Thank you Chair Moya and members of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises for the opportunity to testify today on the proposed rezoning of Inwood.

I grew up in Washington Heights in the 1970s – the only decade in our City’s history where more people left than arrived. But there were some who stayed and took it upon themselves to rebuild their neighborhoods. They created the thriving communities that for-profit developers now covet.

Now, the very people that built their communities up are being priced out. Rents are rising twice as fast as wages, young people are struggling to stay in the places they have always called home, and our seniors – the anchors of our communities – are struggling to get by. More New Yorkers live in poverty than there are people in Philadelphia or Phoenix, and we are facing record levels of homelessness. We’re a city of immigrants—but people increasingly can’t afford to live here.

We cannot allow the entry ticket to New York to be a million dollar condo. Forget a tale of two cities. We are becoming a tale of two blocks, with a luxury condo on one block and public housing on the other. And with the current Inwood rezoning plan before this committee today, we can almost guarantee this tale of two blocks will continue and more Inwood residents will be pushed out.

The proposed rezoning of Inwood will fundamentally change the landscape of the neighborhood. It will add at least 5,000 new residential units, new community facilities, and additional commercial space. Any upzoning of this scale must be done with a delicate and deft hand to prevent unintended consequences.

Throughout the ULURP process, community residents have expressed concerns regarding the potential displacement of existing residents, the change in neighborhood character, and the need for deeper affordable housing. Absent a comprehensive plan to address these concerns, I must express my opposition to the proposed rezoning.

Neighborhood Character

The community has expressed a desire for lower building heights and densities to better match the neighborhood character. Given the community’s strong preference to preserve not reshape their community, the application should be modified to better fit in with the existing neighborhood.

In particular, recommendations by the community board and borough president should be implemented to protect the community and the view corridors from The Cloisters and Fort Tryon Park. By protecting the height and scale of the community, it will ensure new development blends seamlessly in with the urban landscape, rather than breaking from Inwood’s traditional form. The Council should consider at minimum implementing the “low density” alternative outlined in the DEIS.

Residential Displacement

The proposed rezoning would add 5,195 new residential dwelling units – 4,397 more than are currently permitted as-of-right. These units would bring over 14,442 new residents into the neighborhood. The rezoning would provide as few as 1,376 new units of affordable housing from the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program and the related redevelopment of City-owned sites.

This is concerning, as Inwood currently has more low, very low, and extremely low income individuals by percentage than both Manhattan and New York City as a whole, as well as more individuals living below the poverty line. The median income of the study area was $42,500.

According to the DEIS, new units that enter the market will require an individual to earn over $66,000 for a one bedroom and over $83,000 for a two bedroom – far above the median income for the area. And a new building constructed in the area on Broadway and West 204th Street was priced so individuals would need to make $86,000 for a one bedroom and nearly $100,000 for a two bedroom.

Over the last two decades, Inwood has had only 200 new units of housing constructed. The City proposes adding over 3,000 new luxury units in the next 15 years. This will not alleviate demand, but create a new market that will incentive existing landlords to increase pressure on the existing housing stock.

The potential for long-term displacement due to existing pressures is real, however, this proposed rezoning would speed up those pressures in the near term, which will put the community at risk.

The study area has, according to the DEIS, experienced a slower increase in median income that Manhattan as a whole with a 1.2% growth, compared to 5.3% growth overall. While median rent has increased by 20% in the study area, it was slower than the 30% increase for Manhattan as a whole, and on-par with citywide growth levels.

Residents in the local community have expressed concerns about harassment and displacement. In Inwood, 82.6% of the residents live in rent regulated units, which mean harassment out of legal protections is the greatest risk for the neighborhood, not lack of density. Rather than focusing on a large redevelopment plan, the city should focus on a preservation plan for the area.

The City has already proposed a number of projects to preserve affordable housing in this area, including: instituting the certificate of no-harassment program to discourage landlords from harassing tenants, launching a new program to allow local nonprofits to acquire and rehabilitate rent stabilized buildings, providing assistance to existing building owners to preserve affordability in exchange for loans and tax benefits, and providing legal services.

These preservation programs should continue to mitigate the existing pressures and help preserve this neighborhood, but the total density of the rezoning must be reduced to prevent increasing the pressures on vulnerable tenants.

Further, the City should work to develop all City-owned sites in this area for 100% permanent affordable housing at income levels for this community. New models for ensuring permanent low-income housing, such as creating a new land bank modeled off of a land trust, should be considered.

Residential Infrastructure

Any significant increase in residential density puts strain on existing resources in a community. A basic principal of planning requires the City to balance out these infrastructure needs with the residential development.

The existing elementary schools in the district are already at 98.7% of capacity, with only 101 available seats. The proposed action will add an additional 528 elementary school students. The DEIS assumes that there will be no impact due to falling enrollment rates in the future, however, this reduction is not guaranteed. If the population remains steady, then the new students would increase utilization to 106% of capacity. The City must adequately plan for these new students or reduce the proposed density to mitigate the impact.

Further, the DEIS notes that there are anticipated unmitigated impacts on parks, mass transit, and traffic. If these issues are ignored, generations of New Yorkers will suffer from inadequate and crowded infrastructure.

Conclusion

Given the potential significant increase in density in this community, the City must work to fully mitigate potential negative impacts, reduce the density, and protect the character of the community. Absent significant change to align this plan with community priorities, I do not believe this rezoning will serve the best interest of the Inwood community or the City as a whole.

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