The de Blasio administration is preparing a rezoning proposal that could transform East Harlem, but local elected officials have their own ideas. NY1's Michael Scotto got an exclusive tour of the neighborhood from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and filed the following report.
Like some other parts the city, East Harlem is becoming unaffordable to many longtime residents. In an effort to keep them from being priced out, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has spent the last several months leading an effort to plot the community's future.
"We wanted the community to define what its needs are and what it would like to see happen," she said.
What they created is the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan, a set of recommendations aimed at getting ahead of a rezoning process expected later this year and building on the citywide affordable housing zoning plan Mayor Bill de Blasio is trying to push through the City Council.
Taking us on a tour of El Barrio, Mark-Viverito says she wants to slow forces that have resulted in the net loss of 350 low- and middle-income apartment units every year. She wants half of all new housing built in the neighborhood to be affordable, among other proposals.
"We want deeper affordability than what's been proposed, and that's something we're going to have to take into account and negotiate," the Council speaker said.
But her call for so much affordable housing means that new apartment buildings likely would be taller, which critics fear will destroy East Harlem’s character.
Mark-Viverito says there's nothing anyone can do to stop new construction.
"So the question is, do we want to let things stand and get nothing out of it, or do we try to get something, allow the density to happen, with a benefit to the community?" she said. "And I think to me, the answer is very clear. We got to get something for the community.
The character, she insists, can be preserved by protecting existing residents and small businesses. Her hope is to create zoning rules that will save mom and pop shops and keep big box stores out of the neighborhood.
The community will have the opportunity to weigh in on the recommendations at a meeting next Wednesday, a week before the final report will be issued.