The Q at Parkside

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

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. 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. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Density Illusion

You hear it all the time, in casual conversation or in sloppy comments on the interwet. More people. More density. Long lines, crowded sidewalks, packed subways. And yes, it's true that NYC has added people. All over. But when it comes to explosive growth round these parts, it's all a bunch of hype. Increases of a percent or two are hardly noticeable. The real problem is affordability, but as the Q has documented, time and again local gentry - part of the only 15% of locals owning homes - have used the issue of density to justify antagonism towards new rent-stabilized below-market housing. Density IS the answer to affordability in a finite City. Why is this so hard to comprehend? It needn't be Hong Kong style. But it does need to happen. And it needs to be smart and it needs to accompany planning and study that views the whole City as an organism, not just tiny fiefdoms.

Think about it. If we're going to grow, and we're growing, shouldn't there be a benefit for years to come? Shouldn't every new building come with affordable units? The carrot was dangled, but we didn't chomp.

Fact is, we're not as dense as many livable Manhattan neighborhoods (Upper East or West Side, Central Harlem) We're about on par with other Central Brooklyn neighborhoods, and even Greenwich Village. We have WAY more renters than other nearby neighborhoods, though. I think that is a real difference here than elsewhere. All these stats and more are available in the exhaustive annual Furman housing and neighborhoods report here. For a list of major trends to be found therein about gentrification, just click on the "duh" section here.

Yes, the hue and income of residents has been changing in Central BK. Any numskull can tell you that. When the Q moved here in 2003 I rarely if ever saw white people. And as I've noted many, many times before, that's why I could afford to buy a house here while my middle-middle class sisters and brothers rented small apartments in tonier neighborhoods. I make no illusions about the fact that my family benefited directly from racism, in the sense that housing prices on the eastern side of the park were monstrously less than on the west. We weren't looking to "gentrify." We were looking for a house we could afford in a place we liked. Only now do we look like real estate geniuses. But hey, you gotta have a place to live, right? The house, I'm afraid, belongs to the kids anyway, when you get realistic. Either we sell to pay for our end-of-life care or they get the house and any profit. Oh the indignity of it all! Can't take it with you I suppose. Just a toothbrush and a change of underwear.

Had you taken a guess in, say, 1965 whether Park Slope or Lefferts/Flatbush would become predominantly white or black by 2000, lots of folks would've lost the bet. North Slope was very African-American. If you haven't seen The Landlord, check it out. That's Park Slope baby. My neighbor John had a house there and sold it to an eager white guy 30 years ago. Couldn't believe how good a price he got! Love those anecdotes...

But it's all anecdotes when it comes to density. For every house turned into apartments there are apartments and SROs that became single family homes. And most of the new buildings (626 Flatbush and 33 Lincoln) haven't even populated yet. While it's certainly dense (it's NYC folks) that's actually one of the reasons people WANT to live here. Amenities, the park and garden, and a healthy and lively housing, commercial and social diversity. And most of all, great public transportation. We have LOTS of subways, thus we house many people, quite happily. The Q/B at Church and Prospect Park. The Franklin Shuttle. The (ahem) Q at Parkside. The 2/5 at Winthrop and Sterling. Dollar Vans. Cabs aplenty. The B41, B12, B16, B44 and many, many more, including those slick and efficient SBS buses. (Could use more bike lanes, but hey, I get it, I've seen it. Old timers hate bikes. I've been at the meetings. "Why don't we go back to horse and buggy?!" they shout.)

The proof is in the numbers. Feelings aren't facts, and the facts are these. There has been no major surge in population here. The subway stations have barely nudged up in ridership over the years. Some examples of daily ridership increases 2010-2015 below. And remember there's been a huge boom in employment since then, with many more people commuting to work:

QatParkside: barely budged up in 5 years
Prospect Park Q/B/S: added 318 daily riders to 10,033 a day
Winthrop 2/5: down 179 to 7541
Sterling 2/5: exactly the same for 5 years
Church B&Q: up 338 to 17,811

Year to year increases in ridership in Brooklyn generally have been about 1%, and despite the horror stories on lines like the notorious L, people are getting where they need to go. Improvements WILL come, but only if we continue to let City Planners do their work. Transportation in this City is absolutely key to its continued prosperity. There will be bumps - the bureaucracy and politics involved are headaches. But we can do it. We will do it.

What we HAVE seen, and I've been documenting it on the ol' blog, is a strong uptick in investment of capital into the neighborhood. New commerce, new construction, property changing hands and being renovated. The Lakeside Center and other major improvements to our side of the park. New trees planted, some important improvements to transportation and other infrastructure. Individuals have made tremendous progress as well, like Parkside Plaza and along Ocean Avenue.

