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, July 21, 2014

A Tale of, three...wait, four...Neighborhoods

Tripping down Flatbush Lane this Saturday with the kiddies in tow I was struck by how much is just plain happenin' in the 'hood these days. Construction, new joints, new faces. An email I just received today got me thinking about the ways in which we all perceive the world through our own experience - past and present of course, but also through the lens of our hopes for the future.

In a matter of a couple blocks, I enountered four people I've gotten to know a bit better recently. And they were expressing their concerns in a visible and passionate way.

On right, Vivia Morgan
There's Vivia Morgan of 100 Black Construction Workers, who along with the Construction Worker's Union have brought The Rat to 626 Flatbush for using subcontractors who hire non-union workers at sub-standard rates. Vivia and co. would also like to see Hudson hire locally, with the reasonable notion that if you're going to hire scabs, at least help benefit the community by bringing work to locals.
Brenda & Cheryl

Then I ran into Cheryl Sealey and Brenda Edwards of PPEN, who were busy alerting neighbors to the perils of development, now that the big money has discovered the Lefferts Gardens area. They've shown wisdom and passion for the issues affecting the entire neighborhood...they're hardly what I could describe as NIMBY-ists. As longtime neighborhood residents, you could describe them as "gentry," even as the word "gentrification" wafts through the air, which can feel like a real insult, to people who've lived here and raised families and been part of the social fabric of the neighborhood for decades.

Speaking of gentrification, some folks see what's going on throughout Central Brooklyn and spring into action. That's Imani Henry, of Equality for Flatbush. He's working on a documentary to highlight the culture of a world that may soon go the way of the dodo, and he just closed a campaign to raise money through IndieGoGo. If you haven't seen Imani and his video, check it out here.

Imani Henry, holding sign at right
What's fascinating to me right now is the fact that the negative effects of change right now aren't limited to low-income or longtime residents worried for their homes and/or losing the diversity and character of their neighborhood. Recent transplants to the neighborhood are often being manipulated too, as the middle-piece of the upscaling game.  The game, simply put, is to rush buildings out of rent stabilization as quickly as you can, since once an apartment is out, it's out for good.

Looking back on our time in NYC, Mrs. Q and I have watched neighborhood after neighborhood go through the same bizarre dance. In the early '90s, she lived in a very small two bedroom on East 2nd. Folks were being offered money to leave, mostly older Polish immigrants, and the landlord had long-since stopped offering leases on paper, leaving the unsophisticated renters vulnerable. For transient types like Mrs. Q and her roommate, such a cash-only apartment situation seemed almost ideal, knowing that they could easily find a similarly priced apartment elsewhere if need be, and they could simply split on a dime if that was their whim. They were the middle-pieces in the game, back then. Heck, we (meaning me and most of my friends) ALL were.

But with prices rising wildly throughout most of Brooklyn, such a move seems more and more scary these days. Many people have moved to the neighborhood and found a rent-stabilized apartment, and hope to stay. The email I got today showcases how strange and tenuous that relationship is, though, particularly if your landlord is itching to hit that $2,500 threshold.

In a nutshell, the person who sent me the email nabbed an apartment for $1,8000, even though the previous tenant was paying $950. Even with the shoddy "renovation," the landlord should not have been allowed to charge more than $1,300. My correspondent learned this too late, however, and NOW the landlord is refusing to offer her a new lease. Eventually they will have to, because our protagonist knows her rights, and is putting up a fight about it. But it would appear that the landlord is going to make life tough for this tenant, and that the ultimate goal is to up the rent again upon her leaving.

Here's a rent calculator that she sent me that can help you assess how much your landlord can increase rent in various scenarios

So how many kinds of housing sitches are we dealing with?

  • Well, there's always the market rate tenants, and they must live with the vagaries of rental negotiations. This is a landlord's favorite scenario, of course.
  • The owners of houses and coops and condos. Despite property tax increases and maintenance costs (yes coop owners, we have those too!), this situation is hugely advantageous to the resident lucky enough to pay a mortgage or own the place outright. Prices have tripled in a decade, and currently show little slowdown. As we've seen recently, home ownership is NOT always a good investment. But here in Brooklyn, even a real estate novice like me looks like a genius.
  • There's the "lucky" renters of low-cost rent-stabilized apartments, who, in the current environment, are often being harassed or neglected or bought out of their leases. And while the buyout may seem lucrative, these folks are going to find a hard time finding similarly priced housing elsewhere. Some folks, too, have been paying "preferenced" rates, meaning that when the landlord has the opportunity (read: now) they can revert to the "allowed" rate, meaning a massive increase in monthly cost, all at once. This will surely force many tenants to leave, almost immediately.
  • There are the "lucky" recent movers into rent-stabilized apartments, who have often been shafted before signing with a price that's not legal. On top of it, they may be merely a link in the chain, as the landlord races against possible legislation to end the current policy of rent-stabilization exit.
Some new affordable units will become available through lottery, in 626 Flatbush for instance. Will that compensate for enormous disappearance of affordable housing in the area? Of course not. And as some landlords actively discriminate against certain "kinds" of people, you can be assured that the neighborhood will go through enormous social and cultural upheaval, not just economic.

If that makes it any clearer why some folks are upset about more than the menu items at the new restaurant, then I suppose we're on the same page. Though I too would prefer some vegatarian options, not because I'm a vegetarian, but because I firmly believe that a just society needs a gastro-pub that caters to everyone, not just the red meat-eaters and the lobster-lovers.

Diversity of food options, too, is often the ideal.

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