Inwood residents oppose rezoning proposal, urge City Council to vote it down

The Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan is being eyed for a controversial rezoning plan that critics claim will deplete the area's affordable housing stock.
The Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan is being eyed for a controversial rezoning plan that critics claim will deplete the area’s affordable housing stock. Photo Credit: Evan Paul English / evanpaulenglish.com

A rezoning could wreck the Inwood we know today, residents warned.

At a tense City Hall hearing Tuesday, Inwood residents contended the city’s proposal to change the zoning in Inwood would change the character of the neighborhood, while government officials defended their plan.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation is steering a proposal to allow residential development in the mostly industrial area east of 10th Avenue and to permit the construction of larger residential buildings, with ground floor retail, along Dyckman Street, 207th Street and Broadway. If the Council opts to rezone the 62-block area, any new housing developments would need to rent at least one-quarter of apartments at below market-rate.

James Patchett, president of the EDC, said the area’s current zoning rules, which were established in 1961, have been restrictive and led to a divide, where the area west of 10th Avenue is lively, but the eastern section has been stunted.

“This zoning has created two Inwoods,” Patchett said.

Several tenant groups, however, said they fear the rezoning would allow developers to shake up the close-knit community, which currently lives in a housing stock that is 61 percent rent stabilized.

Some residents have been struggling to stay in their rent-stabilized homes because of various tactics to raise the rent, according to Lena Melendez, a lifelong Inwood resident and member of the advocacy group, Northern Manhattan is Not for Sale.

“The number one issue here is the cost of living,” Melendez said at a rally before the hearing. “The politicians are doing the work of developers by rezoning.”

Councilman Francisco Moya, who chairs the subcommittee holding the hearing, asked city officials to address Inwood residents’ concerns about the rezoning fueling speculation and rent increases.

“Why are we relying on the market to create affordable housing for New Yorkers?” Moya asked.

The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer reiterated the city’s stance that allowing larger residences is worthwhile, if some of the units are set aside as affordable housing. She noted that City Hall also planned to use tax incentives and subsidies to entice developers to fix up their buildings without significantly raising rents.

“We have to leverage private investment,” Torres-Springer said.

As an additional precaution, Torres-Springer said the city would offer free legal help to Inwood tenants who believe their landlords are harassing them or otherwise trying to compel them to move.

But some neighborhood activists and elected officials remained skeptical that these measures would sufficiently support the current community, including Councilman Antonio Reynoso. Reynoso said Williamsburg, in his district, was an example of how a rezoning can gentrify areas that have historically been home to the working class.

“We cannot be the same city we were 20 years ago when it comes to development,” Reynoso said.

Inwood’s representative, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, took a more diplomatic tack, saying the city should do more to preserve the area’s affordable housing stock, but that additional private and public investment would be beneficial.

“With the Inwood, New York City proposal, we are striving to have an opportunity to address many of the challenges that have gone neglected for countless years,” Rodriguez, alluding to the prospect of the city providing more educational programming and other initiatives in Inwood.

The area’s community board and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have opted to oppose the city’s plans.

But the final decision will come when the full Council votes on the proposal, which is likely to occur by the end of the summer.

When voting on development matters, the Council typically defers to the local member.