“You are the Aunt Jemimas, you are the Uncle Toms that have showed us that you don’t stand for the people who put you in office!” bellowed Sikhulu Shange, a member of the Coalition to Save Harlem and a local business owner who was part of a small but vocal group of Harlemites who made the trek downtown to tell off their elected officials before the city council’s vote on the plan to rezone 125th Street.
“Traitors!” another man interjected, as others held up posters demanding the recall of city Councilmembers Inez E. Dickens, Robert Jackson and Melissa Mark-Viverito, the three Harlem representatives who have pushed forward a modified version of the rezoning plan.
Their protests continued inside, where many were removed by police officers after refusing to quiet down; Their cries of “sellout” and “liar” were disrupting the city council’s vote on the rezoning. Ultimately, the council voted overwhelmingly for the plan, which will change the face of 125th Street from river to river.
The rezoning has stirred months of rallies and protests, which Harlem’s city councilors had hoped to quiet after they made significant modifications to the plan last month. At the 11th hour, Councilwoman Inez E. Dickens, whose district encompasses the commercial core of 125th Street, brokered a deal that lowered maximum building heights from 29 stories to 19, mandated significantly more affordable housing, and called for the renovation of the community’s beloved Marcus Garvey Park.
While the modified plan sounds good on paper—the 46 percent affordable housing clause has been hailed repeatedly as an unprecedented—opponents say it’s largely smoke and mirrors.
“It’s bogus,” says Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, a member of the Coalition to Save Harlem. “It’s typical of a kind of politics that seeks to promote a system of exchange like, ‘you buy our neighborhood, but make sure our park is renovated.’ The renovation of Marcus Garvey Park is a real red herring. We never heard people ask for that.” Rather, Rhodes-Pitts says that during community board hearings and public meetings, residents expressed a desire for assurances that real jobs—not part-time, minimum wage positions—would be brought to the area, and that the “affordable housing” would be actually affordable to Harlem residents with a median household income around $22,000. In the modified plan, only about 200 of the out of a proposed 3,858 units would be set aside for families earning $28,520 and less. “If you look at what people wanted and what’s in her compromise, there is no connect,” Rhodes-Pitts said.
Others claim that the 46 percent affordable housing, considered the biggest win for Councilwoman Dickens, is misleading. Julius Tajiddin, who sits on Community Board 10’s housing, land use and landmark committees, has demanded clarifications about the additional affordable housing that was added to the plan, but has so far received no response. His questions arose after reading a memo to Councilwoman Dickens that indicates some of the added “affordable” units will be built outside the area to be rezoned. One of those sites, where 300 units of affordable housing will supposedly be built, is actually at 131st Street and Park Avenue, six blocks from the 125th Street rezoning.
Essentially, said Tajiddin, rather than mandating that developers building luxury condos along 125th Street include more affordable units, the modified plan simply grabs nearby projects—city-owned sites already slated for affordable housing —to inflate the total number of affordable units. (It remains unclear how many of the additional “affordable” units will be outside the rezoned area.) “This plan stinks,” he concluded.
The opponents don’t plan to let up. One neighborhood group, Voices of the Everyday People, has asked for a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of the plan. They will be in court next week to argue that the way the modified plan was approved violated the community’s right to due process. Meanwhile, another protester told the Voice that the calls of “liar” and “traitor” will be heard again soon—at Councilwoman Dickens next fundraiser.