by Arimeta Diop for Politico

October 9, 2017


Thousands turned out in the rain Monday for a march and rally on City Hall to demand Mayor Bill de Blasio address their concerns over affordable housing and gentrification.

Community-based and church organizations like East Brooklyn Congregations and Metro IAF were among the lead organizers of the rally, voicing concerns about the mayor's affordable housing plan and long-held fears of displacement from typically low-income neighborhoods. The group was also joined by City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

But the main thrust of speakers were religious and community leaders from the neighborhoods who they say are the most threatened by rising rents and rapid development.

"New York City needs leaders who have creativity, who have commitment and who have courage," said Rev. Patrick O'Connor, head pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jamaica. "When we met with the mayor of the city of New York, the mayor ringed his hands and told us he wasn't sure there was much he could do. Do you believe him?"

Rally organizers called on the mayor to support a plan they presented during a recent meeting at Gracie Mansion. The plan includes expanding the definition of "affordable," rehabilitating NYCHA properties, and using NYCHA property to build 15,000 units of affordable senior housing — a major focus of speakers Monday.

"We’ve got to build housing for 15,000 seniors right now," Stringer said. "We cannot turn NYCHA development into luxury development. We need senior housing. The movement begins today."

De Blasio launched an ambitious program to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in the city, often by marrying rent-regulated units with market-rate development in order to attract private developers. The projects have been met with varying degrees of concern, with the most vocal opponents saying the mayor's plan falls short of protecting communities.

“The Mayor and agency commissioners have met with Metro IAF and made clear our interest in collaborating,” said mayoral spokeswoman Melissa Grace, in an email. “We share the same mission. When they’ve put forward concrete projects in the past — like the latest phase of affordable homes at Spring Creek — we’ve worked together to get it done.”

Speakers at the rally said residents still see the “tale of two cities,” de Blasio's signature rallying cry, as remaining the status quo in New York. The mayor, nonetheless, enjoys widespread support among black and Hispanic voters, many of whom live in the neighborhoods facing gentrification, and is expected to easily win reelection in November.

Those in the crowd expressed optimism that their demands and efforts would amount to improved affordability, but promised to keep protesting until they saw more signs of progress.

“We will keep on rallying until we make it clear: Bill de Blasio you better get behind this plan 100 percent or you will have a problem with the people of God,” Jeffries said in his final remarks.

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