El Barrio No Se Vende: East Harlem Residents Say NO to Racist Rezoning!

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“One who has not experienced gentrification does not know how harmful that may be to the Puerto Rican people.” — Oscar López Rivera

Rezoning low-income communities of color is about much more than “just the facts.” It transcends statistics, analysis, and policy – however “participatory” the planning process may appear.

Indeed, encouraging massive increases in the number of high-priced properties in low-income communities like East Harlem/El Barrio is the antithesis of “inclusionary.” Real estate is all about the money. Developers are primarily concerned with what tomorrow’s market will bear, not the people who live here today.

Decent and permanently affordable housing is an international human right. It is that fundamental truth that is moving African Americans, Latinos, and Asians throughout New York City to fight Mayor Bill de Blasio’s racist rezoning policies and challenge any elected official complicit in the destruction of our beloved neighborhoods.

NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito recently took a huge political risk in defending a Puerto Rican freedom-loving patriot, as did many of us in East Harlem.

We must now channel that same passion and energy to stop gentrification, as former political prisoner Oscar López Rivera personally advocated when he spoke at the United Nations on June 19th.

Mark-Viverito, who represents El Barrio, has also been very generous in funding many cool arts projects. No doubt.

However strong the enthusiasm for our history and culture – concerts and murals and museums do not pay the rent. While thousands of our relatives and friends visit East Harlem to enjoy our festivals and attend honorary street renamings, very few can actually afford to live here.

10 Simple Reasons to JUST SAY NO to NYC’s Racist Rezoning!

  1. Both the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan AND the current rezoning plan are middle-class housing plans, plain and simple. They do not reflect the actual needs of this community. Even at the lowest annual Area Median Income being offered (30% AMI = $32,000), rezoning would provide NO apartments for those who truly need affordable housing and would exclude our homeless population entirely.
  2. There are generous state and local government subsidies already in place that offer lucrative financial incentives for developers to include “affordable” units in their developments. There’s no need to hand over huge city-owned lots, community gardens, ball-fields, and NYCHA lawns and playgrounds to build mostly market-rate housing. Why especially reward vacant property owners who’ve warehoused buildings all along 3rd Avenue and neglected our needs for 40+ years by telling them the sky’s now the limit?
  3. Up-zoning to allow 30-35 story market-rate buildings will destroy the very fabric of what has historically been an affordable, tenement community serving immigrants and low-income families of color. This is a beautiful black and brown community and has been for many, many decades – and we aren’t leaving!
  4. East Harlem/El Barrio residents will lose their precious cultural legacy and any political leverage that remains if this plan goes through. Ice cream trucks and play streets will inevitably be replaced by more Citi-bike stations and dog walks.
  5. There are no legally binding assurances in place or any commitment from the city or any developer with regards any of the services and programs in Community Board 11’s list of “recommendations.”
  6. The city has made no provisions to address school overcrowding, loss of sunlight, construction pollution, sanitation, traffic and other environmental issues that will seriously impact the quality of life in East Harlem.
  7. The city’s estimate that only 11 apartments will be lost is a straight-up lie and proof that they do not intend to support ANY of the community’s requests.
  8. East Harlem was already rezoned in 2003 to allow higher density buildings and encourage developers to build “affordable housing.” Speaker Mark-Viverito’s office has repeatedly refused to state the number of low-income apartments she’s brought to the district in the last 11-1/2 years.  Failure to provide such information does not inspire confidence in her sincerity with regards to serving future generations.
  9. Speaker Mark-Viverito reportedly used coercive methods to secure community board approval of a 68-story, mostly market-rate development so any illusion of solidarity with the interests of working people has been shattered.
  10. Both she and Mayor Bill de Blasio have also reneged on campaign promises and accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from landlords, developers, and construction companies, after vowing never to do so.

In every speech and interview, Oscar López Rivera describes the intentional depopulation of Puerto Rico and gentrification in Chicago as a human rights issue.

The Puerto Rican Diaspora now follows his example and says NO to the planned displacement of people of color in East Harlem and throughout New York City.

