The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Hello All Renters - It's Al Jazeera Calling

A producer from Al Jazeera is doing a piece on the rent crunch in the U.S. Many of you I'm sure saw the NY Times piece on rents rising beyond middle class incomes?

Al Jazeera, of course, is the Qatar based news agency that has grown substantially into a worldwide powerhouse.  Most of us became aware of the network when it covered the aftermath of 9/11 and the Afghan and Iraq wars waged by the U.S. They often provided a counterbalance to pro-Western accounts. To its credit, the government owned Al Jazeera often surprised folks by going out of its way to produce "fair and balanced" reports, not always of course. But then even our own "fair and balanced" network doesn't always adhere to its dictates either.

The irony of course is that just a few months ago I posted my allegory of a mostly white middle-class neighborhood (Lefferts of the future) being overtaken by Qataris in search of cheaper rent near the Park - The Qatarification Quandary. The combination of these two thangs has made me think, in toto, of Qatar 100 times more than I ever had before, though I've always been fond of the Arab country's spelling, though of course it's no use in the traditional rules of Scrabble. On a semi-non-related note, I've always been annoyed by the use of the phrase in toto, when a nearly exact same sounding English phrase, in total, can be used. Sometimes, I guess, it pays to sound haughty.

Lori Gordon is the producer's name. If you or someone you know would be willing to speak to her for her piece on the rental crisis, please email me and I'll make the introduction. 

71st Precinct Newsletter - Let's Get Rid of Graffiti!

From Vinnie and the 71st. I reordered it so you can see the graffiti part first.

Please, if you see graffiti you want removed, email Richard Silverstein of Community Affairs. The City is offering us a great deal...take a picture and tell them exactly where it is, they'll deal with it. We need your help to get rid of the nasty writing on the wall and gates!


Best Regards From Your Council Leader

PLGNA General Meeting - All Welcome - April 28

A few years ago, five or so I believe, a group of your neighbors worked together to revive a 40-year old neighborhood association, pronounced PLeGNA. Anyone can be a member - I think I paid a $5 lifetime membership at some point, but that's not the point. A Board was elected and the group set out to address problems and set solutions in motion. Come to the general meeting on Monday, April 28 to hear what PLGNA's been up to, learn more about neighborhood organizing efforts, and elect new Board members. Your participation is what makes groups like this thrive and become more adept at representing your views on the City's many influential stages. This is a town where groups like PLGNA can wield great influence, when properly managed and supported. In a City this size, it's hard for individual voices to break through the static. A strong neighborhood org can get a seat at every important table. And various committees are busy addressing things that you may have an interest in. The meeting is open to all:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Way To Ruin A Perfectly Bad Paint Job

Someone decided to whip out their sharpie and give commuters at the Q at Parkside some harsh morning medicine. The following statements are not the mottos of a movement, so I would take them with a grain of salt. To the easily rattled I would say that our neighborhood is, as we've learned, the most densely populated in the borough, and the actions of any one person don't a movement make. And yet, you can't help but note the timing. Part of me wanted to ignore it on the blog, which of course is what's really warranted. But, for the sake of the history books, here's the gallery:

I don't mean to make light. But the double exclamations mean this one actually emphatically states that white people ARE allowed.

If I had to pick one this would be my favorite.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Folks, This Is Not Sustainable

I know a lot of y'all are tired of all the talk about 626 Flatbush. But as I've said many times it's really an oversized stand-in for everything that's going on all around us. In another life, the Q might have been an economist, because I'm endlessly fascinated by the workings, and failings, of capitalism. I stopped reading the sports pages years ago when I noticed that the world of money was, for me, infinitely more entertaining. So I notice things, and sometimes, I become as perplexed as a lifelong Met fan.

A couple of years ago I first started noticing the degree to which our affordable neighborhood was becoming unaffordable to people of my own income level, the one that (obviously) I'm most familiar with. Mrs. Flatbed and I bought a small rowhouse in 2003 on a rough and tumble block, and to make the mortgage we had to pay almost twice what we were paying for rent in le hot South Slope. So while it's still a stretch for us now with two kids and mostly just one income, for the time being, we can just about afford it. I hope we're earning the least we'll earn during our working lives, while the little ones need lots of attention. But you never know. Do you? Heck there were years when I made $5,000 and got by, though there was a lot of cash coming in and going out. Ah, to be young and brash in the '90s.

