The city’s environmental review method overlooks the residential displacement impact of development on New York neighborhoods, where socio-economic demographics are rapidly shifting through private and public rezonings, a new report finds.
During a city-initiated rezoning or project, the city must do an environmental review to understand and assess the impact a proposed project may have in the neighborhood. The review follows a Technical Manual as a guide—and the new report from Pratt Center for Community Development raises important questions about the manual.
The Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination is charged assisting city agencies to carry out environmental reviews in accordance with state and federal law and advises the mayor on environmental policies, according to its website. The City Environmental Quality Review or CEQR is mandated by the State Environmental Quality Review Act. According to the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination website, CEQR is a disclosure process and not an approval process. It helps support decisions made by agencies such as approvals of rezoning or variance applications, funding, or issuance of discretionary permits.
The Pratt report says, “Despite community groups vocalizing concerns and despite quantifying large numbers of vulnerable residents, recent Environmental Impact Statements have concluded that rezonings will not displace residents at a significant level.”
It refers to four problematic points in the CEQR Technical Manual. First, the technical manual dismisses the potential for inequitable impacts by race and ethnicity by not making a review of the impacts on race/ethnicity a requirement. Second, only low-income tenants living in one- to four-unit buildings are considered vulnerable to displacement because the technical manual does not consider rent-regulated units as vulnerable. Third, the potential for displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods is dismissed because, the Pratt report says, “…if rents are increasing in an area and presumably displacement is occurring, Environmental Impact Statement authors are to conclude it is not possible that a proposed action could make the situation any worse…”
And fourth, Environmental Impact Statement authors use their own discretion in determining a finding of significant impact. Says Pratt: “The Technical Manual provides specific guidance to analysts in some areas but when it comes to the most important aspect—the final determination—the manual is noticeably open to analysts’ subjective conclusions.”