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.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tivoli Towers: A Primer On Your Tall Neighbor To the North

You've undoubtedly seen it. The tallest building to break the skyline in this part of town is not Patio Gardens or even Ebbets Field houses. It's Tivoli Towers, at Crown and Franklin. For many Leffertsians, the building is a mystery. It's always been intended as affordable housing, first as part of the legendary Mitchell Lama program (yes, you really can get into one if you're willing to be patient and vigilant). The building has become "private" via the purchase by developer Laurence Gluck in 2010, who intends to take it all market, though older tenants have been given increased Section 8 voucher payments to stay in their apartments. (Note: new Section 8 is almost gone. No program has taken its place, so at this point the vouchers are part of a dying program).

Honestly now, the whole point of Gluck's purchase was not to be some sort of loss leader. No, the point was to buy the building for a relative song (under $10 million in 2010) at the nadir of the housing market. Such good timing will undoubtedly pay off. And as apartments leave the various programs, Gluck will continue to make improvements that will eventually ensure market rate apartments cost just that.

Right now, Tivoli is part of a City-wide initiative to move subsidized housing residents into smaller apartments, if they are "over housed." I encourage you to read the DNA Info piece, which highlights how the determination has been made. Essentially, if you're getting subsidies, you can't hang on to an apartment that's bigger than you need. So you're being moved. (Not kicked out, as some folks claim. But still it's extremely disruptive).

I encourage you to read the following articles to get a better sense of what's going on there. And if you live in Tivoli or have experience there, I'd love to hear from you in the comments section.

Rachel Holliday Smith's DNA Info piece.

Tivoli Towers from NY Times in 2010

A teaser from Rachel's article:

Federally-subsidized tenants at a Crown Heights high rise are fighting a plan to force them to move into smaller units, enlisting help from elected officials who are trying to convince the city to let them stay where they are.

Tenants receiving enhanced Section 8 housing subsidies at Tivoli Towers, a 300-unit building on Crown Street and Franklin Avenue, began receiving letters from the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development at the beginning of the year warning them that they were “over-housed” — or living in apartments that were considered too large for their needs under a new set of guidelines released last year. The letters gave the tenants 30 days to appeal the order, or prepare to move.

And finally, if you want to know what developer Laurence Gluck looks and sounds like when he's talking shop, here he is:


It occurs to me that plenty of you haven't experienced David Kramer of Hudson (developer of 626 Flatbush) talk about his past (quite interesting actually, given his current projects). I encourage everyone to give a listen. I hear a lot of demonizing about these guys, but truth be told they're people, and they play in a different universe than you and me, where their decisions are often made on simple rational market analyses. I'm done trying to convince you one way or another whether that's appropriate when it comes to people's homes. Give a listen, so you can put a person to the issue.


[] said...

Mayors affordable housing plan came out today. It's an interesting if not overly optimistic read

no_slappz said...

All 200,000 units would fit in Floyd Bennett Field.

City unveils 10-year, 200K-unit, $41B housing plan

Mayor Bill de Blasio hails his effort as "literally the largest and most ambitious affordable-housing program" in the history of the nation. He promised to work collaboratively with the real estate industry but vowed to "drive a hard bargain."

By Andrew J. Hawkins

May 5, 2014 .

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the affordable housing plan he unveiled Monday the most ambitious program initiated by any city in United States history.

On Monday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his administration's ambitious plan to build and preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing, one that he says will house half a million people at a cost of more than $41 billion over the next decade.

The mayor's rhetoric in introducing his plan matched the scale of his proposal.

"This is literally the largest and most ambitious affordable housing program initiated by any city in this country in the history of the United States," Mr. de Blasio said Monday, brandishing his administration's 116-page report while standing against the backdrop of a residential development site in downtown Brooklyn.

The plan is the mayor's central effort to address the nature of inequality in New York, a theme that Mr. de Blasio rode to victory over a host of qualified rivals last fall. And while his housing goal has been known for at least a year—200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years—the plan released Monday is the public's first peek at the details of how his administration will accomplish its titanic task.

The main thrust will be a policy of mandatory inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to include affordable units in new buildings in return for zoning changes to allow for taller buildings and greater density. The previous administration relied on a voluntary system to encourage affordable developments. Mr. de Blasio said those tactics had not produced as much below-market rate housing as needed.

In an acknowledgement of the lack of available space to build, the plan is weighted toward preserving, rather than building, affordable apartments. Over the next decade, Mr. de Blasio says his administration will preserve 120,000 units of affordable housing. Meanwhile, the city will work with the real estate industry to build 80,000 new affordable apartments.

