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BLOG: A People-Centered Rezoning Plan, Lessons from the Bronx

The Daily News recently wrote that the Bronx is burning again, but this time it isn’t a fire, but a hot real estate market. The devastation from this kind of fire risks displacing thousands of long-time residents. This fall, changes in the zoning of Jerome Avenue could give developers the building rights to construct apartments at rents that exceed the reach of current residents. If this happens, immigrant families and people of color in the Bronx, many of who lived under the poverty line, could be pushed further from jobs and services.

Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) is organizing our members, mostly low-income people of color living in rent-stabilized apartments, to ensure that our vision and goals around affordable housing and jobs are included in the redevelopment process. If we don’t organize now, we will bear witness to massive displacement.

How did this happen?

Last September, the City announced a plan to study 73 blocks, close to four miles, along Jerome Avenue in the South and Northwest Bronx. As a part of the mayor’s housing plan, these neighborhoods have been identified as ones where the City can build new housing. While new housing is critical for our members, many of whom lived here throughout periods of divestment and neglect, the question is always: will the new housing be accessible for long-time residents?

Mayor de Blasio has indicated that the plan would be led by community residents, but we’ve seen few structures to allow for that to happen. For close to five months, we attended planning meetings and asked questions about anti-harassment and anti-displacement policies to protect rent-stabilized tenants. While we waited, small businesses were displaced, developers were buying land, and landlords were increasing their tactics to harass and displace long-term, rent-stabilized tenants.

North Star Fund provided the critical resources for CASA to plan a public forum on March 5th that drew over 450 union members, faith leaders, community members, tenants, and students, despite a raging snow storm!  The theme of the forum was “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.” At the forum, we broke down the basics of land use and zoning, and most importantly, motivated Bronx residents to get involved. This was the beginning of a new coalition in the Bronx that solidified our power as residents and stakeholders uniting in our determination to direct the future of our neighborhood. 

The outcome was critical. Rather than come up with an alternative plan for the Jerome Avenue study, we came up with guiding principals to govern the rezoning plan including: living wage jobs and local hire, real affordable housing, real community participation, and strong anti-harassment and anti-displacement policies.

It is true that the Bronx is going through another period of massive transformation. We are doing everything in our control to ensure that all people will benefit.

Susanna Blankley is the director of Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA), a project of New Settlement Apartments, in the Southwest Bronx. CASA is made up of more than 1400 community members who work together to protect safe and affordable housing through collective action. 

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It is true that the Bronx is going through another period of massive transformation. We are doing everything in our control to ensure that all people will benefit.
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