Ryan Jacobs has lived in East New York for 22 years. Jacobs drives a cab and lives in a one bedroom apartment with his wife and three children. “I’ve been trying to look for a different apartment, but it’s already too expensive in East New York,” Jacobs says. In 2013, he voted for Mayor Bill de Blasio, inspired by his rhetoric against the city’s increasing inequality. Yet today, Jacobs is opposed to the mayor’s signature affordable housing plan.

“When I first moved here in ‘94, telling people you lived in East New York was like telling people you lived in Baghdad. When you slept in your house, you would position your family to be away from the window because of shooting,” Jacobs told us. “And just when it’s turned a corner, here comes de Blasio with a plan that’s not going to include the people who lived and survived in East New York. That’s what we have a problem with.”

A large part of de Blasio’s plan hinges on the rezoning of New York’s low-income, gentrifying Black and Latino neighborhoods, including the South Bronx, East Harlem, and East New York. The mayor says the rezoning is necessary to expand his affordable housing plan, which set an unprecedented goal to build or preserve 200,000 units of below-market-rate housing by 2025.

Some of the mayor’s most vocal affordable housing critics recently changed course to endorse his vision, and the City Council has agreed to approve a version of the zoning initiative; a full vote is expected later today.

Yet Jacobs is worried that most of this “affordable” housing will only be affordable for middle income residents and will serve to accelerate gentrification.

Based on what the real estate industry is saying about his neighborhood behind closed doors, Jacobs has good cause for concern.

“I was talking to a gentleman yesterday who was very bullish on East New York,” developer Andrew Miller of Novel Property Ventures told a room of his peers in November. “There are definitely people that are very, very excited to pioneer these neighborhoods.”

Miller was speaking on a panel at the annual Brooklyn Real Estate Summit, a gathering of “the top retail, condo, multifamily and office players in the Brooklyn market” that was held at the Brooklyn Museum. Tickets cost $549, and former Governor Eliot Spitzer was one of the event’s keynote speakers. The summit also attracted protesters, one of whom characterized it as “vultures descending on the city.”

One attendee who studies real estate provided Gothamist with audio of the event and requested anonymity out of fear of losing their job. The attendee said they were concerned about the potential consequences of de Blasio’s housing plan.

At a panel entitled “Take Hints From the Subway Map,” Jim Stein of Lincoln Property Company described East New York in the context of previously gentrified neighborhoods.

“Look, as far as East New York goes, you know 40 years ago people weren’t going down to SoHo, 30 years ago people weren’t going down to the Lower East Side, and 20 years ago they certainly weren’t going down to Williamsburg or Bushwick or any of these types of neighborhoods,” Stein said. “It does suffer for some problems that are typical for progress, but it’s supply and demand, and it’s price.”

At a panel called “There Goes the Neighborhood,” Jordan Sachs, co-founder and CEO of Bold New York, talked about how gentrification has changed his client base.

“Our renter is no longer the down and dirty Brooklynite,” Sachs told the audience. “It's Cindy from Long Island. Her mom says, ‘You have to live in a doorman building.’ Well hey Mom, here's a website for the walk up. All of a sudden, a lot of barriers to entry are eliminated—virtual doorman, we can check off so many boxes now at very little cost to the owner.”

Throughout the day, developers framed these new projects in minority and low-income neighborhoods as the inevitable path of city development—an expectation that many progressive groups hoped would be countered by the 2013 election of Mayor de Blasio.

“I think the most interesting neighborhood for me is Gowanus,” said Brendan Aguayo, a director at Halstead Property Development Marketing, speaking of one of Brooklyn’s most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods.

"But I think that the most exciting neighborhood is Greenpoint. I think if you look at that waterfront, it's essentially a blank slate. Everything from Toby Moskovits' project, which is commercial, all the way up to our project, Greenpoint Landing, which, basically the entire waterfront is going to fill in all the way up to Long Island City."

Richard Mack of the Mack Real Estate Group, shared his trick for spotting “grittier” neighborhoods that are ripe for development.

"We're looking for places where there are bike lanes, but more importantly where people are riding fixed-gear bikes,” Mack tells the laughing crowd.

