Pratt Center

September 17, 2018

New report reveals sleight of hand behind displacement measurement and how it fails communities of color


Calls on Charter Revision Commission to lay the groundwork for comprehensive anti-displacement policy and revamped development procedure


Brooklyn, NY -- As the City Council's Charter Revision Commission prepares to hear testimony from the public tonight, Pratt Center for Community Development released Flawed Findings: How NYC’s Approach to Measuring Displacement Risk Fails Communities, a report uncovering the major flaws in the City's process for calculating neighborhood displacement.  The risk of increasing residential displacement has become a major issue in city efforts to rezone many neighborhoods. Building on original thesis research conducted by Pratt Institute graduate student Renae Widdison, the report places a spotlight on the need for a comprehensive, citywide anti-displacement agenda and a revamped approach for assessing displacement risk.

Indirect residential displacement—the involuntary movement of residents due to rising housing costs and other changes in socioeconomic conditions—has dominated community input during the recent Housing New York rezonings in East New York, East Harlem, Jerome Avenue, Downtown Far Rockaway and Inwood.  The report examines the residential displacement analyses of five de Blasio neighborhood-wide land use actions in low-income communities of color, echoes and expands upon community commentary and exposes the methodological flaws in the City’s process, calling into question the basis on which development proposals are approved.  

The City’s official environmental review of indirect residential displacement fails to adequately approximate the scale and extent of the potential threat through four major flaws:

  1. The analysis fails to examine inequitable impacts by race and ethnicity.
  2. Only low-income tenants living in 1-4 unit buildings are considered vulnerable to displacement, excluding all residents in larger buildings from the analysis.
  3. Residents of already gentrifying neighborhoods are unequivocally dismissed as not being vulnerable to displacement.
  4. Environmental Impact Statement authors have wide discretion on determining a finding of significant impact, even if stated thresholds are exceeded, particularly for actions that include Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH).

The report comes at a time when there is a growing spotlight on displacement, gentrification, and the City’s role facilitating both through public policy decisions.

“These flaws lay bare the larger failings of the City's approach to housing policy.  Displacement is occurring across the city in neighborhoods with and without large-scale new development, and this process has not been studied to understand the extent and root causes, or even fully acknowledged. The City needs a citywide displacement risk analysis that informs a comprehensive anti-displacement policy and the Charter Revision Commission should establish a framework that requires a comprehensive look at planning to facilitate the crafting of solutions.”  

ELENA CONTE, Director of Policy, Pratt Center for Community Development

According to the report, these flaws result in communities unfairly bearing the burden of undisclosed and unaddressed displacement pressure, and may exacerbate segregation. Community-based organizations who have offered extensive evidence about the ways the City’s process does not take into account their first-hand lived experiences and have been leading efforts to craft solutions offered their perspectives.

"The City's antiquated and distorted CEQR Technical Manual’s approach to evaluating residential displacement MUST and SHOULD be revamped immediately. All local residents must be included and counted in, regardless of economic status and the number of units per building, as to how they are being impacted and affected (directly and indirectly), by local rezonings and gentrifying neighborhoods. NYC should convene a Task Force of technical and community experts to revamp the CEQR Technical Manual’s approach to evaluating residential displacement." 

CARMEN VEGA-RIVERA, Community Action for Safe Apartments New Settlement Apartments (CASA) leader.

"Pratt's report confirms the experience of the Coalition for Community Advancement: Progress for East New York/Cypress Hills (Coalition) during the East New York Re-zone. In response to the City's Draft Environmental Impact Statement and in the year before ULURP, the Coalition called on the City to acknowledge that the East New York re-zone could displace tens of thousands of current residents. The tools and formulas of CEQR didn't require the City to do so. CEQR didn't require the City to consider the ways that neighborhood residents were specifically vulnerable: living in unregulated housing, with extreme rent burden, on fixed incomes, and without other affordable neighborhoods to move to. The City must measure potential direct and indirect displacement more accurately. There's too much at stake."

ALBERT SCOTT, JR., Coalition for Community Advancement: Progress for East New York/Cypress Hills

“Displacement doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of growth.  The human toll and costs to communities, much less tax payers, are reasons enough for the City of New York to accurately assess the risk of displacement from public and private land use actions. Fifth Avenue Committee has seen first-hand in our community how City-sponsored rezonings can lead to the loss of affordable, rent stabilized housing, and the displacement of low income people and how that loss wasn’t evaluated, prevented or mitigated.  Pratt Center for Community Development’s analysis of how the City’s own environmental review consistently fails our communities, especially low income communities of color and their residents, amplifies the alarm that local advocates have been sounding for years.  It is long-past time for the City of New York to accurately assess and address displacement risks as part of our environmental review and land use processes”

MICHALLE DE LA UZ, Executive Director of Fifth Avenue Committee

“These flaws amount to a total failure of the environmental review process to effectively assess and disclose socioeconomic impacts. For years, communities facing major development projects have suffered under false findings of ‘no adverse impact.’ We need a major overhaul of the analytical methodology that begins with City government taking seriously the fact that low-income New Yorkers are being pushed out of their homes. If we are going to address displacement, we need to understand how and where it’s happening.” 

RENAE WIDDISON, Researcher and Co-Author, Flawed Findings