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New York City Council Set To Add Racial Impact Reporting Requirement To Rezoning Process

New York City Hall

Last summer, community outcry over the city’s rezoning approval process and its link to displacement of communities of color reached a fever pitch

This week, the New York City Council is expected to enact a bill originally introduced by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams in 2019, which would require developers to investigate the impact land use changes would have on communities of color, The Real Deal reports

“The substance of racial equity reports would vary by application type, but all would 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,” the bill states. 

The legislation would also require the creation of a city-made database for “equitable development,” it stated. The measure passed the Land Use Committee unanimously Wednesday. It goes to a full council vote Thursday. 

Last fall, the developers of Industry City in Sunset Park withdrew their rezoning application after local Council Member Carlos Menchaca said he would vote against the measure, effectively killing it.

Around the same time, the New York State Court of Appeals dealt a final blow to a community group in Inwood, which waged a years-long court battle to reverse the Inwood rezoning. A key part of their legal argument was that the city did not properly examine the racial impact of the rezoning. 

Alex Fennell, a former political director for Churches United for Fair Housing and current housing and racial justice advocate who was involved in crafting the council's initial legislation, told Bisnow last summer that the zoning process shouldn't be treated as race-neutral because it never has been.

“The way that we look at zoning and the way that we perform zoning are using the same methodologies and theories as we were in 1917 that have just been updated,” she said. “If we’re expecting an outcome that has a positive racial impact that promotes integration, that promotes access to opportunity for historically marginalized groups, if we are assuming that people of color can be helped and that these problems that were created by zoning tools can be alleviated by the current tools that we have, we’re just lying to ourselves.” 

Efforts to reform land use policy are at the heart of many progressive city council members and candidates. While moderate mayoral candidates have pulled ahead, real estate industry leaders think that there is a possibility more progressive candidates could be elected to the city council in this year's elections, which could have ramifications for the real estate industry.

Related Topics: Jumaane Williams