NYC Council To Vote On Racial Impact Study Legislation Aimed At Fighting Gentrification, Fundamentally Changing Land Use

June 17th, 2021

Press Release

The New York City Council is expected to pass legislation today by Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams which would require a racial impact study to be conducted ahead of most rezonings. The bill, which is aimed at anticipating and preventing gentrification and displacement while promoting equity and fair housing, was unanimously approved by committee on Wednesday.

Intro 1572-B, the Racial Impact Study Bill, would require the creation of a citywide equitable development data tools, which would be used to study and assess the potential racial and ethnic impact of most proposed rezonings on the neighborhood in question. The racial impact study would analyze, and the report would reflect, demographic conditions, household economic security, neighborhood quality of life and access to opportunity, housing security, affordability and quality, housing production, and a displacement risk index.

Under the bill, racial equity reports would also have to include a statement of how the proposed project relates to the goals and strategies to affirmatively further fair housing and promote equitable access to opportunity.

"Often rezonings are presented as being great for the city, but it's clear that only applies to certain areas and communities. In others, in communities of more color, they have helped spur gentrification and displacement, displacement. Both developers and the city have been reluctant to recognize the role of rezonings in this racial and ethnic displacement, much less take adequate action to prevent it," said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

"This law can fundamentally change how our city approaches land use, how we grow and develop, how we create new opportunities without harming longstanding communities. I want to thank the advocates who have partnered with us on this work for years, Chair Salamanca for his collaboration throughout the process, and Speaker Johnson for bringing this bill to a vote today, as well as all of my colleagues on the Council for their support."

Under current law, when an area is being considered for rezoning or when a developer requests a variance, a City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) is performed as part of the review process. The purpose of the CEQR is to assess potential environmental impacts the project may have, such as a reduction in air quality or a change in type or volume of vehicle traffic. While assessment of socioeconomic impacts may be included in a CEQR, they are by no means a required part of the process. Race and ethnicity are absent from the existing specifications.

After the racial impact study law has been enacted, beginning in June of 2022, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the Department of City Planning (DCP), in collaboration with other relevant City agencies will be required to develop and publish the equitable development data tool from which the supplemental  racial impact study will be conducted and the equity report generated. The equitable development data tool will be available online for public use and any other use required by law, and is to be updated at least annually.

Yesterday, the Public Advocate's office released a report, Why New York City Needs a Racial Equity Report to be Part of the Land Rezoning Process, which outlines the current processes for any rezoning and its shortcoming in assessing the racial and ethnic impact of a proposed project. It highlights several instances in which rezonings exacerbated displacement and gentrification, and makes clear the need for consideration of a racial equity study as a continuation of the principles in the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Read it here.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson said, "We've seen too many long-time New Yorkers priced out of our city because of gentrification. We need these 'racial equity' reports' to better understand how rezoning to other land-use actions are impacting racial equity in our city."

Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Chair, Committee on Land Use said "From New York City to Washington D.C., it is no secret that 20th century housing policies have disproportionately discriminated against black and brown communities like the one I represent. To this day, New Yorkers continue to feel the consequences of redlining and actions that have not truly furthered fair housing. With Intro 1572, sponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and myself, we are creating the foundation for a more equitable housing landscape in New York City. Having the potential to be a nationwide model for how cities build racial equity through Land Use and housing policy making decisions, this legislation crafts a system in which private and city-sponsored applications, alike, would have to declare how their projects affirmatively further fair housing, while also promoting equitable access to opportunity. With these mandated Racial Equity Reports, 1572 strives to prevent the displacement and gentrification we've seen caused by development in majority minority communities I applaud the tireless advocacy of PA Williams and the housing advocates for their resolute vision in creating a more just city."

Alex Fennell of the Racial Impact Study Coalition said, "The time is now for New York City to reckon with race. Our communities have experienced the impacts of omitting underlying racial disparities and inequities from land use decisions. The Racial Impact Study Coalition (RISC) applauds Public Advocate Williams and the New York City Council for their commitment to advancing an equitable development data tool and a requirement for racial equity reports for land use applications. Int. 1572 is critical legislation that brings the City into the conversation that impacted communities have been having as our neighbors contend with rising income inequality, housing insecurity, and displacement risk. RISC is committed to continuing to work together with OPA to ensure the implementation of this bill produces reliable data, presents an accurate picture of New York City's neighborhood conditions, and encourages decisions that advance equitable outcomes and empower community voice in the process."

