you heard right - a state-of-the-art temporary housing shelter for homeless families. Folks from the Dept of Homeless Services joined the leaders of planned shelter manager Samaritan Village to bravely face down the unhappy residents of nearby blocks in a Town Hall on Thursday night at PS161. Most every speaker seemed to suggest that the better use of the finished but unusually small apartments would be for permanent low income housing. This seemed to be a refrain. What the Q wants to know is, well, a few things actually.
A) This building at 267 looked fishy to me from the get-go. I suspect it was always going to be a shelter, but the City had the good sense to keep it under wraps til they finished, lest they'd never get past the design stage. Heck, the first residents will be moving in in MAY. So this is no recent decision. Once it started to rise, 267 looked suspiciously like dormitories to me, and the 160+ apartments meant the average apartment size was gonna be pretty dang small. Also it was right in the thick of the Medgar Evers constellation. No one would have been surprised if it had been intended to house a few students at what to date has been a commuter school. Here's the before and after:
B) Was the architect chosen for their shelter experties? Go to Think Architecture's website and social services housing is something they do, and they're clearly proud of it. Check it out.
C) Is this the fate of 33 Lincoln Road as well? An astute reader pointed out that the listings for 33 Lincoln haven't really come on line, even as 510 Flatbush have - they could easily be marketed as two separate buildings, separate entrances and all. There was a point a couple years ago when it seemed builder Thomas Anderson had lost his initial state financing to build a bunch of affordable units as part of the original plan. Could it be that he found new financing, a/k/a the Mayor's plan to create a bunch of updated and (hopefully) well-run shelters? And if it happens, don't be surprised if neighbors become equally agitated by the proposition, again with all sorts of politically-correct sounding mumbo-jumbo to back their discrimination. And ultimately, that's what it is. The Big D.
The "Master Plan" involves the City closing down the hundreds of poorly operated slum-shelters and scattersite housing that they can't seem to control, and opening new buildings wherever it can, and trying to house recently homeless families locally so the kids can stay in local schools and the parent(s) can get back on their feet without unnecessary disruption. Ideally, this shelter would be OUR shelter.
Because, you see, this is what a compassionate and progressive City does. But just try to get people to see it that way. Oh, and when they close Rikers and start putting "community based" jails on Empire Boulevard? Not so far-fetched by the way (thanks Andrew!) It would be OUR jail. Follow?
So what were people, including electeds Laurie Cumbo, Diana Richardson, Jesse Hamilton, Letitia James and others crying out for at 267 Rogers? Permanent low-income housing. Not "affordable," not based on 40% of AMI or 60% of AMI, but "low-income." Hmm.
What exactly is the difference between permanent low-income housing and PUBLIC housing? You know, the kind that lots of the same anti-shelter folks would NOT welcome into their community? (I've been to those meetings too, the ones where people are concerned about crackheads throwing garbage out their windows.) The whole POINT of public housing (a/k/a "the Projects") is to subsidize housing to meet every income, including those of the "low income" variety. Mostly low-income, matter of fact. I'm a bit tired of hearing euphemisms bandied about, especially when the whole point from local residents seems to be:
I don't like change, and I especially don't like it when it involves people who are not like me and are not like those I consider to be my TRUE neighbors. Which, coincidentally, are usually a lot like me. - Your Average Longtime Local ResidentSound like discrimination to you? Perhaps my favorite refrain in all these meetings is "would they do this in Park Slope?" I wonder if Park Slopers have any idea how often their neighborhood's name is taken in vain at meetings in Central BK. Problem with this line of attack is that the Mayor plans to put up new shelters there too. It's his home nabe, so I guess he feels obliged to take on "his fair share." Good for him. That's the attitude, Billy old boy!
Now I'm not so idealistic that I miss the not-subtle cultural differences between a) whiter younger single folks and 2) mostly-POC low to moderate income folks and 3) long-term residents who rent and 4) long-term residents who own homes and even rental property and 5) religious Jewish residents who have low incomes and rent and 6) religious Jewish residents who own homes and 7) Asian residents wondering whether they're considered POCs, white or "other" in this equation and 8) mixed-race families with either low-incomes or moderate incomes or middle incomes or upper incomes or 9) white families who rent or 10) white families who own. Oh, and childless couples, and childless GAY couples, and soon-to-have children gay couples, and oh, and then there's the question of how LONG you've lived here. One year? 10 years? 20 years? Born here? New Yorker or Ausländer? Disabled? Seniors? Nuns? How about Muslims? Africans? Latinos? And don't even try to qualify/quantify folks from the Caribbean, more adequately broken down by Haitian, Trinidadian, Jamaican, Grenadan, Turkses & Caicoses and, and, and. And what one's grandparents are Haitian, Caucasian, African-American and Latino? Born in the Midwest, 10 years living here in a condo, with a hairlip and a pants problem?
Maybe we can just cut through the bull here and get real. Black folks feel their reliably black neighborhoods are being taken over by whites, via City collusion with Developers. And that makes a lot of sense to me, and probably to you, even if you're part of "the problem." If this were really about affordable housing, and AMI and income requirements and homelessness alone, I really don't think every public meeting would end in acrimony and grandstanding. Last night started with MTOPP's Alicia Boyd cussing out councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, but thankfully thinks got more civil from there.
Guess who brought the heat down a notch and cheekily pointed out that Ms. Boyd had just given an example of "what not to do" with your turn to speak? A minister of course. A guy who might actually ask that question once in awhile. "What would the Master do?"
But here's the rub. We can't be both FOR equal access to housing and AGAINST it. The law can't, and shouldn't, make exceptions based on your personal preference of who you want to live around. That just gets us right back where we were, and we've made such precious little progress, we can't afford to give an inch. But we also seem to place a great deal of weight in private property, in the ability to buy or sell, and the idea that the highest bidding farmer gets the cow. Or condo.
So while we're all mixed up inside, why NOT accept homeless families into our neighborhoods? Why NOT consider the possibility that mixed income buildings and neighborhoods can be encouraged by enlightened policy? And for god's sake, what's so damn wrong with saying PUBLIC HOUSING done right is a hell of a lot better than any other answer to homelessness, affordable housing crises and the like? Bring it on, baby. We can take it.
As was made clear by the Powers That Be last night, you don't have a say in the matter anyway. You can vote de Blasio out of office. (Er, except he has no viable opponent.) We get him for another four years, and I don't think he's budging on this one. They've already invested much too much time and money closing the current shelters and buying, leasing or building new ones. And good riddance to the old ones, say I. 60 Clarkson had none of the amenities of this new place, and none of the security either. When you have families ravaged by domestic abuse, how can they possibly move on when every Harry Dick or Tom can waltz through the door at any hour of the night? When dealers take up residence? When the children call the rats their pets?
I say you go, de Blo. Close crappy shelters and create new ones that work for their intended purpose. And when the whole world tells you to go to hell, just remember to ask it loud for all the righteous to hear: What Would the Master Do?
Whomever that "master" is to you. Swami. Conscience. Secular Humanism. Or just plain human decency and compassion. Suck it up NYC. If we can't all get along, no one can. Say it loud, I care and I'm proud.