Natasha Ishak

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Former city Councilmember Jumaane Williams, who now sits as New York City’s public advocate (until the general election for the seat in November), has made anti-segregation housing a priority. One of his first legislative conducts as public advocate: to introduce legislation that would prevent further segregation and displacement of residents of color.

According to a press release from Churches United For Fair Housing (CUFFH), which has worked with Williams before on a similar campaign in January, the legislation would be an amendment to the city’s administrative code to include a racial impact study (RIS) as part of the environmental impact study that is already required before housing projects take place.

The RIS would comprise of an analysis of direct and indirect racial and ethnic residential impacts of proposed rezoning or development projects to a neighborhood. More specifically, the amendment would require the racial assessment to “indicate whether the proposed project affirmatively furthers fair housing, as defined and required by the Fair Housing Act.”

An environmental impact study is already required before any housing project takes place. The racial assessment is merely expanding the scope of the assessment phase to include a race-based component to examine a development’s possible impact on the surrounding community. Given the city’s history with rezoning, and Bushwick’s possible rezoning, it’s an important step toward protecting local residents from getting kicked out of their own neighborhoods.

The RIS is primarily focused on examining whether a project specifically impacts residents of color, who are most vulnerable to displacement when these developments occur.

Proposed Bushwick rezoning plan. Courtesy of the DCP.

“Rezonings have had a net effect of speeding up gentrification. If people are going to be gentrified out, that should be paid attention to and studied,” Williams stated in the same press release. Williams has teamed up with City Council Member Rafael Salamanca to introduce the amendment in hopes of mandating a racial assessment into law.

This is the second piece of legislation that Williams has introduced since his election as public advocate.  

“If we do not confront racialized displacement head on, it is certain to continue just as it has in every rezoning we have seen in a low-income community of color,” CUFFH Network Director Alexandra Fennell said during the press conference.

“This legislation has the opportunity to be a powerful tool, to promote access to opportunity and affirmatively further fair housing, and CUFFH is excited to be part of introducing this bill today.”

Williams’ campaign for anti-segregation is nothing new. Back in January, Williams along with local elected officials like State Assembly Member Maritza Davila came together with community organizations to launch a racial impact study campaign. The campaign was geared toward pushing the Department of City Planning (DCP) to include a racial impact study in its environmental reviews for development projects.

Since the launch of the campaign, there has been no update from the department on its consideration to implement a racial impact study into its environmental assessments. If the new legislation passes city council, the department’s environmental reviews would have to include one in order for development projects to move forward.

CUFFH campaign for racial justice. Courtesy of CUFFH.

“Our communities of North Brooklyn have been demanding this for the last decade,” said Shekar Krishnan, who is Director of Legal Advocacy for Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A. “We are glad that Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has introduced the legislation today. It is a critical step in the struggle to stop the displacement and gentrification of neighborhoods of color.”

During the press conference, Williams told PIX11 that experts from the real estate industry were not consulted for the RIS proposal, but that their recommendations would be taken into account in upcoming hearings.

Last month, the DCP hosted two separate events to present its plans for the upcoming rezoning in Bushwick. During the most recent rezoning meeting, representatives for the department were unable to confirm whether they would include a racial impact assessment during its environmental review for the Bushwick rezoning.

Jane Meyer from the Mayor’s Press Office, stated on the topic: “We look forward to reviewing this legislation and working with our partners to promote equity and fairness. This Administration is fighting displacement with record levels of affordable housing, free legal services, rent freezes, and programs to combat harassment. Through Where We Live NYC, we are developing new fair housing policies to fight discrimination and build more inclusive neighborhoods.”

However, a racial impact study may not yield—or prevent—any change toward impacts on residents given that the DCP nor the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination do not reevaluate initial environmental assessments after projects have been completed.

Cover image courtesy of CUFFH.

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