by Denny Salas
The day after I lost my race for city council in the Democratic primary, I attended the first in-person community board meeting concentrating on rezoning NoHo/SoHo since the pandemic forced all meetings to be held virtually.
The crowd that day was rowdy and a little indignant at any individual or governmental agency espousing the benefits of creating more housing for working-class families. They shouted over governmental officials, disrupted their presentation, and would not allow supporters of the plan to express themselves.
It was not a welcoming scene.
Despite that environment, I stood up—and have continued since—to voice my support for the plan because, simply, it is the right thing to do.
In 2020, New Yorkers were exposed to the generational inequities that have befallen communities of color and have restricted their ability to achieve upward social mobility. One glaring policy that has been used is the creation of wealthy enclaves that limit the building of new housing—especially affordable housing—with the misconception that existing homeowners’ property values will be driven down due to the new housing stock and the occupation of working-class families, especially families of color.
This ideal is racist, but it has been ingrained in our social fabric since our nation’s founding. And all you have to do to realize how removing barriers in housing can help people is to look at my family’s story.
We grew up poor and with minimal resources, but when my siblings and I reached school age, my parents lied about our address so that we could attend a neighboring district with better schools.
That lie allowed us to receive a rigorous academic curriculum where my older sister is now a Ph.D. in Psychology and William Fulbright Scholar; my younger sister, who has a Masters in Economics, runs her own investment advisory firm; and my older brother, who speaks three languages, knows how to code, is a long-haul truck driver who was indispensable delivering much-needed goods across our country during the pandemic.
While running for city council during this past year, I was very fortunate to speak to several of my neighbors who opposed this rezoning. I understand their fears about NoHo/SoHo becoming a retail boondoggle, and if city planning makes the necessary adjustments of lowering the commercial density allowance in the current plan, then those fears will be alleviated.
I also learned why they moved to this neighborhood, why they love it, and why some stayed throughout the decades. And, in learning their stories, I have been made a better person and inspired by their journeys.
By rezoning NoHo/SoHo, these same residents can have a chance to inspire kids from working-class families like mine, provide access to better schools, and allow them an opportunity to achieve their American Dream.
It is time for all of us who posted a black square on Instagram or retweeted the hashtag #BLM to stand up and fight towards righting our past wrongs.
Here, in NYC, fight to remove exclusionary zoning practices so that working-class families can succeed.
Denny Salas was a candidate in the most recent Democratic Primary, running for the city council seat that represents our area, that is currently occupied by Margaret Chin and was subsequently won by Christopher Marte in the general election.