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, September 14, 2016

The Black Institute Fights Back

Subtitled: In NYC, you must never appear less liberal than your neighbor, lest you get painfully skewered.

Looks like the plan to build apartments and a recreation center at the Bedford Union Armory has hit yet another setback. Have you been following this story? If not, read on, it's a doozy. I'll try to condense...

We're talking about the big beautiful old Armory at Bedford Ave and Union. It was owned by the State, who sold it back to the City. Great! Now the City can make the "best use" of the building and land. The City, as represented by the  NYC Economic Development Corp, put the project out to bid. They wanted a mixed-use sitch. You know, market rate apartments, affordable apartments, and a big old recreation center. God knows there's room for it. Lotsa politicians wanted and want a piece of THIS prize.

The winning developer, Slate, recently landed in a bunch of corruptive hot water over another project needing City support. They dropped out of the BUA as a result. (Let's use BUA since it's shorter and sounding it out is kinda phun - I'm going for bew-ah). Now the developer to whom Slate sold its half of the rights - BFC - lost its star endorser and backer, the Knicks b-ball star Carmelo Anthony. Why? Because he was scolded by a woman named Bertha Lewis and a remarkably powerful ragtag collection of activists. So Anthony pulled out having been chastised for turning his back on the "real" black community. Lewis claimed in a letter that Anthony was being used to create unaffordable affordable housing and a rec center that the current residents would not be able to use (read "afford.)

Why do these shaming tactics ring oddly familiar to the Q's ears? (see a dozen or so previous Q entries over the past two years for the answer).

Bertha Lewis was the CEO of ACORN in NYC. You know ACORN, the group that was targeted by conservatives through a counter-insurgency by right-wingers and FOX news, then Republicans in Congress. A video surfaced, ACORN got buried as if by a mob of busy squirrels, and largely de-funded. And yet, there was no stopping Bertha and her devotees. She and key supporters became The Black Institute here in NYC. You'll also see the group NY Communities for Change involved in this and other efforts to block "affordable housing" initiatives that the groups consider Gentrification Enablers (my term). The thinking here - open for debate - is that by developing new market rate apartments and amenities, even with affordable components, you are forcing out longterm residents of color. I say "open for debate" because the question remains - if you don't build new housing, for ALL income strata, how exactly do you ever get runaway prices in check? This is not a purely Liberal vs Conservative argument. This is about economics, and sadly, where economics are concerned not everyone reads the numbers the same way.

Back to the Playbill. When Alicia Boyd and MTOPP needed folks to create the impression that there was a huge outcry about your Community Board 9 and its efforts to engage in a collaborative process with the Dept of City Planning - she got a lot of folks to come out to meetings from followers of both formerly-ACORN affiliated groups - NYCCFC and TBI. That's why many of the people shouting down your neighbors at these meetings seem to not be from the neighborhood. They aren't. They are part of a larger, sometime fractious but always rebellious movement to stop business as usual. And business as usual in NYC is about real estate.

Alicia has effectively shut down CB9. Bertha has effectively shut down the BUA project, both at least for now.

The pushback against gentrification - guided or misguided as you think it may be - has jumped into warp drive. To the point where politicians - black politicians especially - must now choose sides. Are you for those racist "Greedy Developers"? Are are you with US?

An economic "Sophie's Choice" perhaps. Walter Mosley, Diana Richardson, Laurie Cumbo, Eric Adams et al...there's an enormous Pink and Black Elephant in the room right now. And it ain't going nowhere. So whatcha gonna do?


Alex said...

I find all of this incredibly frustrating because of the big picture that it paints: District 9 "JUST SAYS NO" to any resources brought out way. DCP, DOT, EDC... all get a big "no thank you!" because of a few people who think they represent the community. I see no way out.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Alex, there IS a way out. It's called leadership. And it's why I ended the post asking if anyone is willing to do so.

A person with clout and connections and media can change minds and usher resources. Right now, it's the activists who have figured it out. If no one challenges them, they will win. But what will they win exactly?

It is my hope, and I'll talk about this more, that we get serious about building affordable housing on a massive scale. Some of it, yes, even for the poor. You can't continue to call yourself of a First World city with 75K or more homeless people.

