Fighting for Inwood

Inwood Legal Action (ILA) is a group of community activists and other stakeholders from Northern Manhattan founded to pursue legal and civil action against the City’s Inwood rezoning. We are a constituent organization of Northern Manhattan is Not for Sale.

On August 8, 2018, the New York City Council passed a law upzoning many of the properties in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan. Inwood Legal Action contends that this upzoning, by allowing thousands of new luxury apartments, some in high rises as tall as 30 stories in this mostly 6-story neighborhood, will radically change the character of our neighborhood, and will displace current residential tenants and small businesses.

This loss won’t be equally felt by the entire community. Working class people, immigrants, Dominicans, other Latinx, Black people, and Asians will be forced out of the community as a result of the rezoning.

Another group of Inwood residents at risk of displacement are those tenants paying preferential rents. Tenants with preferential lease riders can legally be charged steep increases in rent, far above the level allowed for rent-regulated apartments.

More than half of Inwood residents live in rent-regulated apartments, and almost 30% of those are paying preferential rents. They are targets for landlords seeking higher rents and profits that come with the rezoning.

Rezoning allows much larger buildings with mostly market-rate, luxury apartments to be built, which creates financial incentives for landlords to do all that they can, legally or illegally, to raise rents on existing apartments, eventually deregulating them. The result is higher rents everywhere in Inwood and current residents priced out.

Inwood’s independently owned small businesses are also adversely impacted by the rezoning. Small businesses will be displaced as Inwood’s low-rise commercial buildings will be knocked down for much larger, high-rent mixed-use buildings.

The upzoning will also have a negative impact on quality of life and the environment. It will also affect safety by slowing traffic flow and thus police and fire emergency response times.

The City refused to study the impact of the upzoning on Latino and Black renters, minority and women-owned businesses, or on tenants paying preferential rents. We believe that the City deliberately refused to conduct such analyses because the conclusions would have exposed the lie that the rezoning was creating affordable housing for working class people.

We believe that the City knows that such studies would show that these groups would, over time, be wholly displaced, and replaced by higher income White residents, and large national chain stores.

The City promised affordable housing as part of its upzonings – but the City isn’t willing to subsidize housing that is Inwood-affordable. Instead, the upzoning will incentivize higher rents and exacerbate tenant harassment and will create new housing opportunities mostly for higher-income, primarily White households.

On December 10, 2018, in our first legal action against the City of New York, Inwood Legal Action filed an Article 78 Lawsuit in New York State Court. We are represented in this lawsuit by the civil rights lawyer Michael Sussman, known for winning the Yonkers desegregation lawsuit.

Our suit claims there were flaws and omissions in the impact studies done by the City. We are asking the court to find that the City’s decision to rezone Inwood was arbitrary and capricious, and not supported by substantial evidence.

Inwood Legal Action is now initiating a second legal challenge under the Federal Fair Housing Act, based on the negative impact that the rezoning has and will continue to have on housing choices for Asian, Black and Latinx people. We are represented in this Federal lawsuit by the famed civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

New York City’s willingness to turn a blind eye to the  racially disparate impact of its housing, zoning, and development policies is the common core issue in both suits.

At heart, Inwood Legal Action is a community-driven organization and is ready to take whatever legal steps necessary to protect the most vulnerable members in our community. That means calling out racially discriminatory housing and economic development policies that are driving longtime community members from their homes and crushing their ability to provide for their families and themselves. This rezoning is unfair, unjust, and –we believe– illegal.

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