And while the changes are by no means all for the better, it's worth remembering that one of the worst things that can happen to a neighborhood, or City, is disinvestment. Folks leaving and no one taking their place. Businesses without shoppers, shuttering. No jobs. Despair. Feeling cutoff from the rest of the City. Can anyone remember where we've been, as a city? There are still plenty of despairing ex-industrial cities awaiting your tourist dollars if you so desire a view of the past. Flint anyone?

Yes, the area will see a net gain in people in the coming years, providing no catastrophic changes. But it will happen somewhat gradually, just as the neighborhood waxes and wanes with the times. Newcomers are taking up more square footage per person. Lots of singles and young couples moving in. These are the signs of health in a neighborhood. People actively WANT to live here. There was a time when the biggest fear for any neighborhood was NEGLECT. Money and commerce and jobs disappearing. No new construction. No rehabilitation of old structures. No upward mobility.

I say the above not to diminish the very real injustices to longterm tenants and to people of color by law enforcement and the seemingly intractable realities of racism. But to keep NYC affordable to working people at all income levels, we need to be clear-headed about how much density is acceptable, as a trade-off to increasing housing stock along crucial mass transit lines.


Anonymous said...

You continue to try to incite class warfare. But it is not just homeowners against new construction with allocated affordable housing units. Many renters are rationally against it too. These new buildings create more demand for the neighborhood and their rents go up & they get harassed by landlords (as you have written about before). Very few of these existing renters win affordable housing lotteries, so eventually they are pushed out. It is rationale for lower income renters to be against new build (even with a % of subsidized housing) too.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

That's right Anon. Being pro-housing is inciting Class Warfare.

Give me a fucking break.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Also, please produce these renters. I have yet to see them at Community Meetings, despite them being the massive majority.

Renters want cheaper rent. The only way to get there is to build more housing at all ends of the spectrum. We weren't able to house the poor til we embarked on a massive experiment in City Housing (aka projects). That's the scale needed to house the poor, and until the City starts building more, our homeless population will continue to rise.

Renters want to stay in their apartments, or find new ones. Renters want to be treated fairly by landlords under the law. That's an entirely different battle.

It is inherently conservative to want things to remain as they are, anon. I'm calling you conservative. Embrace your conservatism. But don't pretend you're protecting anyone but yourself and your "class."

Your defensiveness on the issue of class speaks volumes.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

In your view, was Bernie Sanders "inciting class warfare?" By your comments, I assume you think so.

Pointing out hypocrisy is a time-honored tradition. Only the upper class fear class warfare. For those who have little, there's not a lot of downside to such a conflict.

MikeF said...

The renters I know do not want cheap rent. They want maintenance-free apartments that are close to transit, and people whom they believe are good looking and single.

They want to share a 2BR with someone very much like themselves, with their share being about $1500 a month.

They don't care what the law is or how their landlord treats them. ...they would like to never meet their landlord. Regardless of whether their landlord is a jerk, they plan to move with in two years.

...they won't need a moving truck, because they own no furniture. If their next apartment isn't in NYC, they will ship their belongings in a few boxes via UPS.

Anonymous said...

"The real problem is affordability, but as the Q has documented, time and again local gentry - part of the only 15% of locals owning homes - have used the issue of density to justify antagonism towards new rent-stabilized below-market housing."

Here you blame the lack of new affordable build on the small minority of homeowners. I view this as class polarizing. Do you not? Do you really think the only reason your dream of massive building is because of homeowners alone? Or maybe you're being a little bit reductionist by pitting class against class? Just a little bit? Maybe??

When did I pretend I was not protecting my own "class"? I think it is human nature for people to put their own interests first. I don't think protecting your own interests is either good/bad. It is just what self-interested human beings do. So yes, I want to protect the value of my home because it basically comprises all of my net worth. Scandalous!

I do think there are many renters who don't want new build even if it comes with subsidized housing. Aren't these the Movement to Protect the People??

And just to clarify, I do want new build in the neighborhood. I am fine with it coming with subsidized units. Because like I said, I think it increases home values. So please get them to build as much as you want them too! But as much as you would like to paint me as a heartless homeowner, I do sympathize with existing renters who see rents go up as new build attracts higher income renters into the neighborhood. So I'm ok with the no new build as well, even thought it would be better for them to build, build, build. Does it surprise you that homeowners (besides your blessed self) can actually sympathize with renters in the neighborhood?

I'm not ok, however, with building new city housing/projects because I think they will absolutely devalue my home. If you think that makes me a greedy homeowner...than your standard of greed/evil is really really low.

And I'm laughing that you think I'm the defensive one. The way you came back at me...seems like I hit a little too close to home.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

MTOPP is led by a homeowner, with a couple other owners thrown in. She's not the same as Imani Henry (who doesn't live here) and his ragtag group of agitators, many of whom also don't live here. She's pretty much the whole show at MTOPP. She is the worst sort of hypocrite, and intends to destroy what good will is left in the community. And she's got some good pro bono counsel KILLING it for her. More on that coming tomorrow...