Rob Solano, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Churches United for Fair Housing, said "Churches United For Fair Housing and the Public Advocate have been talking about the possibility of this legislation for years, so today is an incredibly rewarding and exciting day," said "For far too long, New York City has failed to thoughtfully consider how racism is embedded in every part of our systems, particularly our land use decisions. Churches United For Fair Housing emerged from fighting the racist Broadway Triangle rezoning and our hope is that this legislation will help communities fight future racist proposals that too often are allowed to be enacted."

Council Member Adrienne Adams, Co-Chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, said "Requiring a racial impact study before rezonings will allow New Yorkers to better understand the long-term consequences of developments on longtime residents, particularly in communities of color," said "This groundbreaking legislation will have a profound impact on our City for the better. I thank Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Land Use Chair Rafael Salamanca, and all of the advocates for their steadfastness in making this bill possible."

Council Member I. Daneek Miller, Co-Chair of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, said "We have strived for years to protect the integrity of black and brown communities in New York City, and this Racial Impact Study will go a long way in fulfilling that goal. It is so important that communities understand and have a voice in rezonings, and this legislation will arm them with the critical information they need when assessing the viability of proposed changes for renters, homeowners, business owners, and the like. I thank Public Advocate Jumaane Williams for his steadfastness in seeing this through."

Council Member Ben Kallos said, "Unfortunately gentrification and displacement continue to be powerful forces in New York City, affecting hundreds of thousands of people of color every year in many neighborhoods. I'm proud to be supportive of this legislation forcing studies and reporting on racial equity in communities that are dealing with rezonings. We must do the best we can to prevent displacement and fight gentrification. This legislation does exactly that. Thank you to Public Advocate Williams for carrying and pushing this bill to become law."

Council Member Brad Lander said, "Our city can't continue to ignore or overlook the racial impact of the changes being made in communities across the city, which is why I'm proud to co-sponsor this important legislation to reframe how we think about growth, recovery and who sees the benefits."

Council Member Farah N. Louis said "As a member of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, I am strongly in favor of the Racial Impact Study. This bill, which I co-sponsored, will give New York City officials and planners a far more accurate and detailed understanding of the impact of inequality and displacement in neighborhoods - especially working-class communities of color - that face major land use actions. Historically, this has been a major concern for Black and Hispanic neighborhoods that disproportionately feel the effects of rezoning and redevelopment. The Racial Impact Study is a significant step towards a fairer and more equitable planning process."

Council Member Helen Rosenthal said "For years we have been told that new development will serve our communities by creating more housing and increasing affordability. Clearly the reality is far more complicated, and long-term residents --especially in working class and communities of color-- continue to be pushed out of their neighborhoods. We desperately need the Public Advocate's proposed data tool, which will provide more transparency about the real-world affordability of units in proposed development projects, and whether new housing is truly accessible to all communities. This is a critical step toward solving our housing crisis in an equitable way."

Kelly Vilar, Director, Staten Island Urban Center said "When land use processes dismiss community concerns, they fail to help to raise the standards of development, miss strategic opportunities to address inequality and risk exacerbating the experience of New York's communities living in a tale of two cities - where one community hoards opportunities and the other is targeted with the burdens of a growing city. Our community in Staten Island has been isolated, at times by design, from the kind of economic opportunity, housing choice, and open space options afforded to other neighborhoods. Intro 1572-B puts us on a direct path towards a more expansive conversation to address segregation, displacement and access to opportunity by equipping us with the data to plan a more equitable future."

Marcel Negret, Senior Planner, Regional Plan Association said "Intro 1572-B demonstrates that New York City does not have to choose between equity and progress. By using data to center race early in the land use decision-making process, this bill will promote equitable growth that advances regional goals, like building new housing, and addresses local needs, like reducing the risk of displacement. Regional Plan Association thanks the Office of the Public Advocate for championing this bill for nearly two years and commends our fellow members in the Racial Impact Study Coalition for helping get it across the finish line."

Fitzroy Christian, CASA Leader, said "Historically, virtually every change in zoning has resulted in large scale displacement of peoples of color, the destruction of our cultural institutions, the obliteration of the communities' economic foundation, the disruption of family and neighborhood life, and the reduction of the richness of the city's racial and ethnic diversity. Today, with the passage of the Racial Impact Study legislation, this travesty will be a feature of the past.  The city of New York and its agencies will now have to give real consideration to the likely destructive impact of the re-zoning and/or redevelopment plans on the black, brown, and other people of color in the targeted neighborhoods."