"Now I know that sounds funny, but go to downtown Seattle, go to downtown Los Angeles, go to the grittier neighborhoods of San Francisco, and you're going to see a disproportionate amount of fixed gear bikes. You may laugh but commutation patterns by bicycle are changing the way cities are developed. And if you go to the Navy Yards in the summer, look at how many people are riding bicycles compared to a few years ago.”

These blunt assessments from real estate developers shouldn’t come as a surprise—the mayor has been very clear that for-profit developers would be integral to his vision.

“The goal is to harness the private market,” Vicki Been, the head of NYC’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, told reporters in February.

A City Limits analysis concluded that de Blasio’s affordable housing plan is designed to offer developers who set aside 30% of units for families making 60 percent AMI ($46,620 for a family of three) a generous financial yield of 8.7 percent.

At a recent City Council hearing, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen argued that if the percentages of lower-cost apartments were set too high, developers would not have an incentive to build. “30 percent of zero is zero,” declared Glen.

“There is no requirement in law that the city must guarantee the profit margins of developers — that’s a matter of policy — but the logic of the city’s housing policy has the city trapped,” argues Tom Angotti, a Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College.

“Once you accept the false premise that the only way to get affordable housing is to let developers build market-rate housing and make so much money that they can allow some ‘affordable’ housing, you’re in the developers’ laps."

Over the last two years, only 16% of the “affordable units” thus far built have gone to New Yorkers, earning less than $25,150 a year, according to a study done by the Real Affordability For All coalition.

Last week, the City Council amended the mayor’s plan to set aside one fifth of new apartments to tenants making 40% of the Area Median Income (AMI), or $31,075 for a family of three.

“How does that qualify as "affordable housing in neighborhoods like Flatbush where the average median income is only $39,000 a year?” says Imani Henry, a Brooklyn resident involved in Equality for Flatbush and the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network. “This is why we ask, ‘affordable for who’? It has to be affordable for us. The vast majority of the people in New York City will not be able to live here if the mayor's plan is allowed to go forward.”

Many community activists across the city reject the housing plan altogether, pointing out that any influx of luxury housing into their neighborhoods, even when mixed with affordable, is bound to amp up gentrification. The plan was rejected by 50 of 59 impacted community boards, and four of the five borough presidents.

“We don’t care about the percentages, the crumbs de Blasio is offering us,” says Henry. “We are not for luxury housing period. This is a whole new wave. In Flatbush, real estate agents have told me they aren’t even allowed to rent to Black people anymore. Landlords want to flip everything here and kick us out to New Jersey."

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Mayor de Blasio with Vicki Been (left), the commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office)

In 2013, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio won on an anti-gentrification platform. “I see people suffering and feeling like they're losing their grip on the place, and my job is to help New Yorkers live in New York. It's not to clear the place out and see it fully gentrified,” he told voters. From the beginning of his career as a city politician, however, de Blasio enjoyed a far cozier relationship with the real estate community than many expected, particularly with developers working on projects in the city’s gentrifying outer boroughs.

As a city council member, Mr. de Blasio “helped purge” community boards in his Brooklyn district opposed to a massive luxury condo, earning him favor with the prominent developer, Forest City Ratner (whose executive vice president for development spoke at the real estate summit), and a reputation as a “pragmatic” progressive. By the time, de Blasio was gearing up to run for mayor, many developers affiliated with the New York State Association For Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH), a trade group, were sending personal contributions to de Blasio, who few expected to win, polling fourth for nearly a year.

According to a Gothamist analysis, in the months before de Blasio became a frontrunner, some real estate players affiliated with NYSAFAH gave big to then Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. Some, like Gilbert Winn of WinnCompanies, maxed out at New York City’s personal contribution limit of $4,950.

But these individual contributions were only a fraction of the sums de Blasio received from real estate bundlers, the intermediaries who solicit contributions from friends on behalf of a candidate. Here too, some of de Blasio’s biggest early contributors in these early months, were NYSAFAH developers such as Forest City Ratner and L+M development, which gave de Blasio $13,600 and $13,850 respectively.

As it became clear that de Blasio was surging past his fellow Democrats into the general election, more traditional Manhattan-based developers began switching their giving to de Blasio. After de Blasio's primary triumph, affordable housing developers from NYSAFAH knew the moment was theirs. NYSAFAH board chair Lisa Gomez of L+M Development Partners and Donald Cappocia, another de Blasio donor, had announced their plans to create a $150 million fund for affordable housing projects—months before the general election.

