BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Nearly a dozen New Yorkers, tenant groups and fair-housing advocates brought a federal complaint Wednesday to protest a large development project that they say will further segregate North Brooklyn.
The hotly contested turf lies in what’s colloquially called the Broadway Triangle. As Williamsburg, Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant have undergone rapid gentrification over the years, residents say that the industrial strip of Flushing Avenue has served “as an unofficial but visible racial border.”
Though the area is zoned for heavy manufacturing, Harrison Realty initiated rezoning procedures in 2015 after it paid $12.7 million to buy the former home of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer at the intersection of Union and Flushing avenues.
Represented by Martin Needleman of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, the challengers say Harrison Realty and its owners at Rabsky Group have a track record for bringing only two kinds of developments: luxury housing in gentrifying areas, and housing that is “designed for and marketed exclusively to Hasidic families.”
Led by Churches United for Fair Housing, the challengers say in their complaint that New York City abdicated its obligations under the federal Fair Housing Act by refusing to consider how rezoning the Pfizer sites would affect religious and racial segregation.
Noting that the rezoning proposal sparked protests and multiple hearings, the complaint quotes Councilman Antonio Reynoso as voicing concern that it would displace black and Latino residents.
Community board members also flagged the disproportionate number of larger units that would benefit white Hasidic Jewish families over black and Latino families. The complaint notes that “the former are typically larger and require more bedrooms.”
The City Council announced it had reached an agreement with Harrison in October 2017 that addressed the community’s concerns by prescribing a specific combination of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units. But opponents say the agreement did not go far enough and still allows for too many large apartments.
The City Council’s eventual vote to allow the rezoning said only 287 of the units would be affordable, the “bare minimum” required under Mandatory Inclusionary Housing regulations, according to the complaint.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is named as a defendant to the complaint, “declined to veto” the approval.
“If allowed to go forward, the Pfizer Sites Rezoning will further segregate the Broadway Triangle and the surrounding area, and will have a disparate negative impact upon Black and Latino families’ ability to remain in or move into the neighborhoods of Williamsburg-Greenpoint, Bedford Stuyvesant, and Bushwick,” the complaint states. “Additionally, the gentrification caused by the Pfizer Sites Rezoning will raise rents and displace low-income people of color from the area surrounding the Pfizer Site.”
Last December, the city and several community groups reached a settlement after nearly eight years of batting over plans for the Pfizer site and a 2012 injunction that suspended the plan. Wednesday’s lawsuit reignites the fight.
Representatives from the mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation also declined to comment beyond what it put in the complaint.
In addition to the city and de Blasio, the complaint names Harrison Realty as a defendant. The Brooklyn firm has not returned a request for comment.