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We were alarmed to read the city plans to all but eliminate design and architecture review for affordable housing, and to allow affordable housing developers to self-certify, according to a story in Capital New York. Believe it or not, some of the most beautiful new buildings in Brooklyn are found in areas such as Bed Stuy, Ocean Hill, Brownsville, and East New York, and it’s all affordable housing. We’ve long wondered why that is and now we think we know. We point to award-winning buildings such as the Saratoga Community Center at 940 Hancock Street and Camba Gardens in Flatbush, above, designed by Harden + Van Arnam Architects.

So expect affordable housing to start looking like the cheapest schlock imaginable — probably not even as good as the dreck that usually gets built in Williamsburg, probably more like cement-block Fedders buildings.

Also, we’ve seen a lot of abuses of the self-certification process for much smaller scale, private developments. If they are flagrant enough, they are eventually punished (architect Robert Scarano and the overbuilt monstrosity at 1882 East 12th Street in Homecrest by architect Shlomo Wygoda are two examples), but we suspect that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So we’re skeptical this is a good approach to take with affordable housing, where the pressure to cut costs is likely to be even greater and the beneficiaries less able to defend their interests.

We think it’s going to be a great loss for these neighborhoods, not to mention the residents. What do you think the mayor should do?

H.P.D. Plans Major Changes to Jump-Start Affordable Housing Development [Capital NY]
Rendering by Harden + Van Arnam Architects PLLC

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The mayor’s affordable housing and rezoning plan seems to be causing real estate speculation, which could make the plan difficult to carry out. Land prices for development properties in East New York have nearly tripled in one year, from $32 a square foot to $93 a square foot, reported The Wall Street Journal. (Though a careful look at the Journal’s accompanying graphic seems to show an unexplained spike in 2011.) The sample size was very small, as both the Journal and Gothamist pointed out, but affordable housing developers said land is already too expensive for them. Even if affordable housing is built, it could have unintended consequences, according to the story.

“The de Blasio administration wants to create significant new development in East New York but without price increases that push out existing residents. That could be hard to do. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment has risen 10% to more than $1,200 a month from $1,082 a month in 2012, according to Nancy Packes, a development consultant.”

Higher Land Prices Test Affordable-Housing Plan [WSJ]
City’s East New York Study Included Only Five Properties [Gothamist]

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By all accounts, Tuesday’s Community Board 9 meeting was a doozy. From what we can piece together from some half dozen accounts in the media and what others have told us, since we weren’t present, in short, a huge number of opponents of upzoning Empire Boulevard disrupted the meeting, and Community Board 9 members responded in kind. Total chaos reigned, with lots of shouting and name calling; the board could not keep order and fanned the flames.

CB9 District Manager Pearl Miles yelled “shut up” at the crowd repeatedly (there is a video), District Leader Geoffrey Davis refused to relinquish the microphone, and the police were summoned multiple times to keep order. (For a play-by-play, including an outrageous exchange between the crowd and District Leader for the 43rd Assembly Diana Richardson, read the story on Brooklyn Brief.)

Eventually, under pressure, the board took a vote on whether or not to rescind an earlier decision to study the rezoning. The vote to rescind passed, but then it turned out that it really didn’t, according to New York City rules for community board votes.

In the words of Q at Parkside blogger Tim Thomas, who favors the rezoning (or at least is not opposed to it):

Karim Camara and reps from every major official, from the Mayor on down, were there and they were absolutely floored, speechless. The guy from Yvette Clarke’s followed me out to the parking lot with eyes wide saying “how could you let this happen? this was INSANE!” I told him L’shanah Tova and rode home.

Meanwhile, upzoning opponent and MTOPP member Adrian Untermyer filed suit yesterday to get a copy of the community board’s bylaws.

At issue is whether Prospect Lefferts Gardens will rezone to end high-rise development, which has recently taken off in the neighborhood. Some residents blame tall buildings for gentrification while others say high-rise development will bring much needed affordable housing to the area.