When we first moved here in 2003, you could still get a one-bedroom for just shy of $1,000. I know because I kept on eye on it, on and around our block anyway. A two bedroom could be had for $1,200. (Remember, I'm not talking about the heart of the Historic District, rather on the southern side, where we have a bit of what I like to call the "Parkside Drawl" and perhaps a slighter higher tolerance for rambunctious streetlife). The 2-bedder is probably what we would have gone for had we not decided to take the plunge and put more than half of our annual income into our home, which we hoped would be our home for at least as long as our mortgage, and maybe beyond. The American Dream. For a modern musician and a rock dancer, wait, rock musician and a modern dancer, it seemed extravagant, and we did our best to slide into working the kind of jobs that could afford us this life, while hanging onto our creative lives as best we could. Then we decided to have two kids. Whoa. Now we were REALLY middle class. Middle. Middle America. Though living in the 'Bush during the Bush years made it seem less middle middle boring middle. It's NYC. City of Dreams. The Big Apple. City of Broad Shoulders! (er, that's Chicago, but our shoulders are pretty broad too). All good. And this is, bar none, one of the most exciting neighborhoods in the whole borough. If you don't think so, you and I got different ideas of exciting. I mean world-class krazy fun and never a dull moment. Great great people, not boring, with great stories and fascinating perspectives. And the Park, man!

My nearby neighbors thought we paid an arm and two legs for this house at the time. It was the most anyone had ever spent on one of these Clarkson row houses - by almost TWICE. Actually, these homes hadn't traded hands much through the years. Some folks had owned their homes for decades, and some died in them. Maybe that'll happen to me. Never know. (Sometimes I wonder how long I'll have to live here before I get to stop being a spoiled gentrifier? Probably til I'm surrounded by richer and whiter people, though I'm pretty damn ruddy pale.)

The rents and the housing prices in Brooklyn had risen before - quite a bit actually since 1996, the start of the big housing run-up. By 2007, a lot of people were acting like they did during the late '90s tech boom - the bubble was in full effect, and you could feel the anxiety. The bubble was palpable. Or rather popable. I remember that people I knew were buying up houses to flip...I never DREAMED of such a thing happening, but the frenzy was on. Then it all came crashing down, and a full-on Argentinian-style meltdown nearly happened here. And It started again, and the money that'd been waiting on the sideline got the greenlight to build, build, build. Where were all these people coming from to buy these overpriced apartments and houses? They weren't ALL coming from Manhattan. Folks were calling Brooklyn the "it" city. Really? Brooklyn? Well, okay if you say so. I think that was partly because so many bold-faced names were saying Brooklyn was their home, and many folks in the media actually live here. But a funny thing happened. The whole borough started to become wildly speculative in its pricing. Bed-Stuy even. Bed-Mothereffing-Stuy! The place Billy Joel was CRAAAAZY enough to walk alone. And otherwise sane people started saying that this was the new normal. Mad prices. Mad rises. Irrational exuberance. Delirious Brooklyn.

My friends, this is NOT the new normal. Anytime you hear someone say that you know we're in a time of berserkness. Remember that book called Dow 40,000? And if I needed any more proof, I got it tonight when I finally saw the numbers comparing the "affordable" rents to the market rents at 626 Flatbush. Remember, the affordable rent is unlikely to go up much, since it's based on 50% of median household income, which is roughly $50,000 a year for NYC and hardly budging. I know I don't need to tell you this, but it's worth thinking on it in this context. HALF of NYC households earn more than $50,000. HALF of NYC households earn less. HALF. Wow. (If that doesn't blow your mind then, well, I guess you're not me. And yes, it's barely growing in real dollars, certainly not at the rate of housing.)

Just a few years ago I noticed for the first time that market rents in Brooklyn were becoming 1 1/2 to 2 times what would work for a median to just-above poverty working family, which is often a single parent. Neighborhoods of lowish income families were now officially out for half of the population. Pretty much all of brownstone Brooklyn, save parts of Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy. People were starting to pay half or more of their gross income in rent. Crazy, but true. And the more hip folk moved here the more crazy it got.

