods, a new historic neighborhood at least four blocks away and rezoning which allows projects of 50,000 the size of a football field). A report will also be required if a developer seeks to increase the existing residential space of a property by at least 50,000 square feet or increase the existing non-residential space by at least 200,000 square feet. For example, the proposed rezoning of the Gowanus neighborhood would have required a report under the bill. Something relatively small, like a request to change a property’s zoning district, which dictates what can be built on a given piece of land, would not require a report. If an applicant wishes to reduce their residential space to at least four contiguous city blocks, that would also require an equity report, as would changes in how land in manufacturing districts can be used.
What does the real estate industry think of the new law?
During a public hearing in January on an earlier version of the bill, the New York Real Estate Board’s vice president for policy and planning complained that there was no standardized system for creating a report on racial equity. They feared that this would open the door to lawsuits that could delay or completely abandon projects. This led Williams and Salamanca to add the data tool so developers could tap into a central pool of verified information to write their reports. The Council now fully supports the bill.
This bill has been in preparation for three years. What took so long?
After its tabling in May 2019, the bill was in limbo until the land use planning committee held a public hearing on it in January. It has undergone a few changes as lawmakers have perfected their approach. Previous versions would have required a report for each zoning change. The bill is now narrower in scope and only requires racial equity reports for larger proposals.
Are there other cities that require a similar analysis?
In 2008, Seattle implemented a system called the Racial Equity Toolkit to assess a variety of municipal decisions, including how much money the city is allocated to development projects. When a budget request is made for a development, the city performs demographic analysis and community outreach to determine the effect of the project on the surrounding community. In 2014, a proposed low-income housing complex for an area of gentrification and racial diversity received $ 7.9 million in additional funding from the city after analysis found the project would reduce travel and increase racial equity in the region. Madison, Wisconsin and Minneapolis now also require similar research.
When will this come into effect?
It will apply to rezoning as of June 1, 2022. In the meantime, the city’s housing and planning departments are to create a new online data tool that will generate these reports, with a draft available to the public. ‘here on April 1 and a public hearing on it within 60 days of its release.