CB9: Chaos and Cacophony Leave Empire Boulevard Vulnerable and Fate Uncertain [BK Brief]
If You Want To Know How Things Got Outa Hand…[Q at Parkside]
Wow. That Was Weird [Q at Parkside]
Correct That. The Motion Didn’t Pass [Q at Parkside]
Alicia Boyd: Proud Townhome Owner, Anti-Gentrification Activist [Q at Parkside]
Vote to Rescind Crown Heights Rezoning Study Sparks Confusion [DNA]
Residents Rip Proposed “Upzoning” on PLG-Crown Heights Border [NY Daily News]
Prospect Lefferts Gardens Residents Fight Rezoning on Empire Boulevard [Brownstoner]
Photo by DNAinfo

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The area around the massive Broadway Junction transit hub in East New York is desolate and dangerous. For the neighborhood to flourish, it needs more people on the street, according to yet another report on the area calling for its redevelopment.

Specific recommendations include:

*Create a more pedestrian-friendly environment.
*Close some roads.
*Consolidate land ownership.
*Repurpose the empty Long Island Rail Road substation into manufacturing and office space for “creative” companies a la Industry City in Sunset Park.
*Spur mixed-use development.

Redevelopment of the area would help the de Blasio administration meet its affordable housing goals, according to the report. Crain’s was the first to write about the report and its recommendations.

The document was authored by Urban Land Institute New York, a chapter of a D.C. think tank, and sponsored by the New York City Department of City Planning. The report stemmed from ULINY panels held over the summer.

Do you think this will work? And if it does work, who will benefit?

Broadway Junction Report [ULINY]
Dismal Bronx, Brooklyn Areas Have Potential [Crain's]

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After years of getting the brush off on requests to limit building heights in Prospect Lefferts Gardens to six stories, PLG residents, activists and community board members are now meeting with City Planning to consider how the neighborhood should be rezoned.

In addition to supporting a rezoning of Flatbush Avenue, pictured above during this past winter, that would limit building heights there to six stories, neighborhood group The Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP) opposes a brand-new move to rezone commercial district Empire Boulevard to allow residential, MTOPP President and PLG homeowner Alicia Boyd told us. (more…)

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As rents surge in Crown Heights, pressure is mounting on Community Board 8 to rezone again to permit housing in the industrial-only area there, if we read between the lines of a story by WNYC correctly. The story quotes one area business owner and one community board member who support the idea of permitting residential housing on top of factories. (more…)

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Several community groups dissatisfied with Brad Lander’s “Bridging Gowanus” planning meetings are organizing their own forum, called “Take Back Gowanus,” Wednesday night. Katia Kelly of Pardon Me for Asking writes that the purpose of the meeting is to “bring local residents, business owners, and manufacturers together for a true democratic discussion on the future of Gowanus. The goal of ‘Take Back Gowanus’ is to create a manifesto of what the community wants to see in the neighborhood they live and work in.” Neighbors and community groups felt that Lander’s meetings were “highly curated affairs” where facilitators stuck to scripts and didn’t engage in a real discussion, according to Kelly.

(more…)

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A surprising group of allies, in particular housing advocates, are urging Mayor de Blasio not to turn the city’s protected industrial zones — including hotspots in Gowanus, above, Williamsburg and Bushwick — into housing. There has been a tug of war over these areas for years, particularly in areas such as Bushwick and Williamsburg where illegal loft dwellings are common, and in Gowanus, over new developments in industrial areas. (more…)

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As the city contemplates rezoning in East New York and elsewhere, City Planning has released a study that recommends increasing density along major thoroughfares there while keeping residential side streets as they are — not unlike the rezonings along 4th Avenue or in Crown Heights.

The report bills itself as a study of how to increase safety, jobs and affordable housing in East New York, rather than being a guide to upzoning. The report notes that “the area’s existing rowhouses and small apartment buildings, located on the residential side streets between the neighborhood’s retail corridors, have been a source of stability” for the neighborhood. The report recommends “contextual zoning” to retain and promote these buildings and to “ensure that new infill development complements the existing built residential character.”

Meanwhile, the report recommends new, mixed-income housing and mixed-use development “along key transit corridors,” especially Atlantic Avenue. Vacant, derelict and under-used sites there are ripe for development, according to the report:

Provide opportunities for thousands of new housing units as well as for jobs on vacant or underutilized sites along key transit corridors in East New York. Atlantic Avenue offers the greatest potential for higher-density, mixed-use development with several large strategic sites. New housing and neighborhood stores could also be supported by the existing transit lines along Pitkin Avenue and Fulton Street. A wide range of resources, including housing subsidies and zoning mechanisms, could ensure that this new housing would be affordable to households at a range of income levels.