And after the election, real estate money continued to roll in. According to Politico New York, between December 2013 and September 2015, the mayor’s non-profit political arm raised $3.87 million with half of the donations coming from real estate companies.

Taking office, de Blasio did not disappoint—he picked Alicia Glen, a former director at Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group, which has an employee on the NYSAFAH board, to run his housing policy as Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, and re-appointed Goldman alum Kyle Kimball to head the city’s Economic Development Corporation, one of the few holdovers from the Bloomberg era.

Prior to becoming Deputy Mayor, Glen and her colleague Vicki Been, de Blasio’s head the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, also sat on the board of the Moelis Institute, a real estate think tank full of NYSAFAH members and de Blasio donors.

As a result of these picks, the de Blasio housing team has fostered close relationships with NYSAFAH developers on their neighborhood “revitalization” projects, and intends to make them a big part of his housing plan. As Mayor De Blasio declared at a 2014 speech to NYSAFAH, outlining his housing vision, “... I have a real personal sense of connection and appreciation, and a sense of how central your work is to this city, and I guarantee you, it's about to become a lot more central.”

Indeed, for NYSAFAH developers like Dunn Development, business has boomed since de Blasio took office. With help from the city, the developer has expanded into neighborhoods like Washington Heights, Claremont in the Bronx, and East New York.

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Mayor de Blasio with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen (center), breaking ground on Livionia Commons, a Dunn Development project, in 2014 (Mayor's Office)

Last year, Dunn Development completed a $90 million mixed-income development in East New York with prominent de Blasio donor L+M and millions in capital financing from two city housing agencies, according the Mayor’s Office.

Over half of the units will be set aside for families earning less than 40% and 50% of the area median income—roughly $34,000 and $43,000 for families of four. But in East New York, where the median income is only $32,362 a year, many of these units will be out of reach for locals.

Residents fear the affordable housing plan will bring in more of these city-supported deals, gentrifying their neighborhoods in the process.

“During his election campaign de Blasio made a lot of promises,” says Jacobs, the East New York resident. “He said he was going to end the tale of two cities, but we didn’t realize that would mean he would forget about the one side of the tale.”

Asked to speak on the developers' comments, the mayor's connections to developers, and concerns about gentrification, a spokesman for the Mayor's Office, Austin Finan, sent this statement:

“Our housing program is the most progressive in the country because it actually mandates that developers create the affordable housing our city so badly needs, not simply build more luxury condos. And the benefits are already being witnessed—in just two years, Housing New York has already created more affordable homes for extremely-low, very-low and low-income New Yorkers than under the last five years of the Bloomberg plan.”

In a statement, Jolie Milstein, president & CEO of NYSAFAH, says that

NYSAFAH members have been producing affordable housing for many decades and through many mayoralties. Our commitment to solving New York's affordable housing crisis will not change, regardless of who is in office. The affordable housing crisis is a result of years of federal inaction and diminished funding: it is not a problem that any single mayor can immediately fix. Mayor de Blasio's rezoning plan will help increase the production of affordable and senior housing and we will continue working with his administration to do that.

The mayor’s housing plan now seems inevitable, and its tepid affordability requirements have left many of the city’s progressive and labor forces in the awkward position of either taking on a mayor who they thought was on their side, or joining him as the Real Affordability for All Coalition recently did.

Outer borough developers, on the other hand, have celebrated the plan and may finally be seeing their considerable influence in de Blasio’s housing team come to fruition.

“There’s this new class of people that want to be first adopters, and I think there’s a demand for being the first group out there,” Jordan Sachs of Bold New York told attendees of the Brooklyn Real Estate Summit of potential of the Bronx.

When another panelist pointed out that over a million people already do live in the Bronx, Sachs clarified: “I should have phrased it differently, you know, there’s a different type of consumer that wants to be a pioneer there.”

For Jacobs, this kind of language proves that the only path forward is resistance to the mayor’s plan.

“Mayor de Blasio was using the poor to be elected, but he was never living their reality. We have to resist this. This is our dwelling. If you take away our home, we have nothing else left.”

George Joseph is a New York based reporter, writing about schools, police, surveillance, and cities. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Intercept, and The Nation.