The media labels anyone fighting for human rights an extremist. Nelson Mandela was labeled a terrorist for challenging apartheid, even after he was freed. Here in New York City, you are called “crazy” if you fight for your community.

Jane Jacobs and Yolanda Garcia were both considered “kooks” in their time because they fought to preserve their Greenwich Village and South Bronx neighborhoods.  Today, their work has been appropriated by the very same planners seeking to destroy East Harlem and 14 other communities of color that have been targeted for gentrification.

A private developer recently had the audacity to invoke the Lenapi community in their presentation for the Sendero Verde mega-development in East Harlem. Ironically, Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito would have us “trade” one of the last few relatively affordable communities in Manhattan for the promise of a few “trinkets.” This city (and country) was founded on the violent displacement of people of color. We cannot, and will not, let it happen again.

“Long ago I learned to ‘follow the money’. I have always followed the money. Apartments for sale for two million dollars, that is not for Puerto Ricans. All this has been planned. It is not a coincidence.” — Oscar López Rivera

Communities are rising up and saying NO to Mayor de Blasio’s racist rezoning. Activists from East Harlem; Inwood and Washington Heights; Southern Boulevard and other parts of the South Bronx; East New York and Flatbush, Brooklyn; Ridgewood, Queens; Chinatown; the Lower East Side; and the Bay Street corridor on Staten Island are coming together and standing strong.

Fed up and fighting back, activists are unwilling to play left field for any politician or nonprofit organization looking to use public outrage to negotiate better termsor as a cover to ease their conscience. We do not support ANY rezoning. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

That was the message delivered at Community Board 11’s full-board meeting on June 20th, as dozens of community residents and housing allies demanded the board reject any plan to gentrify East Harlem. The meeting was eventually disrupted as activists rushed the stage to prevent board members from proceeding to vote no “with conditions” (essentially a yes).

Outraged board members then began screaming and demanding that protesters “mind their manners” so the vote could continue. But, the point of nonviolent civil disobedience is to STOP business as usual, to SHUT IT DOWN. Being “polite” and “respecting the process” did not end slavery, segregation, apartheid, and it certainly will never stop gentrification.

Rather than doing the right thing and adjourning the meeting, Community Board 11 proceeded to hold an essentially illegal secret (paper) vote, while several board members (and their friends) threatened and physically attacked several protesters.

Press reports erroneously described the assault as a “fight” started by protestors. In fact, it was members of the board that were OUT OF ORDER and engaging in egregious, unlawful actions.

As a result, activists are now calling for immediate community board reforms:

  • Term limits for community board members: There’s experience and then there’s entrenchment and entitlement. As is the case with NYC Council members, 8 or even 12 years is more than enough time for any one individual to make a difference.
  • Publicly elected (not politically appointed) NEIGHBORHOOD representatives.
  • On-time appointments to community boards, as mandated by law. Bringing members on board two months late (and just weeks before a major vote) is unacceptable.
  • Full disclosure: Make board members’ financial and political interests public.
  • Training on the legalities of conducting board business during civil disobediences or other disruptions.
  • Training on the proper etiquette for handling people engaged in civil disobedience. Members who assault or threaten the public (or incite anyone else to do so) should be removed immediately.
  • Training on the public’s legal right to witness all voting procedures.
  • Training on the public’s legal right to record all government meetings.
  • Enforcement of legal restrictions on “gifts” (entertainment passes, meals, jobs, contracts, apartments) by any agency, company, or individual doing business before the board.
  • Meals and refreshments presented at open meetings must be made available to the general public.

Of course, the corruption goes much deeper and much more radical change is needed in a city (and world) where black and brown bodies are as easily disposed as yesterday’s leftovers.

“The only thing I know is to fight.” My commitment does not stop until my last breath has been taken.” — Oscar López Rivera

Politicians are henceforth forewarned: If you proceed with ANY rezoning plan for East Harlem and other low-income, communities of color in New York City, we will cash out everyone responsible at the ballot box in November!

If we go, you go!

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