Anti-Gentrification Coalition Hold Rally Against Department of City Planning, Rezoning
After multi-million dollar properties and commercial buildings were developed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Annette Gonzalez lost a “sense of community” when many family members and friends were priced out of the neighborhood where her family has lived since the 1940s.
Gonzalez is a member of New York Boricua Resistance, an organization that describes themselves as a group that mobilizes Puerto Ricans and their allies in New York City for decolonization and the liberation of Puerto Rico. On Oct. 24, New York Boricua Resistance, along with a coalition of organizations including Decolonize This Place, Chinatown Art Brigade, and Take Back The Bronx, held a unified action against the Department of City Planning for its alleged role in gentrification and rezonings.
The rally, which attracted over 100 protestors, both inside the lobby of the Department of City Planning and outside, followed growing frustration from anti-gentrification groups after the decision from DeBlasio’s administration to create four new jails — one in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens respectively — and approve permits for more luxury buildings in gentrifying neighborhoods.
From chants as a group to speeches from organizations like NYC Shut It Down: The Grand Central Crew #blacklivesmatter, many protestors alleged that the Department of City Planning and local politicians rezone due to financial motivations. Albert Saint Jean, an organizer for Black Alliance for Just Immigration, said “a lot of politicians in [rezoned] neighborhoods are funded by [the Real Estate Board of New York.]”
Out of the seven rezoning projects which are active in New York City, politicians have or had accepted donations from members of the Real Estate Board of New York. For example, former council member Melissa Mark-Viverito received a $4,950 donation from Scott Alper in 2016. Alper also gave Mark-Viverito a $2,500 donation in 2014.
Alper, who is on the Real Estate Board of New York Board of Governors, has also given Mayor de Blasio $9,900 since 2013. Multiple rezonings plans were enacted in 2017, around a year after Alper’s donation to Mark-Viverito and two years after Alper’s second donation to de Blasio.
While local politicians have accepted donations from members of the Real Estate Board, some appear to be attempting to distance themselves following growing frustration from residents and organizations. Mark-Viverito falsely claimed during her run in the 2019 special election for public advocate that she had not accepted real estate money, and mayoral candidates like Corey Johnson, who accepted $2,500 from J. Dean Amro — also on the Board of Governors of the Real Estate Board of New York — have said that they will reject money from real estate developers.
For people like Gonzalez, politicians and the DCP’s affiliation with real estate developers goes much deeper than cash — these real estate developments and rezonings “take away from the community.”
She expressed frustration that “kids won’t be able to experience” the same sense of community that she grew up in because “Latino supermarkets are closing” due to rising costs in the area and zonings affecting which schools students can attend. “We want to be able to protect our neighborhoods and protect our culture,” Gonzalez said.
For Saint Jean, he sees the day-to-day impact and harm that rezonings have on residents and their safety. “With more gentrification, there’s more police in the neighborhoods because they protect the new properties that are being built and the new residents.”
Beyond increased presence of the New York Police Department, gentrification has also resulted in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tearing immigrant communities apart, according to Saint Jean. “We’ve been seeing landlords doing these really dirty things like using people’s immigration status against them.” Saint Jean said. “More people are getting arrested, and more people are getting deported.”
The main demand of the direct action, that the Department of City Planning stop rezonings, was not met and protestors dispersed after two hours. Gonzalez said that she will continue to protest against the DCP and rezonings to stop her community from being gentrified.
“From a basic level, the Department of City Planning is only looking for profit,” Gonzalez said. “Because of that, we lose.”