The Van Dyke Houses in Brownsville are a huge NYCHA compex, consisting of 24 buildings. Recently, a $56 million public/private investment went towards constructing the first new development here in decades, a 100-unit supportive and affordable housing building designed by Dattner Architects for a vacant parking lot on the site. Of these apartments, 45 will be leased to NYCHA tenants through a site-based waiting list, 30 to formerly homeless families, and 25 to those earning 60 percent of the area median income. This last group is now available through the city’s housing lottery for $876/month one-bedrooms and $1,058/month two-bedrooms.
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Governor Cuomo announced a $1.4 billion initiative last week to bring resources like health care services and new jobs to Central Brooklyn. According to the governor, the plan, called “Vital Brooklyn,” will bring 7,600 jobs and more than 3,000 new affordable housing units to Brownsville, East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. And while Cuomo’s administration found these neighborhoods to be some of the most disadvantaged in the state, residents worry about the possible gentrification and displacement effects (h/t NY Times).
Through tools like rezonings, the city has been trying in recent years to increase affordable housing opportunities in lower-income Brooklyn neighborhoods like East New York and Brownsville, and the latter now has 86 brand new apartments available through the city’s affordable housing lottery. The units are part of the much larger Prospect Plaza development by Dattner Architects, which altogether will transform a 4.5-acre site into 364 units of affordable and public housing, as well as a 22,000-square-foot supermarket, 12,000-square-foot community facility, and a rooftop greenhouse.
The first batch of units to come online, located at 1740-1760 Prospect Place and 396 Saratoga Avenue, range from $689/month one-bedrooms to $1,181/month three-bedrooms for families earning between $24,995 and $63,060 annually. They’ll feature “exquisitely finished kitchen and bathrooms,” energy efficient appliances and fixtures, on-site laundry rooms, a fitness room, and parking for an additional fee.
Recently on the Brian Lehrer radio show on WNYC, Mayor De Blasio addressed questions about the effects inclusionary development–i.e. giving developers the green light to build market rate housing if they set aside 25-30 percent of the units for low- and middle-income residents–has on the quality of life in lower-income neighborhoods. A growing concern among housing activists is that reliance on this kind of inclusionary zoning leads to gentrification that pushes out the lower income residents due to the 70-75 percent of market rate units bringing new, wealthy residents and new businesses that will cater to them.
Image © Reed Young
Most of the reported stories out of NYC’s “inner city” (code for ‘hoods) are tragic ones. We hear about stabbings and shootings and neglected children struggling to survive. We hear of turf wars and rampant addiction and people generally unable to take care of themselves. And it is from these dispatches that certain neighborhoods become notorious, their reputations inflated by our fearful imaginations and general unfamiliarity along with a harsh reality that cannot be denied. To the uninformed, these are dangerous places, war zones, to be avoided at all costs, at least, until the sheriff of gentrification rides into town to dispense safety through the pacifying panacea of increased rents and artisanal pickles.
I like fancy pickles, though the idea of people being forced from their homes is troubling. But this is not a rant against gentrification; it’s a shout out to the “inner city” neighborhoods that may someday get gentrified. More specifically, it’s about the good folks that populate those neighborhoods who manage to hold down the ‘hood and live their lives with dignity in the face of tremendous obstacles.