Last night the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development revealed a draft proposal for its Bed-Stuy Housing Initiative, the result of a year-long community procedure to address concerns in a neighborhood that is both quickly gentrifying and still struggling with disinvestment, deed theft and so-called “zombie houses,” abandoned properties with delinquent mortgages. On top of that, much of the new housing built in the neighborhood has been market rate, as prices for homeownership skyrocket. The crowd gathered in the community room basement of Restoration Plaza was overwhelmingly concerned with affordable housing.
“This is one of the last opportunities for the residents of Bedford Stuyvesant to be able to stay in Bedford Stuyvesant,” Community Board 3 District Manager Henry Butler told the audience. He was referring to a major part of the Bed-Stuy Housing Initiative: the city’s plan to develop five large sites across the neighborhood with fully affordable housing. Community input will inform the Requests for Proposals to come this year, according to HPD reps.
Perris Straughter, assistant HPD commissioner of planning and predevelopment, told Brownstoner that Bed Stuy was a “great opportunity” to address both preservation of existing affordable housing and engage the community on increasing the affordable housing stock. “What’s great about Bed Stuy is we have a fair amount of publicly owned vacant land which can be developed for affordable housing,” he said, “which is a major focus of this whole planning initiative.” He added the Bed Stuy community has expressed interest with the city to increase its affordable housing stock, which helped prompt the year-long community engagement.
HPD kicked off engagement for the Bed-Stuy Housing Initiative in January of 2019, with the city hosting roundtables for community partner organizations, a public workshop, resource fair and homeowner listening session. Between May and October, there was another roundtable and public workshop, along with preservation stakeholder meetings and a homeowner and property owner clinic. The HPD finalized its draft between September and January, in another series of roundtables and meetings. Last night’s public workshop was an opportunity for residents to review the draft plan and discuss plans for the five sites to be developed.
Large poster boards breaking down different aspects of the plan were set up in the basement hallway, with sticky notes to leave feedback. For the majority of the evening the crowd was split into two groups, one group going over the details of the draft plan with HPD reps and the others in small groups to discuss development for the five vacant sites.
For now, these sites are labeled by their location in the neighborhood: Myrtle-Marcy, Fulton-Utica, Fulton-Howard West, Fulton-Howard East and Fulton-Saratoga. HPD presented suggestions for each site, based on community feedback.
At Myrtle-Marcy, the goal is to “employ creative strategies for creating a setting where different social and cultural communities and practices are accommodated.” At Fulton-Utica, housing proposals will be encouraged to incorporate community facility youth and programming that engage local youth. At Fulton-Howard West, the site would ideally complement existing services as the Bed-Stuy Multi-Service Center, alongside additional community services for equitable economic development.
Fulton-Howard East will be the only site with affordable homeownership, with roughly 50 apartments available for purchase. HPD will conduct outreach for moderate-income, first-time buyers. Ground floor programming should also offer needed amenities in the neighborhood. Finally, at Fulton-Saratoga, development should focus on “community wellness and healing.” The site should also incorporate between 80 and 100 affordable apartments for seniors.
Every site will hold 100 percent affordable housing on the upper floors, with community activities and programming on the lower floors. All this development is expected to bring roughly 600 affordable units to the neighborhood, according to HPD.
On top of the new development, HPD identified five major goals that would inform the Bed-Stuy Housing Initiative. The first is enhancing resource delivery to homeowners and tenants, including a Bed Stuy Homeowners Manual, tenant clinics and recruiting local Housing Ambassadors.
The second goal is to support owners in financial distress and under pressure to sell, by expanding preventive outreach and resources for homeowners, expanding emergency financial assistance to prevent foreclosure, and offering home maintenance classes.
For the third goal, the HPD aims to promote safe and healthy housing, including improving conditions in the neighborhood’s NYCHA complexes, offering low-interest loans for home repairs, monitoring and enforcing maintenance of “zombie homes”, and identifying larger buildings with signs of physical distress.
The fourth is reducing housing speculation and illegal activity. Proposed strategies include targeted enforcement of illegal Airbnb hotels; engaging lenders, bank regulators and advocates to improve lending practices and disincentivizing speculative lending; and support the community to advocate at a state level for a “Cease and Desist Zone.”
The final goal is to create new affordable rental and homeownership opportunities on underutilized land. In addition to the five RFPs, HPD outlined other strategies such as partnering with local organizations and agencies like NYCHA to prioritize affordable rentals, utilizing small public sites to create affordable homeownership opportunities for first-time buyers, conducting targeted outreach to encourage affordable housing on underbuilt properties, and recruiting more Housing Ambassadors to help residents apply for affordable housing.
Butler said that Community Board 3, alongside local organizations, will actively engage the community to be sure local residents are applying for the affordable housing to come. “We want to get you ready to apply for these units,” he told the crowd.
There was concern from participants on how, exactly, the HPD planned to implement all its goals. HPD reps stressed that this is still a draft plan; the official Bed-Stuy Neighborhood Plan is expected to come in March followed by RFPs for some of the vacant city-owned sites.
There are still details to work out: While HPD is considering affordable rentals between 30 percent and 100 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), Housing and Land Use Chair Cynthia Doris Pinn told Brownstoner she was pushing to keep units capped at 80 percent AMI.
2020 will bring another community roundtable, public workshop, and an affordable housing development info session for faith-based and local property owners. You can follow the rest of the planning process here or reach out with questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Of course, people are nervous about the community changing very quickly, but everyone’s very passionate about this neighborhood and invested in what happens here,” Straughter told Brownstoner. “There’s excitement that it can remain affordable and also improve.”
[Photos by Emily Nonko]
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