So now I'm looking at the affordable rates vs. market at 626. And if trends continue, market rates will go up considerably by the time the building opens. Remember affordable is based on 50% of median. Oh, and there are almost no 2 or 3 bedroom units in the building. They're simply not as economical for the landlord. Families, it would appear, are simply not where the money's at:

Studio - $696
1 bedroom- $748
2 bedroom - $908
3 bedroom $1039

Studio - $1,875
1 bedroom - $2,200
2 bedroom - $2,800
3 bedroom - $3,500

I recall from my book larnin' that it was just a hundred years ago that socialism and its naughty brother communism broke through to the level of the State. By 50 years ago we'd built nearly 200,000 units of public housing in NYC. By 45 years ago we passed the Rent Stabilization Law. By 35 years ago the City went bankrupt as the middle class left for the suburbs. 30 years ago marked the first age of the yuppy. 25 years ago housing prices plunged. 20 years ago Courtney Love had a hit record. 15 years ago everyone wanted to start a dot com and we all lost our minds in the stock market and frenzied speculation. 13 years ago planes hit the towers and we wondered if NYC would ever recover. From then til now, minus the speed bump of 2008-9, we've been on a tear. A bloombergian mega tear.

It's not sustainable. We're in a bubble. We're in madness. You don't usually know when you're insane. I mean that's part of the definition of insanity, right? Doing the same thing and expecting different results?

Madness. Unadulterated madness. Who's got a pin?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Local Barista Tabitha Holbert Making Film

If you've been to the new Bles$ings coffee and herbs and flowers shop on Flatbush near Hawthorne, you've undoubtedly seen Tabitha Holbert. All the folks at the shop are super-friendly, and Tabitha especially so. As with many baristas across the City of Dreams, Tabitha has a primary talent that soaks up her other available waking hours; she's an actress and writer and probably a hundred other things as well.

I know it seems like folks are always asking for money these days, but the Q is more than happy to spread the word. Look at it this way - fundraising campaigns are also marketing opportunities to let the world know what you're doing. And so, yes, give if you can to the making of her film "Bottleneck." But at the very least, give the video a spin to get a sense of what she's about. And maybe next time you see her steaming your latte, give her a thumbs up and a good luck.

And man-o-man, that little girl actor seems quite special indeed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hold On To Your Family Jewels At Planet Phitness (NOT Someone Else's)

Word just in from the 71st - don't place your valuables in the lockers while working out. Too easy to bust 'em open, apparently. Everyone the Q's spoken to about Planet Phitness's Phat Albert's location is ecstatic to have a low cost gym nearby. Says local dad E.G. "I like getting in shape. And I like TV. What's not to love?"

Also, Vinny reminds us not to leave our keys in the car. Apparently, so-called "Super Bandits" are able to open the door, enter your vehicle, turn the ignition and drive away. WITHOUT your consent.

Be careful out there guys. It may be the NEW Brooklyn, but it's the same old story.

But One Example of Racial Housing Discrimination

Sometimes landlords can't tell the decent folk from the bad, but they've decided to make the place more attractive to those willing to pay higher rents. So they do what any good racist would do, and try their darndest to switch out the blacks for whites. Much easier to determine race than character.

Tomorrow, a press conference is scheduled to broadcast a lawsuit against one such building on Hawthorne. It's notoriously hard to prove racial discrimination. Let's hope the plaintiffs have their case in order.

Tenants File Federal Lawsuit Against Landlords Who Target Black Renters

Suit alleges violations of Fair Housing Act, New York State and New York City Human Rights laws 

WHAT: Press conference announcing the filing of a federal lawsuit against a landlord who has aggressively harassed and targeted Black tenants in an effort to displace them from Prospect-Lefferts Gardens apartments.