More building will require denser neighborhoods, and the mayor has stated his willingness to build taller and more closely grouped buildings to achieve his goal.

The plan is expected to be a boon for the construction and building-worker industry, with the administration estimating 194,000 construction jobs and 7,100 permanent jobs being created as a result.

"Yes, it is ambitious," Mr. de Blasio said. "We're proud it is ambitious. Yes, it will take everything we got. But that's what's needed to address an affordability crisis that we've never seen the likes of before."

babs said...

Floyd Bennett Field is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area on Jamaica Bay, a very important wildlife preserve in our area. Its development as housing would be disastrous to our ecosystem.

no_slappz said...

Barbara Ann Rogers: New York City itself long ago overwhelmed the local "ecosystem."

A large housing development in the Floyd Bennett/Gateway area would have the same impact on the city's "ecosystem" as 200,000 new housing units scattered around the five boroughs.

That piece of real estate is egregiously under-utilized. The Aviator facility is used. But that's an in-door facility.

Outdoors? Guys flying radio-controlled model airplanes.

It's an outrage in a city where building costs are sky-high due to a shortage of available land that such a huge expanse sits untouched.

I know Gateway is now under the control of the federal government, not NY City's. But it was NY City property until about 1977. De Blasio can request its return, and he can make the request for a sound reason.

If it were handed back to NY City as a site for residential and retail real estate, it may well be possible for developers to build truly "affordable" units on it.

Bob Marvin said...

Given the likely increase in extreme weather, that is likely to be a major factor for future generations, I suspect that the shores of Jamaica Bay are NOT a prudent place to locate large scale housing developments

no_slappz said...

Bob Marvin, unfortunately, the return of the Gateway property to NY City, is less likely than high water washing over the grounds.

However, as many New Yorkers discovered after Sandy, it might be a good idea to lift everything off the ground. If buildings were erected out there at Gateway, it would probably be a good idea to forgo basements, and to build the first floor of living space one story above ground level.

In other parts of the country it's been customary for a long time to put waterfront homes up on stilts.

babs said...

And actually that's not true. I imagine you've never been out bird watching at Jamaica Bay. There are many rare species found there, not only of birds, but also of other wildlife. And those 200,000 units consist primarily of rehabilitation of existing units, not new construction. My feeling is that you'd just love to push all the non-rich people at least a one hour commute form Manhattan, because that's what they deserve for not being rich.

Anonymous said...

There is also a discussion about Tivoli Towers going on on Brooklynian message boards, in case anyone is interested:

It will be interesting to see what will become of the old Sea Crest Linen site across the street. (Will that become a tower as tall and as big as Tivoli Towers? How will that change the neighborhood?)

P.S. The complex "Ebbets Field houses" is know as "Ebbets Field Apartments". :)

P.P.S. no_slappz, people are discovering after superstorm Sandy that maybe building by the water isn't a good idea period. Even if you build something on stilts, you're going to have problems getting around if the streets are flooded.

no_slappz said...

Barbara Ann Rogers, it's true I've never gone out bird watching at Jamaica Bay, however, a large scale development of residential real estate on the Gateway site can be designed to impinge very little on the shore line area.

In any case, I believe housing for humans is more important than bird sanctuaries, especially when the issue is housing in NY City. Yes, I know the de Blasio plan is aimed mainly are rehabilitating existing real estate, which means that unless the real estate has been rezoned from commercial to residential, there isn't a lot of new living space created.

The Garment District is terribly underutilized. If it were rezoned it would practically carry de Blasio's housing plan by itself.

As for the impact of people living at some distance from Manhattan, well, millions already live an hour from Manhattan. Some commute much more than an hour. In many cases, the commute became tiresome and employers migrated toward the homes of employees, which meant the employers left NY City.

Brooklyn is doing pretty well at attracting businesses that pay good bucks. Metrotech, for example. Also, as the local media has mentioned, Silicon Alley is spreading all over the city and a lot of tech is landing here, in Brooklyn.

You wrote: My feeling is that you'd just love to push all the non-rich people at least a one hour commute form Manhattan, because that's what they deserve for not being rich.

You've got it backwards. Many rich people live an hour from Manhattan. Loads of Wall Streeters live in NJ, Westchester, Long Island and CT.

Housing at Gateway, with the inevitable improvement in mass transit that would eventually greet them, has the potential for being a great opportunity for those who would choose to live there.