Barika Williams, Executive Director Association for Housing & Neighborhood Development, said "ANHD has long known that land use decisions have life and death consequences, so it is critical for us to have accurate data on race and displacement early on in the decision-making process for rezonings in New York City. We are proud to be part of the Racial Impact Study Coalition (RISC), which has worked tirelessly to make sure Int. 1572 centers the community perspective in the planning process and advances equitable outcomes that serve the needs of all New Yorkers, especially our most vulnerable community members. We applaud the Public Advocate and the New York City Council for their leadership and look forward to working with them to fulfill our commitment to racial equity." Barika Williams, Executive Director Association for Housing & Neighborhood Development

Paula Crespo, Senior Planner Pratt Center for Urban Development, said "In partnership with many communities of color throughout the city, we have repeatedly pointed out the need for intentionally prepared and publicly accessible information that looks explicitly at the racial and ethnic impacts of all planning and policy decisions. The reports that will result from this bill will be a critical tool for community members, Council Members, and the public to better understand the people and places that a land use application may affect."

Spencer Williams, Director of Advocacy, The Municipal Art Society of New York, said "New York City's land use review process must account for the underlying racial disparities across our city when making changes to the City's zoning. The data produced by this bill will help balance the top-down, technocratic process of CEQR by creating a framework where communities are welcomed to the table in the planning process and have access to reliable information about neighborhood conditions and trends.

As a member of the Racial Impact Study Coalition, MAS applauds the Public Advocate in advancing this meaningful legislation that will help communities plan, participate, evaluate, and prioritize the future of their neighborhoods.

Inwood Legal Action said, "Inwood Legal Action (ILA), a member of the Racial Impact Study Coalition (RISC), welcomes passage of Int 1572-B, historic legislation that finally brings analysis of race and equity to New York City's land use process. This bill will inject greater accountability to our public review of proposed land use actions. No longer will communities be asked to believe and support a proposed development without the data they need to judge how it affects them on a personal level. This bill will help to empower communities to push for better land use decisions from their elected officials. In Inwood, our Councilman told us that the rezoning was for us and that we could have a say in deciding our community's future. The truth was that half of the households in our community could not afford the new housing that was being proposed. Int 1572-B will put a stop to disinformation campaigns. Inwood Legal Action applauds the courage and leadership of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams for bringing this bill to the Council and Land Use Chair Rafael Salamanca for joining him as a prime sponsor. Our City's recovery will be all the better."

Kate Liggett, Program Coordinator for Housing Rights Initiative, said "Our organization is excited to see that Int.1572-B will work towards dismantling segregation in one of the most segregated cities in America. As a member of the Racial Impact Study Coalition we believe having this much needed racial disparity report will provide a blueprint to create fair housing and prevent further displacement in our communities."

Leah Archibald, Executive Director, Evergreen, said "This legislation will ensure that all plans for future growth in NYC take their impact on communities of color into consideration.  This is key to creating a truly equitable economic recovery for the entire city, and particularly communities that were hit hard by COVID, like the ones we serve in East Williamsburg and Bushwick."

Andy Aujla Director of Advocacy and External Affairs Communities Resist, said "From our historic legal advocacy on the Broadway Triangle to our most recent organizing and litigation in the Pfizer rezoning, our communities of North Brooklyn have been calling for the acknowledgment of race in housing justice and land use planning for over 15 years. Intro 1572-B is a crucial first step in that direction.   This bill will mandate the study of the  potential racial impacts of land use actions, highlighting existing conditions and disparate needs, giving communities substantive information that will facilitate serious quantitative conversations around planning. This will not only work towards leveling the balance of decision making power, but also finally, affirm the reality that our communities of color have known and proclaimed for so long: that race is a major factor in achieving housing justice, and that land use decisions must take into account the conditions of racial inequality in order to address them. Intro 1572-B will help the city confront the ugly history of racial segregation and provide the data necessary for communities to combat displacement.  Communities Resist, as a member of the Racial Impact Study Coalition, joins advocacy groups throughout the city to celebrate this victory and thanks the Public Advocate for introducing and supporting this legislation that will benefit communities across New York City."

Adrien Lorenzo Weibgen, Founder, People's Policy Shop, said "This legislation will ensure that community members and elected officials can have serious, data-driven conversations about racial impacts before land use actions are finalized. That's what we need to address neighborhood inequality head-on and advance bold solutions for our future. People's Policy Shop is proud to have worked with the Office of the Public Advocate and leaders from communities of color across New York City to secure this win, and we look forward to continuing the work to ensure that every land use action takes us one step closer to the just City we all deserve."

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