WHO:   Tenants, Flatbush Tenant Coalition, Attorneys from Legal Services NYC’s Brooklyn program, Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna, Council Member Mathieu Eugene
WHERE: 414 Hawthorne Street, Brooklyn, 11225 (Map)

WHEN: Tuesday, April 15th, 9:30 AM

WHY: Tenants and advocates will announce the filing of a federal lawsuit against landlords who have aggressively harassed and targeted Black tenants in an effort to compel them to move so that their apartments can be rented almost exclusively to younger, white tenants. The landlords’ discriminatory tactics have included refusing to cash Black tenants’ rent checks for months on end and then sending rent demands for tens of thousands of dollars, refusing to make repairs, and bringing baseless housing court cases against Black tenants. Since purchasing these buildings a few years ago, the landlords have succeeded in pushing out approximately 20 families out of a total of 52. Plaintiffs (eleven tenants and the Flatbush Tenant Coalition) allege violations of the Fair Housing Act and the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws.

Keep Your Eye On the Armory

Your name on this petition will help show that the community wants to retain a say over how the Bedford-Union Armory is developed. Please take a moment to sign so we can show numbers. We want to make sure we have a chance to weigh in before the City sells its development rights or leases longterm. A group has formed called the Community Armory Committee to create an alternative proposal. FYI, while the online petition is just getting going, I'm told by CAC that nearly 1,200 have signed the paper petition so far. So you're not alone.

Over the past couple years, a lot of folks have become increasingly excited about plans to rehabilitate the Bedford-Union Armory (located oddly enough at Bedford and Union). From the moment it was announced that the big building, with its massive drill hall and ample grounds, would be turned over to the City from the State, folks have wondered aloud about the myriad possibilities. Youth center. Sports facilities. After-school programs. Even areas for seniors or arts or daycare. (One idea I hope has gone by the wayside is "roller rink." Seems we've got that olde tyme entertainment covered at Lakeside).

But here's the catch. NYU grad students did a study, and the City released an RFP last fall, due end of January. We, the people, have yet to see the proposals. It's not clear yet whether we, the people, will have any say in what happens there. From the get-go, it's been suggested that there must be some sort of housing development component in order to pay for the overhaul. This despite the fact that the Park Slope Armory needed no such selling of development rights. I'm not necessarily sure the housing piece couldn't be an excellent trade-off, IF it were structured in a manner beneficial to the many residents seeking to stay in their neighborhood - i.e. that catch-all phrase "affordable housing." But why start from the supposition that commercial uses are necessary? Is that ALWAYS gonna be the story now, even as the City's coffers refill?

Because, and I know not everyone agrees, the site has ALWAYS, until now, been in the hands of the people and managed with tax dollars. It's a friggin' ARMORY for chrisakes. Now that the State of NY admits it's no longer needed for military purposes, doesn't it make sense that the "peace dividend" be paid back to the neighborhood from whence many young men trained and fought and died for their country? Exactly how far back do people's memories go anymore, anyhow? This things was built in the time of Teddy Roosevelt. What do you think Mr. National Parks would have to say were he not stuck inside that South Dakotan cliff? I'll be he wouldn't say "give me some luxury towers to pay for that community crap"

What I'm saying is that I don't think people have much vision anymore. The go-to line is "public-private partnership," under the guise of which really dubious decisions are often made. No one has the guts to put real public money towards projects, so they resort to an ass-kissing stance designed to keep donors and developers (redundant?) happy.

I've got a better idea, so listen up powers-that-be! Why not put up $50 million bucks in public money IF a private donor comes in at same. That's right; match a billionaire's gift 1:1, and he/she can get their name on it. The purpose of the place will be for 100% public use on a scale far more equitable than what the YMCA runs in P-slope. Young people under 21 and schools can use the facility for free. Students over 21, free. Seniors, free. The rest of us, $100 a year for the family. Some groud-floor retail available. $25 million set aside for longterm operation and maintenance. 501c3 "Friends of the Armory" set up to raise funds for special projects and shortfalls. Once a year giant Armory Ball fundraiser - a fancy event for everyone, live olde time big band music - think "The Savoy," tickets starting at $50 up to $5,000 for a table and dinner. Might look like this scene from the '20s:

I mean, c'mon, here's what it looks like now:

Which reminds me, I haven't seen that great Lindy scene from Spike Lee's Malcolm X in awhile: