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City Council rezones East Harlem to secures affordable housing

After three years of governmental fine-tuning and community input, the New York City Council adopted its rezoning plan for East Harlem on November 30.

The comprehensive plan for the neighborhood, which is also known as El Barrio among its predominantly Spanish-speaking residents, includes limits on building heights on major avenues and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, also known as MIH, provisions that call for the creation of 1,288 affordable units.

In conjunction with the rezoning, the city council also approved the Sendero Verde, which will bring 680 affordable housing units, a community center and charter school between East 111th and East 112th streets and Park and Madison avenues.

As part of its effort to revitalize East Harlem, the city also has committed to several major capital projects in the neighborhood, including a $101 million waterfront park between 125th and 132nd streets, $50 million in funds for the New York City Housing Authority sites, a $25 million investment into the La Marqueta space beneath the Metro North railway and greater access to Randall’s Island, among other things.

Holley Drakeford

Holley Drakeford, owner of the Drakeford Realty Group and an eight-year veteran of the Upper Manhattan real estate market, said the city’s rezoning will play an important role in keeping housing affordable in the neighborhood as new development rolls in.

With major developments, such as the Durst Organization’s massive apartment complex planned for 1800 Park Avenue, Drakeford said East Harlem is quickly becoming a target for developers now that much of the land in Central Harlem has been snatched up.

“Most people think of Harlem in terms of Central Harlem, that’s where you see all the action right now, but that areas almost completely built out at this point,” he said. “East Harlem is really going to blow up in the next five years, population-wise and commercial-wise.”

Drakeford, who also sits on the Harlem Community Development Corporation board of directors, said he foresees East Harlem becoming a destination for millennials because of its proximity to job centers, affordability and various transportation offerings.

“Western Harlem has been built out, Brooklyn is getting too expensive and people are having a hard time finding things downtown,” he said. “In central Harlem, it’s mostly homeowners but this area is mainly rentals and it’s generally a place for millennials. It still has great access to Manhattan with the Second Avenue subway, the 4 and 6, plus there’s the Metro North if you want to visit your parents in Westchester or Connecticut and there’s a bus that goes directly to LaGuardia airport.”

Despite the new housing stock and the influx of commercial development, Drakeford is confident that East Harlem’s longstanding cultural identity will not fall victim to the whitewashing forces of gentrification.

“I don’t think (this will lead to gentrification) because the culture in East Harlem is very strong, people speak Spanish at home, they watch Telemundo, they listen to salsa music, the culture is strong here,” he said. “I don’t see that being a real issue.”

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