BY SOFIA CERDA CAMPERO
Dozens of people gathered on Jan. 23 for the full Community Board 2 meeting at the Scholastic building in SoHo. Once again, the dispute over fair housing and the Envision SoHo/NoHo plan, a possible new development that seeks improvement and innovation in the area, was the main topic on the table.
Other issues included the AB-5, a California bill which does not grant protections to independent contractors; The Street Vendor Project resolution, which protects vendors from getting billed and helps them grow their business through training; and the accountability of the MTA, were also discussed.
The Envision SoHo/NoHo report, an 86-page document published in November by Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, the City Planning Department, and Councilwoman Margaret Chin, details a list of recommendations such as improving the quality of life for neighbors and workers in the area, encouraging neighborhood diversity, and promoting economic vitality.
These also include repealing regulations that ban ground-floor retail, allowing retail space at 10,000 square feet. This initiative was met with backlash from local residents and coalitions such as Open New York For All, a pro-housing project that aims to rezone the area in an attempt to make it more affordable.
In a board meeting on January 16, the co-chair of the CB 2 Land Use Committee said, “I think that one of the great things about New York City is that every neighborhood contributes something different. And so, what we’re contributing in SoHo with our cast-iron and cobblestones… I don’t feel that we should be responsible for producing as much affordable housing as other neighborhoods.”
To anti-development activists, these remarks were highly controversial, as it seemed that the project aimed to replace affordable housing with cobblestones and fancy buildings.
The fight for pro-housing rezoning states that having affordable housing in wealthy areas of the city would be a key part of ending segregation. Comptroller Scott Stringer estimates that since 2009, the city has added 500,000 residents, yet only 100,000 homes, causing rents to rise 24%.
“Who is a stakeholder in the SoHo rezoning?” asked Dan Miller, treasurer of New York for All. “A lot of people in this room have been vociferous in saying the only stakeholders are people who live in SoHo/NoHo, or work in SoHo/NoHo. We should reject that wholeheartedly.”
Miller stated that the community board law in New York City is set up to not only include the voices of residents but to include all relevant people.
“The relevant audience for a decision of this magnitude is citywide,” he said, stating he has personally been affected by the increase in rent throughout all boroughs. “I urge the board to think of the people who have come to you asking to take their interest into account.”
Although the next steps on this initiative have remained undecided, on January 24, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the issue on the Brian Lehrer Show, saying, “A really important plan came out recently that showed a pathway to create more affordable housing in Lower Manhattan.” He said they would have to further look at its viability in the coming months and years, adding, “We have to create affordable housing everywhere if we want to keep this city a city for everyone.”