The City Planning Department also wants to bring jobs and higher-density housing to Broadway Junction. It hopes to increase safety on the streets for pedestrians with better sidewalks, traffic lights and other improvements. NY YIMBY was the first to cover the report; it recommended more density than City Planning calls for.

Do you think a rezoning and more density is the key to improving the quality of life in East New York?

Image by City Planning

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A reader sent in these photographs of the rally in Manhattan Friday calling for a temporary moratorium on high-rise construction along the east side of Prospect Park in Prospect Lefferts Gardens while residents try to downzone the area. Our tipster said she counted at least 75 people in attendance, although the photos seem to show fewer.

Speakers at the event included City Councilman Mathieu Eugene and Community Board 9 member Diana Richardson. The protest was organized by the Prospect Park East Network and cosponsored by the Lefferts Manor Association, Flatbush Tenants Coalition, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association.

(more…)

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The New York Times spoke to a few people in the areas most likely to be affected by Mayor de Blasio’s plan to upzone Brooklyn to construct more affordable housing. The gist of it is that people welcome new buildings if they are truly affordable, create jobs and are a reasonable height — four stories, not 40.

New housing should not overwhelm the neighborhood’s character, one resident, Tommy Smiling, said as he stood outside a bodega on Pitkin Avenue. In swiftly gentrifying parts of Brooklyn like Clinton Hill, where Mr. Smiling’s son lives, “it’s all brownstones, and then you have this skyscraper,” he said. “I’m not into that. Four stories? O.K., that’s not bad.”

Pardon Me for Asking Blogger Katia Kelly believes the plan is a giveaway to developers under the guise of affordable housing. “It’s, ‘The developers want to build — let’s tack on a couple of apartments here that are affordable,’” she said. Most interviewed said construction must be accompanied by appropriate increases in transportation, schools and sewers. The de Blasio plan allows for that, according to the Times.

For our part, we are concerned the plan could Manhattanize the outer boroughs without making a dent in affordability. Rezonings could produce a ton of ultra-expensive high-rise housing that will vastly increase housing costs in ungentrified areas such as along Atlantic Avenue and Broadway from Barclays Center and the BQE into East New York. (Above, Broadway Junction, where Broadway, Fulton and Atlantic intersect on the borders of Bushwick, Ocean Hill, Brownsville and East New York.) With no set proportion of affordable units, there could be opportunities for abuse and corruption. There’s also a practicality issue: How will the city have time to review every as-of-right development?

What’s your opinion?

With Caution, a Poor Corner of Brooklyn Welcomes an Affordable Housing Plan [NY Times]

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Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who grew up on Gates near Broadway, wants to upzone Broadway from Williamsburg to East New York. The proposal was buried in a recommendation to the City Council about a review of a six-story mixed-use housing project called Henry Apartments in Ocean Hill, reported The New York Daily News.

Adams envisions 10 story buildings with 50 percent market rate apartments, 30 percent middle income and 20 percent low income. The upzoned area would stretch for four miles from where the BQE crosses Broadway at Marcy in South Williamsburg to Broadway Junction in East New York, cutting through Bushwick, Bed Stuy, and Ocean Hill along the way. The stretch through Bushwick, Bed Stuy and Ocean Hill is dotted with empty lots from arson fires, looting and blackouts of the 1970s.

If the proposal succeeds, it will set off a huge land rush of development and gentrification along the corridor. However, we just don’t see how it would be possible to build comfortable apartments here. The J, M and Z trains run on an elevated track along exactly this path. Triple-paned glass and other measures don’t seem like they would offset the incredible noise and vibrations. Today, even with skyrocketing property values and rents pushing people into every imaginable cranny, there is still virtually no residential use of the corridor today, legal or illegal. Above the retail street level, the buildings are almost all used for storage or simply empty.

Above, an empty lot on Broadway in Bushwick. After the jump, another empty lot on Broadway in Ocean Hill/Bed Stuy.

What do you think of the idea? (more…)