In the working-class Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, community organizers who beat back plans for a high-rise luxury apartment building are taking their affordable housing campaign city-wide.
Joe Vazquez was leaving mass at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs church one Sunday in June when a stranger handed him a flyer for a community forum in his Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood. Vasquez, 34, had never taken part in anything he’d call political. But when he looked at the flyer and saw that the neighborhood where he had been born and raised could soon be rezoned for luxury high-rise apartments, he realized that his home—what he calls one of the last “relatively affordable” places in Manhattan—was in danger.
The person who handed him that flyer was with a neighborhood coalition called Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale (NMN4S). The group formed this year to fight for affordable housing and against gentrification in Inwood, a working-class neighborhood that covers Manhattan’s northern tip. NMN4S was protesting plans for a 17-story apartment tower slated for construction at 4650 Broadway—the address of a two-story parking garage on Vazquez’s block.
Vazquez went to the forum and then quickly began joining in the group’s protests to block construction of the high-rise, dubbed Sherman Plaza, which would have towered over a cluster of surrounding six-story buildings across the street from the 66-acre Fort Tryon Park. By the time Vasquez joined the effort, organizers had already scored one victory: pressuring developers to shrink the apartment tower from 23 stories to 17, with half of its 350 units set aside for affordable housing. But Vazquez and other activists feared that even the scaled-back project would pave the way for more luxury apartments, forever changing the face of the neighborhood. After months of rallies and petitions, the city council’s land-use and zoning committees agreed, unanimously voting in August to nix the Sherman Plaza development.
It was a crucial victory for New York’s affordable housing movement, which has gained momentum amid a city-wide development and gentrification boom that threatens to force out longtime residents. Sherman Plaza is just one part of a much larger effort to rezone and develop working-class neighborhoods in New York City. NMN4S first formed in January after Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a new rezoning plan. The plan, which took effect in March, cleared the way for up to 15 neighborhoods to be rezoned for residential growth or greater height and density. A hallmark of the plan is so-called Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), a requirement that developers include between 20 percent and 30 percent of below–market rate units in their new buildings. De Blasio has hailed it as major victory for his administration, and a key step toward slowing gentrification and increasing the city’s stock of affordable housing.
But neighborhood advocates object that the required percentage of affordable units is too low, that even those units may cost too much for low-income families, and that de Blasio’s plan will actually lead to more gentrification and displacement.