Anonymous said...

no_slappz, what improvements in mass transit do you mean? An optimal improvement would be expanding the subway from the Junction down there, but that's probably not happening. The next best thing would be to 1) establish a B41 SBS and 2) expand it out to there, but the traffic problems on Flatbush (some of which have been discussed on this blog) would have to be addressed first. Right now, the only bus that goes by Floyd Bennett Field would be the Q35 coming in the Rockaways. That route might be vulnerable to service disruption because it serves beachfront communities (the Rockaways got hit HARD by Sandy).

Clarkson FlatBed said...

It's basically swampland out there. oy vey, the mosquitoes!

If Holland can manage its low-lying areas, so can NYC. Let the water in, some are saying, and build dikes 'n' stuff. You're not going to undo national parkland though. What a terrible precedent that would be.

But we're talking fantasy talk now. I personally don't see why NYC should look at this problem any different than any other community - decide how big you wanna be, and manage the diversity through housing policy.

My take: The things that have made Brooklyn "hot," for now, are the very things that will be killed by density and towers. There are plenty of other parts of NYC to build out. ENOUGH with the Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn. Especially central. Making policy that will last for decades based on a faddish culture could be disastrous.

I like the sound 50/30/20 housing. But when the economy hits the skids, or the lust for Brooklyn disappears, I suspect that we'll have a host of new problems to contend with. To give you an example, there are a ton of new developments happening on or near my block. We're already an incredibly dense and trafficked block. How lovely and livable will it be in 5 years we ask ourselves? Sure these are luxury problems, but they have real consequences.

And now I say something that simply needs to be said. White people don't like to live around low income people of color. A few, maybe, if they're managed properly, kept at bay, don't hang out too much on corners or blast their music.

Look at those videos of developers. Without saying it specifically, the history of speculative development in America's cities is about speeding the process of moving various brown cultures out to make room for the dominants culture, mostly white. Personally I find it sad for our country that the Mayor and so many black officials can get up in front of a big crowd and not talk about that. I get's touchy. But it's the truth.

Even that number 80/20 skeevs me out. Is that the percentage that really works economically? Or is that simply the percentage that we've determined wealthy folks can handle their poor folks? Ugh.

Anonymous said...

My neighbors are watching what's happening at Tivoli Towers and 626 Flatbush Avenue (just like I'm watching the old Sea Crest Linen site) and wondering how the changing climate in the neighbor will impact us.

It's a pink elephant in the room, and I doubt any politician is going to want to address this in public.

Bob Marvin said...

"unfortunately, the return of the Gateway property to NY City, is less likely than high water washing over the grounds"

That's something we agree about Slappz, except that I'd leave out the "un"; building on National Park land is an awful idea IMO.

Anonymous said...

"There are plenty of other parts of NYC to build out."

Right, and they're already building the heck out of everywhere they can. Are you under the impression that massive development is only happening in central Brooklyn?

Your comment smacks of crass NIMBYism. What makes your block more precious than a block in Gowanus, South Bronx, Willets Point, or LIC? Brown people live there too.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

come over to clarkson avenue btw flatbush and bedford, home to 1200 people and soon to be 300 more, and say it smacks of nimbyism.

I don't know where you live, but I'm living in the single densest neighborhood in central brooklyn.

So cram it dude. I know the outer boroughs pretty durn good and I know DAMN well where you could build without the same damage to quality of life.

If you think I don't know about what's going on in the rest of the City, why not enlighten me? We're all terribly interested in how come you're so excited to have towers next door.

no_slappz said...

disco princess, inasmuch as I am sure we'll never see a large-scale housing development at Gateway, my comments are about imaginary possibilities.

However, in that vein, I believe the subway system could be extended down Flatbush Ave, dead-ending at the imaginary Gateway complex.

It's not Central Park and it seems Lindbergh's connection to the place no longer matters.

Anonymous said...

You can't build anywhere without damaging somebody's quality of life. If you maintain that it's fine to develop elsewhere that implies your quality of life is more valuable than someone else's.

That's not to say we shouldn't include community input when changing zoning - but hell, even the Brooklyn bp just shouted "build baby build" like he was a wacko Alaskan.

Density is good. Don't fear the density.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

LP: To be clear, you're for up-zoning our whole area? I take it if you could up-zone the Historic Districts you'd do that as well?

Come on out to the Community Board meetings. You'll see just how popular your ideas are. It's fine that you want to live in Tokyo, but I'm not ready go there just yet.

