Bobi Morgan Wood
On Saturday, Sept. 22, the long-awaited Bushwick Community Plan was released to a packed auditorium at the Academy of Urban Planning.
“If we don’t present the change, change gonna change us,” says Odolph Wright, parliamentarian of Community Board 4.
On Saturday morning, Wright sat at a cafeteria table with Robert Camacho, also of Community Board 4, before the opening remarks at the Bushwick Community Plan release where to begin. A diverse crowd filled the multi-purpose room, many greeting each other with warm hugs and familiar greetings in English and Spanish before they found seats around the cafeteria tables.
Bushwick residents and community organizations have worked along with council members and members of Community Board 4 since 2014 to develop the Bushwick Community Plan, a proposal which covers community needs holistically, from adequate, truly affordable housing, to jobs creation, accessible healthcare, recreation centers for youth, and resources for seniors.
Over the nearly four years, organizers say, some 70 community meetings and four community summits have been held to gather input from Bushwick residents and iron out exactly what the plan should contain. The Bushwick Community Plan in its current incarnation is a document of 73 pages, with objectives in 12 areas, outlining the myriad needs of Bushwick’s residents.
At the heart of the plan, though, is affordable housing.
Camacho says, “What we’re trying to do is downzone. It’s a scary word, but what we’re trying to do is not build the skyscrapers, like Manhattan. This isn’t Manhattan—this is Bushwick.”
“We’re trying to create deeply affordability…it’s not affordable for the people who lived there for so many years. A lot of people don’t trust the city. They want to make money; they don’t want to help the community… if we don’t do something, what happens? If we don’t do something, we may not get what we want. It’s a Catch-22. R-6, they (the city’s redevelopment plan) can do anything they want.”
Camacho continues, “How much do they make, Latinos and blacks? Let’s be realistic.”
“It’s a tale of three cities,” says Camacho, “The rich, the middle class, and the poor. But now, all you got is the rich and the middle class—they’re pushing the poor out. We don’t want M to R (Manufacturing to Residential) rezoning,” Camacho insists, “We want jobs. The only way we could do it is with deeply affordable housing.
Alex Fennell, of Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFF) says that the 2005 waterfront rezoning started today’s wave of redevelopment.
“Williamsburg kicked off waves of gentrification,” says Fennell. “There has been a wave effect that moved through Williamsburg so quickly, to what became east Williamsburg, which is East Bushwick. So many residents are facing really acute pressures.
“We provide direct services, and advocacy on housing policy,” Fennell explains,” so we see the overwhelming need for affordable housing, including displacement by landlords, tenants pushed out by rising rents, watching new high rises go up that they can’t afford and that are inaccessible to them.”
Council Member Antonio Reynoso spoke first at the event, telling the packed house, “The goal is the preservation of the character of the community.” Reynoso explained that the council members did not have voting rights on the Bushwick Community Plan; their role was to make sure [the community members] were respected. “I want to make sure that this is the first plan that gets pushed through, word for word. I want this to be the first rezoning plan that the community supports, not that the community fights,” he said.
Anne Guiney described to the listening crowd “a beautiful, difficult, long experience” of putting together the plan, which took “around five or six years”, starting in 2013, when Brooklyn Community Board 4 sent a letter to their council members addressing the development occurring in the neighborhood. Guiney described the process of attrition from 120 volunteers to those few whom she described as the “diehards” which include Community Board 4 members who were present on Saturday.
Fennell, in her comments to the packed house, explained, “this plan is about more than rezoning; we want quality housing and jobs.” She added, “because this is not the city’s plan, this is the community’s plan, there’s no guarantee we’re going to get what we want.”
Scott Short from Riseboro Community Partnership, speaking of the makeup of the room, said, “We’ve got black, white, brown, and everything in between.”
Short praised parts of the community plan calling for the creation of new, affordable housing, and higher buildings only if they contain either 100% or significant affordable housing.
“Rents must be geared to the incomes in Bushwick, not anywhere else,” Short insisted. He pointed out parts of the plan calling for “new money for attorneys, and tenant education, and to enact stronger laws to protect tenants, and increase enforcement to ensure that tenant’s rights are enforced.”
Jose Lopez explained to the crowd, “R-6 zoning doesn’t cap heights. If R-6 is what stays, over 6,000 new units will be built.”
Councilwoman Lydia Velasquez presented opening remarks, as did Kevin Worthington, Boris Santos, and Ingrid Ramos, who described herself as a relatively new Bushwick resident of four years.
Ramos would go on to man the Open Spaces table in the breakout sessions that followed the opening remarks, while Lopez manned the Land Use and Zoning Table.
The crowd dispersed to the cafeteria tables around the multi-purpose room to listen to presentations, read facts, and provide feedback on the long-awaited plan.
Patti Rodriguez of Mi Casa No Es Casa engaged in a passionate conversation with Anne Guiney, part of the Brooklyn Community Plan Steering Committee at one of the break-out discussion tables.
Rodriguez maintains that for the community to engage with the city by putting forward the plan is a mistake.
“It’s not really a community plan, it’s a nonprofit plan,” Rodriguez said, adding that she knows that the people on the nonprofits are drawing salaries, and therefore are not actually volunteers.
“We have no power,” says Rodriguez. “If you want to give them anything, give them the plan, without the land use.”
Rodriguez continued, “It’s going to be luxury developments, because that’s what’s happening in Inwood,” Rodriguez said, “How is this different than Inwood?”
“The community deserves these benefits. Why does it have to be tied to luxury housing? We already know how it happens, because they say it’s going to be affordable, but we all know it’s not. [Mi Casa No Es Su Casa’s] whole fight is, you can’t give the city anything, because we have no veto vote, and this is fulfilling the function of community engagement.”
Anne Guiney, part of the Brooklyn Community Plan Steering Committee, says that after today, “We continue the fight. It’s not part of some official time line, it’s not like the clock starts ticking. We want, not just a rezoning, but a full community plan.”
Kristina Naplatarski, Communications Liaison from the Office of Council Member Antonio Reynoso, informed the Bushwick Daily by email that “The Bushwick Community Plan (BCP) has already been submitted to the City. We are still awaiting their response, and we are hoping that the plan will go into ULURP (The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) as soon as possible. The City does not have a public plan, but we do know that they are not amenable to all of the recommendations outlined in the BCP.”
Guiney, like others echoed that at the end of the day, the city holds all of the power.
“The only power we have is to make hell of a lot of noise,” she said.
Photos by Bobi Morgan Wood