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Latino Community Leaders Wary Of Pfizer Development Possibly Favoring Hasidic Jews

The Pfizer Building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, vacant since 2007

The proposal to turn lots on the former Pfizer factory site into a mixed-income apartment community has been met with suspicion as it heads to the New York City Council for a vote.

Rabsky Group subsidiary Harrison Realty plans to build 1,146 apartments, 287 of them designated as permanently affordable, in accordance with the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy, on empty lots by the former pharmaceutical factory. Councilman Antonio Reynoso worries that the affordable units will target Hasidic Jews as tenants at the expense of people of color, Politico reports.

The lots in question, vacant since the 1980s, are in South Williamsburg, near traditionally Hasidic and Latino communities that have felt the crunch of gentrification all around them. Steve Levin is the council member representing the site, but Reynoso's district borders Levin's.

"It is all politics," Reynoso told Politico. "The Hasidic Jewish community votes in a bloc. They're an extremely important political base for the mayor and for Steve Levin."

Although opponents of the development see larger units as an indicator that the project is geared toward Hasidic Jews, who tend to have large families, the affordable portion is said to be evenly distributed between one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments, reserved for tenants making an average of 60% of the area median income. The market-rate portion will also have a mix of all four sizes, but the proportions have not been disclosed.

"People really truly need affordable housing in both communities … both the Jewish community and the Latino community in Williamsburg," Levin told Politico.

Rabsky Development was founded by Simon Dushinsky and his partner, Isaac Rabinowitz. The pair are both members of the Hasidic community and got their start developing condos for Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn in the 1990s.

The first City Council hearing regarding the project is Tuesday, with a vote to come in the weeks ahead. Generally, such votes hinge on the decision of the district's representative, and Levin has already publicly supported the development. But Reynoso intends to put pressure on Levin and Rabsky Group to protect the interests of people of color. 

"I don't know what they're going to do, but whatever they're going to do, I want it in writing," Reynoso said. "I'm preventing the discriminatory practices from happening. There's no accusation here they've discriminated yet. I want to make sure they don't get that opportunity."