So in many respects I agree with the activists, but I fear that all we'll get is nothing, because no one has the guts to come out and say what needs to be said and stake their careers on it.

But the idea that a recreational center on city property might cost as much "to play" as say Aviator out at Floyd Bennett Field or Chelsea Piers. Think about it. Is that really the best the City can do? When middle, middle class guys like me can't afford to send their kid to gymnastics, I can only imagine what those prices look like to others.

Alex said...

Leadership has done a pretty good job of making it clear that they have no interest in course correcting CD9. The biggest thing they've done - THE BIGGEST - in response to "the community" in the last couple years is have a pedestrian island removed because a few orthodox Jews didn't like it, and then they blamed it on the Caribbean community. Classy.

I assume that the new rec center will be priced about the same as a YMCA, not a Chelsea Piers.

Bob Marvin said...

Bertha Lewis shilled for Bruce Ratner and Atlantic yards for years; some enemy of displacement!

Alex said...

Let's also not forget that Bertha Lewis allowed ACORN to be bought by FCR duing the most potent years of the Atlantic Yards controversy. Maybe EDC declined to pony up?

Adrian said...

Acorn did a lot to help low income housing over the years and boosted voter turnout. All in all, they were a force for good. They were run out of business after alt right hero Andrew Breitbart's dirty trickster James O'Keefe produced a deceptively edited videos appearing to show (falsely) that some low-level Acorn employees agreed to illegal conduct. Republicans who resented Acorns ability to get out the vote among disenfranchised voters voted to defund Acorn, and then Acorn was no more. People from Breitbart are now working to ensure we get our first outright fascist president in Donald Trump. You could look it up.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I wonder sometimes, Bob, whether we're playing the same game as the "other side" when we call people out for being shills. (Obviously I stand accused as well.) But the fact is, she believed in the project and what it could bring, right? Regardless of whether you think Atlantic Yards is a net positive or negative, one can certainly argue (and I would agree) that the arena and construction and businesses surrounding the area have been a HUGE meant a huge economic boom. So many jobs in so many fields...and that was, after all, one of the primary selling points. Brooklyn is booming and business is good. The housing issues have, in my view, not led the way. It's been the strong economy that has caused the housing issues.

Who has benefited? An awful lot of people, to varying degrees of course. Ms. Lewis has her foibles, and I don't really trust the NYCFC folks to have the greater good at heart. But so what? Ask the person who used to not have a job who has one now, and maybe had to move out of their old neighborhood, or maybe didn't. I think the JOB always has to come first, because from it come dignity, stability and hope.

MikeF said...

meh. Once Bertha and company are paid off, they will leave to extort some other other developer. It just takes each party a while to agree on the price.

Bob Marvin said...

I don't doubt that Acorn was "All in all...a force for good" which is why the betrayal of their being bought out by Ratnet, et al, was so painful.

Alex said...

I agree with Bob. For the right price, Lewis is clearly willing to compromise. The armory conversion will create jobs and, if used, increase the health status of the community.

The city ought to sell the property to the highest bidder and let them do what they want. I personally am so over "community input" at this point because it's just obstruction at this point.

babs said...

I do not believe Bertha Lewis believed in the Atlantic Yards project for one minute. ACORN was bought off, just like BUILD, the group that Ratner created to supposedly promise jobs for area residents. It was revealed to be a sham, and anyone with any knowledge of that actual neighborhood that was destroyed to make room for that boondoggle know that many rent-stabilized tenants and even a homeless shelter were displaced. In fact Ratner himself bought up several rent-stabilized buildings in order to have them taken by eminent domain, because that is one of only two ways to net renew the lease of a rent-stabilized tenant in good standing (the other being to say you need the apartment for a family member, but that would be too hard when you're talking about 60 or so apartments). The eminent domain issue wasn't only about Dan Goldstein, it was really about Ratner wanting those rent-stabilized tenant out of there. He bought out a bunch of them, but there were others who wouldn't budge until they had to - and Berth Lewis knew this all along.

MikeF said...

When one creates an organization with the object of it being "bought off", are they actually selling out?