Thursday, June 4

Roger Hernandez, Jr. On the City Planning Commission's Proposed Rezoning of East Harlem

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Testimony Submitted to Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, July 14, 2017

Dear Gale,
We are all engaged in a struggle—not to protect a way of life, but to protect our life itself. Our institutions are bankrupt. Our leaders are complicit. The East Harlem community is disillusioned and disenchanted with the entire process that has transpired over the past three years regarding the proposal to rezone Spanish Harlem which has minimized poor people’s future housing concerns in favor of promoting expensively funded false promises.
We are being priced out of our neighborhoods through a publicly financed plan that has already reached $41 billion dollars, and will require even more government money.  What forces are responsible for this massive financial sham?
It is time to name the disease. Most people can’t put their finger on the cause, but everybody sees the threat. The New York City real estate industry seeks to squeeze every last dollar out of a speculative market from renters who cannot afford to feed their insatiable appetite for more money.
It’s called GREED, and greed is a cancer. The only way to defeat this cancer is to radically transform our way of planning for community housing and our way of thinking about ourselves in a new paradigm that must be developed. The housing crisis requires a radical, transformational revolution—one in which we view the development of affordable housing as the responsibility of the entire community.
Why must we build higher than 12 stories?  We should protect our human-scale values by limiting zoning.
Can’t you see, Gale, that any benefits to the community are being eliminated by a plan to publicly finance expensive, high-density rental units in buildings too large to maintain effectively?
Increasing real affordable housing options for New York City’s low-income households can be achieved by shifting the emphasis from larger rental buildings to low-equity, co-operatively managed, human-scale developments that encourage residents/owners to be responsible for themselves and their community.
I can’t speak for all housing activists and advocates for affordable housing, but I do speak for thousands of co-operative owners of affordable apartments as a board member of Franklin Plaza Apartments—a Mitchell Llama project that has successfully served as a viable model for creating sustainable affordable housing in East Harlem.
In today’s economy, we are either owners or renters; producers or consumers—that is the language of the real estate market. Everything is for sale. Everything is commodified.
Developers are incentivized to seeks the highest profit, which means they have to lower wages and the cost of materials. They also have to control their areas of influence (i.e., government). This philosophy has led to the sort of confrontations that we now experience in New York City.
The addiction to such greed is further exacerbated by our failure to take action.
If we take responsibility (not the same as blame), then we can begin to change the way we relate to our community and the natural world—to other sentient beings, to the planet.
We must be empowered to act as owners of the City’s housing development plans. The selected crop of private developers must not be allowed to own and manage any publicly financed new apartment buildings—community residents should.
Please consider this. It’s not too much to ask, and it’s been successfully done before. Shift the paradigm, Gale. You can.
Thank you.
By Roger Hernandez, Jr.
Responsible Co-operative Shareholder for Affordable Housing

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