Jerome Rezoning Plans Slammed at a Spirited Public Hearing

Concerns over housing affordability and tenant displacement dominated Thursday night’s public hearing in the West Bronx, as local tenants, workers and activists grilled city officials on the proposed rezoning of Jerome Avenue.

About halfway through the evening at Bronx Community College, advocates piled into the hall toting signs, sporting bright orange and yellow t-shirts, and injecting an impassioned and, at times, angry energy into proceedings.

“This plan is nothing less than a snatch and grab,” said Karen Smith, a Bronx resident.

The city was holding a hearing to gauge public reaction to draft plans to rezone 73 blocks of Jerome Avenue, published in August. It says that the controversial plans will create thousands of new homes.

Audience members, however, repeatedly argued that the rezoning plans would not, as they stand, help existing local residents, but instead hike already high rents and empower abusive landlords.

“No one asked the city to come into my neighborhood. That’s like forcing your way into my apartment and making changes so that other people can come in,” said Carmen Vega-Rivera, a leader of the tenant advocacy group Community Action for Safe Apartments, known as CASA.

“Mi casa no es su casa,” she rallied to sustained applause, meaning “My home is not your home” in Spanish.

Pedro Estevez, President of the United Auto Merchants Association, also raised the likely displacement of Jerome Avenue’s car repair shop industry.

As speakers lined up at the microphone, sporadic chants of “Whose Bronx? Our Bronx,” and “Si se puede,” or “Yes we can” in Spanish, echoed under the hearing room’s vaulted dome roof.

One speaker, meanwhile was harangued after standing up in support of the rezoning.

Residents were organized by member groups of the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision, including CASA and the North-West Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. Unions including Laborers Local 78, which represents hazardous waste handlers, and 32BJ, which represents property services workers, were also out in force.

“The draft seems too dogmatic to me. Everything seems like it’s written in stone,” said Reverend Dr Raymond Rivera, President of the Latino Pastoral Action Center, another member of the Coalition.

Earlier in the evening elected officials and community board representatives had addressed a largely empty auditorium. All expressed support for the rezoning, with some reservations.

“Saying no isn’t going to build any more affordable homes,” said City Councilmember Vanessa Gibson, whose district covers the Southern part of the rezoning area. “The rate at which affordable housing eligibility is calculated, however, will need to go much further, with significant subsidies being made available.”

Concerns over public health, education, and disruption to public transit were also repeatedly raised.

Members of the public can submit written testimony to the Department of City Planning until 5pm October 10th.