Anonymous said...

Nope - not in favor of upzoning most of our neighborhood, and especially not the historic district. Though I do think the area around Empire could manageably get taller and denser.

I'm also not in favor of getting tomatoes thrown at me at a Community Board meeting, thank you very much. Our brave Mayor can take all the heat for this.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Hmmm. Let me take a stab in the dark. wouldn't happen to be an architect by training, would you? Perhaps influenced by some of the great thinkers in that discipline, rather than the actual lives of actual citizens?

Anonymous said...

Re: Though I do think the area around Empire could manageably get taller and denser.

Which area around Empire? The area that is already being considered to be upzoned?

Seth said...

I had the following letter regarding Tivoli published in the Times back in 2010:

The premise that city and federal officials must choose between Mr. Lentnek or Mr. Gluck shows an unfortunate failure of imagination that is not uncommon in government housing initiatives. Consider that Tivoli Towers probably contains about 400 apartments. Mr. Gluck is buying the complex for $11 million with a promise to do $15 million in renovations (on paper). Let's say the actual renovations can be done for $10 million.

Do the math. The tenants could purchase their apartments for $50,000 each. Even if tenants were responsible for paying off the debts of Mr. Lentnek the current owner, by the city's own estimates they could purchase their apartments for little more than twice that. Where would some of lower income tenants find such funds? They might look to the city's Housing Development Corporation which is offering to lend Mr.Gluck $45 million at low interest to buy the building.

Why not lend the tenants the money to buy the building themselves? Surely the long suffering residents who have fought vigorously along with city officials to maintain some control over their fates would make better stewards of the property than either a landlord who has had his properties foreclosed or a landlord that has let the building deteriorate to its current state.

The best way to protect the tenants is to turn them into owners.

Seth Kaplan
Prospect-Lefferts Gardens

no_slappz said...

The notion of turning tenants into owners has plenty of appeal. Moreover, it's not a new idea, as we know from all the rental buildings that have been converted into co-ops, like Lincoln Towers, to name one.

However, if it were possible for the Tivoli to become another co-op conversion, the tenants should have approached the owner with a plan. Did they? Seems the answer is "no".

Meanwhile, what kind of chaos would result if, in fact, tenants were offered ownership? Frankly, if the price were right -- if it were at a substantial discount from the current market -- there would be no shortage of banks willing to finance the individual purchases. There would be built-in equity that would protect the lenders in case of default.

Some tenants would choose to stay. Some would sell their converted units, scalp a profit, and go.

But getting 400 tenant/owners to agree on a plan would be a game of herding cats. The Long Island College Hospital mess is evidence of what happens when the "community" gets to vote on a plan. The community supported a plan offered by a developer who wasn't qualified for the job.

So, now another developer is under consideration. But his operation also lacks sufficient experience. Soon, the decision-makers will consider approving the plan of the most qualified developer. However, the plan offered by the most qualified developer includes a much smaller healthcare facility.

In the case of Tivoli, how much in-fighting would occur before some patch-work compromise plan were grudgingly agreed to? And how long would it take to achieve that agreement?

On the other hand, maybe there's a future for real estate lawyers/developers to represent tenant groups who want to become owners.

Anonymous said...

I doubt there would have been enough tenants at Tivoli Towers who would have agreed to a conversion to co-ops. That tried to happen at my complex (which is large like Tivoli Towers) back in the 1980s and that failed.

Seth, were you envisioning tenants being loaned the entire amount of the purchase price or would they still have to come up with some of their own money for a down payment?

Bob Marvin said...

"In the case of Tivoli, how much in-fighting would occur before some patch-work compromise plan were grudgingly agreed to? And how long would it take to achieve that agreement?"

"..democracy will in practice lead to the destruction of a people's true values...for the outstanding achievements of individuals...are now rendered practically ineffective through the oppression of mere numbers."

I can't identify the author of the second quote because it would force Tim to invoke Godwin's
Law :-)

Seth said...

@Slappz, the previous owner Lentnek let the building practically fall in on itself. I am going to assume that he wouldn't have been responsive to a co-op conversion as he wasn't cooperative in any other fashion.

Regarding whether or not such a plan would work - or would be advisable - it certainly couldn't be worse than the track record of the developers so far involved with the project.

@Disco, I dunno. How about they come up with whatever percent HDC requires people like Gluck to put up?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Bob: Thanks for calling out NS for what he is. Actually, I assumed it was an Ayn Rand quote til I looked it up.It SOUNDs so rational doesn't it? I guess until the crystal meth kicked in he was still making complete sentences culled from Nietsche.