I didn't say you were heartless. Where did that come from? I said "part" of the 15% of homeowners killed any chance of Planning with the City. That's a fact, look it up.

I don't want want massive builds. For god's sakes my argument from the git go is that we need to limit height in some places and encouraged incremental change in others - particularly on shit-holes like Empire Blvd. THAT is the deal we were offered. The homeowners (not you of course!)who through a fit and killed the deal, particularly after buying a bunch of MTOPP propoganda about how it would have the effect of gentrifying the neighborhood. Hah. Like that really stopped.

Btw, the number of individuals who showed up at meetings and hammered home the idea that we must NOT rezone? About a dozen total. In a district of 130,000 people. That counts as democracy, apparently.

If you sympathize with renters, then join the fight for more housing. Or to keep current tenants in their homes. That would be sympathy with teeth, because these are, after all, your neighbors. Are you heartless? No, probably not. This ain't your issue. Perhaps you give to the Smile campaign or perhaps you compost effectively. I actually don't give a shit, especially if you have a sense of humor about it all. I trust to you will pull the lever, or fill in the circle, for the right candidate in November. Most importantly, it's not about you. Or me. It's an issue, and I thought we were arguing the merits of various sides of the argument. I have no problem with you personally and probably enjoy some of the same books and movies.

You didn't hit close to home, my friend. But you gave me a lot to hit so I took a few swings.

So yes, it was the homeowners that killed the bill. Their self-interest won out, and the future of the neighborhood is we will become more like a museum and less inhabitable to average earners. Housing projects absolutely must be built if we're going to make a dent in homelessness, and the multimillion dollar townhome owners in Ft. Greene and Boerum Hill whose home abut Projects are not exactly evidence that city housing kills home values. Look, subsidized housing is essentially all around us right now, if you know where to look and know what the euphemisms are. Happy to point them out. They've had almost no negative effect to date, and a few are run quite well thx.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

To Mike. Your comments reflect a minority of renters. Funny, yes, but not particularly germane.

And by the way, a landlord that leaves you alone? That IS a good landlord, particularly if they do basic maintenance and respond in an emergency. That is NOT the case for thousands of innocent, targeted renters right here in the BK. But you know all that, and as usual, I did sustain a chuckle or two at your dry humor.

MikeF said...

The rents I describe are the ones the landlords want. ...therefore, they have the power of the majority.

Alex said...

All the more reason by the BP and mayor should kick CB9 aside and push for the rezoning that the community actually wants.

MikeF said...

I do love the idea that somewhere out there is a community that is united in wanting something.
....let me know where one is.

elbell said...

Tim -- I can't wait for today's post. If it is about Alicia's crusade against Carmen, I am ALL FOR it.

Jacob said...

Anonymous said "I'm not ok, however, with building new city housing/projects because I think they will absolutely devalue my home."

I don't think this is true. There's a perception that PLG homes are especially valuable because of the 1 family covenant or landmarking or exquisite architecture. But I can't find any evidence for this. It seems like they are just priced per sq ft comparable to the rest of the neighborhood, landmarked or not. Rutland road homes sell for $2.5m because they are very large. That's about $650 per sq ft.

MikeF said...

Western Crown Heights is now fetching over $1000 PSF

Clarkson FlatBed said... how much is it per s/f when it's a coop or condo? and rental? are these numbers easily accessible? counting on you now...

Jacob said...

You can figure it all out on Streeteasy. you have to dig around with their "Generate report" tool. You have to filter out unlisted sales and people who sell to their grandson for $10 and all that.
Co-ops are about equal in price per sq ft and condos are usually more, something like 50% more or so.
To truly figure out whether landmarking has an impact on sales prices is a tough problem. It’s not the only variable that goes into price per sq ft. There is also commute time - a landmarked house in Flatlands is not going to be the same price as one in Brooklyn Heights. At this point, in general, prices are highest at Brooklyn locations closest to Manhattan, and radiate out from there. Some neighborhoods like Western Crown Heights and BedStuy with great commutes which were historically bargains are not so much anymore.
There is also the phenomenon of being adjacent to a pricey, landmarked neighborhood. For instance, Park Slope on 8th ave is landmarked, but 4th ave, the canyon of mediocrity, is not. However, a condo on 4th ave in a brand new building is going to be very expensive anyway, about $1000 per sq ft. Cuz Park Slope is Park Slope. Just like Clarkson houses are going for a lot even though they are outside the manor.

Jacob said...

Check out the green map on this page. Think about commute times and neighborhoods with public housing or affordable projects.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Fascinating. - Spock, CRB

Once again, it's the subways that speak loudest.