The City Council today voted by a wide margin to approve two major pillars of Mayor de Blasio's $41 billion affordable housing plan. The final vote was announced after a small group of protesters interrupted the proceedings, prompting a 15 minute recess. One protester was hospitalized, and there were no arrests.
Earlier this afternoon, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito reiterated her endorsement of the Mayor's plan, which aims to create and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade. The Council agreed to approve it with some changes last week, after a group of affordable housing advocates and unions who were among the plan's toughest critics formally endorsed it. "This plan is much stronger and more responsive to the concerns expressed [by constituents]," she said.
One tenet of the plan, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), requires developers to include a portion of below-market-rate units in their new residential projects. The second tenet, Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA), allows for taller building heights and less stringent parking restrictions in rezoned neighborhoods to generate more below-market-rate and senior housing.
The final vote on Tuesday was 40-6-1 for ZQA and 42-5-0 for MIH.
First distribution here at city council vote on rezoning pic.twitter.com/WgNbqwmcDE
— katie honan (@katie_honan) March 22, 2016
"We throw around the word historic a lot, and I really want to restate this: this is a historic day that will have an impact on New Yorkers and their lives for decades to come," said Councilmember David Greenfield, Chair of the Committee on Land Use. "When communities across the city said we could do better in affordability, we did just that."
The Council last week updated MIH with a fourth and deeper affordability option for developers—20% of units affordable for New Yorkers who make 40% of the Area Median Income [AMI], or roughly $31,000 a year. But protesters representing dozens of nonprofit organizations in the neighborhoods targeted for rezoning challenged on Tuesday that the affordability is not deep enough.
The mood in the chamber was light before protesters began chanting. Councilmember Donovan Richards praised Mark-Viverito for "putting the sexy back into zoning, which is really a hard thing to do," adding that, "With MIH we are creating affordable housing on the developer's dime."
But fewer than five City Council members had voiced their vote on Tuesday afternoon when proceedings were interrupted by chanting from the balcony: "City Council vote no, MIH has got to go!"
The interruption prompted a fifteen-minute recess, as councilmembers stood up from their seats, looking towards the balcony where a small group of protesters had superglued their hands together to resist expulsion from the chamber. One protester could be heard yelling, "They're breaking my arm!"
Twice, Mark-Viverito addressed the protesters through her microphone. "People have the right to their opinion, but we must do business in this chamber," she said. As City Hall security moved to pull protesters from the chamber, a general announcement was made: "No one on the floor taking pictures, you will be escorted out also. No photographers on the floor."
In her final address to the protesters, Mark-Viverito said, "We understand that this is a very passionate issue, and we do not take away from people who need to express themselves."
"We've given a lot of room for voices to be heard, and... as legislators we will not be able to meet the concerns of everyone," she added.
"We felt that it was important that the vote could not in any way, shape or form just go through the City Council without some form of protest," said participant Imani Henry, of Equality for Flatbush. Other participants stressed to Gothamist that they believed the plan as-written is poised to displace working class communities and, disproportionately, communities of color.
— Holly Dutton (@HollyDutton) March 22, 2016
East New York Councilmember Inez Barron voted 'no' to the plan before the ejections began, prompting applause from protesters in the gallery. "I appreciate all of the changes that were made [to the plan], but I do not think that it goes deep enough or broad enough to represent the people I represent," she said. "We have not done enough to address the 58,000 homeless people who live in this city."
Entire balcony being cleared out. One activist being held on the ground behind railing pic.twitter.com/05YMm1L04X
— katie honan (@katie_honan) March 22, 2016
Fort Greene Councilmember Laurie Cumbo voted yes to the housing plan when the voting resumed, after EMTs entered the chamber to attend to one injured protester.
"This is only a step. We cannot let good be the enemy of perfect," she said, adding, "We have to make sure we do not compromise the safety of people in public. We must conduct ourselves in a way that is safe." The council has resumed its voting, and we will update with the final count.
UPDATE: This piece has been updated to reflect the council's vote and additional comments from the council and protesters.