Let me just say, having only recently developed a deeper understanding of limited equity coops, that ANYTHING is possible when public money is involved.

And to the assertion that the LICH thing is a, it's not done yet, so be patient. This is the exact time to get it right, so stop being a negative nellie. AND, from a guy on my coop shift (yes, Park Slope Food Coop) I've learned that there is something VERY suspicious going on. He's a leader in the process, and knows. Ask is it that so suddenly everyone turned on the top bidder, even as they were bringing a $25 million note to the table? Did they suddenly read the proposal with new eyes, or is there someone who was about to get caught with his pants down and they had to scuttle it before it made the light of day? Very suspicious circumstances.

Remains to be seen...

no_slappz said...

@Seth, but the previous owner did sell, however, the sale was undoubtedly much less difficult than arranging a co-op conversion.

@Bob Marvin, whatever encumbrances democracy puts on life, it's one thing for the political process to plod along, getting not too far not too fast. It's something else when business actions are bogged down for years by the same process.

It took about 100 years for the government to rescind the monopoly it gave to Bell Telephone. In the 30 years since that day, well, the rate of change in telecom has staggered even the most supportive visionaries.

Real estate isn't tech, but the de Blasio team could rezone the Garment District overnight and start a huge wave of conversions to residential space, thereby zipping toward his goal of 200,000 new/rehabbed housing units.

Another site? Newkirk Plaza. Plenty of room for taller buildings surrounding the express/local subway stop.

no_slappz said...

Clarkson, when it comes to making bids for projects, there's no penalty for overstating what you can do.

Shexnaydre took his shot and was found out before contracts were signed and money changed hands. Peebles is likely to see his plan rejected too, for similar reasons. He may have some successes in his portfolio, but none involving healthcare properties.

Meanwhile, his plan seems to include a little too much pie-in-the-sky.

As for getting the inside word from a guy at the Park Slope Food Co-opo, well, that reminds of the Joe Kennedy observation about the stock market before the 1929 crash. He said he believed it was imminent when he was getting stock tips from his shoe-shine guy.

The most qualified developer bidding on the LICH project is Fortis. But the "community" was underwhelmed with the Fortis plan because it put forth a project with a small healthcare facility.

By the way, the quote doesn't sound like Ayn Rand. It's probably some claptrap from a would-be dictator.

Anonymous said...

no_slappz, It looks like the area immediately surrounding Newkirk Plaza is zoned R6A. Yet, that mini-zone is flanked by a small zone R7A to the east and the west.

That stretch of Ocean Parkway nearby is zoned R7A.

Bob Marvin said...

Not so would-be slappz; subtlety is lost on some.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Geez Slappz. What you don't know could fill a warehouse. Frankly, I don't see why the two projects have to have anything to do with one another...residential, hospital. The government is so uncreative it kills me. Where are the visionaries when you need them? Not developers, that's for sure. And not Andrew Cuomo. All these guys have national ambitions now, and no one really gives a damn about the needs of the community. And that's the facts, Slappz.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

No Slappz, too quick to judge. Like I said, there was some pretty shifty shenanigans going down. Reported today:

An attorney representing seven anti-closure community groups in a lawsuit against the state has also sued to challenge the scoring system used to rank the nine redevelopment proposals. The system was imposed as part of a court settlement meant to give more weight to pitches that included uninterrupted medical service and a full-service hospital, but the groups now say six scorers deviated from that and should have their evaluations struck from the total that helped push two no-hospital plans into second and third places. One scorer gave the four full-service hospital plans a zero, according to the lawyer, who said Prime Healthcare Services — a California-based hospital management corporation that wants to run a hospital with 100 beds to start — should be next in line if the Brooklyn Health Partners plan falls through again.

Staffers also claimed that the state recently tossed $15 million worth of hospital equipment in the garbage, including desks and furniture. One hospital staffer, who did not want to be identified, said she spoke to a driver who said he filled four dumpsters full of the stuff in one week. A state attorney vehemently denied the allegations, but Baynes said he may order the state to bring back equipment if it has actually been disposed of.

“We may go on a fact-finding exhibition,” Baynes said.

no_slappz said...

As I previously posted, in New York City, everybody sues everybody over every decision that doesn't go their way.

And the $15 million of furniture was probably depreciated down to $0, thus there was no need or financial reason to save it.