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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Yes, We Still Build Regular Old Affordable Housing

But it should be a hell of a lot more.

Today from Rachel, our gem of a resource on all things Crown Heights/Lefferts (they really are twin cities, like Minneapolis/St. Paul or Buda/Pest - CH/L being separated by the great Empire River), comes an update on the nearly 500 units of actual affordable housing being built just to our East next to Kings County Hospital. Here's the full story. Excerpts below after I ruminate here for a second.

I've seen the plans for these come to fruition over the past few years. It's really right down the street from me, and we've been able to see the cranes for months as the nicely designed buildings are being built. Who's it for? Lower income folks, basically, and people from special populations requiring social services. You can't make more than 60% of AMI as a family, which means around $50K is the max. Most people will be making much less. They'll pay 30% of their income in rent, the rest is subsidized by the government. CAMBA provides the social services, and was also the developer in this case. They've become a behemoth in the world of building affordable housing. And yes, you may apply for the next round, and you'll get a leg-up in the lottery for living here. But remember a lot of the apartments are set aside for folks leaving the homeless system, and people with special medical needs and developmental or physical handicaps. I know, I know, it's like trying to find a parking spot when the only spaces open are blue with the symbol for wheelchair (that's called dark humor, just so you know before you send me more hate mail).

I asked CAMBA's chief and founder Joanne Oplustil at a Community Board meeting how CAMBA plans on avoiding some of the pitfalls of maintaining subsidized housing over the longterm. In other words, how do prevent these places from becoming the Pruitt-Igoe or Cabrini-Greens of the future? In those cases, when the cities of St. Louis and Chicago lost their tax bases, they turned their backs on proper financing of the "projects." We did the same here, and as a result of that and other social factors, the pj's became synonymous with urban decay, crime and family dysfunction. (See the great documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth for more on what happened to these bold experiments, and how social policy helped lead to their downfall. A lot of your assumptions about public housing might be smashed as a result - I know mine were. Disappearance of manufacturing jobs and even the Vietnam War for instance) Oplustil feels they're putting plenty of money into the maintenance fund so they can operate these things effectively for the next 30 years. Let's hope so.

I think this is great stuff, and very promising in terms of caring for the City's lower income and special needs folks. I'm reminded of a conversation I had with someone who asked me "why do we bother trying to retain all these poor folks, anyway? Isn't this City just too expensive and sought-after to bother trying to keep the costly poor here?" I'll leave that question hanging, in case maybe you want to think about what that question ultimately means. And I hope you can take into account the vast span of history and 20th Century nations and even older societies through the ages when contemplating it. I find it to be fascinating (at best) that such an attitude has gained prominence in this new Gilded Age. I hear echoes of it all the time in the real estate media in this current crazy run-up we're living through right now - which once again I must remind you is bound to end, and probably with significant consequences.

Rachel Holliday Smith for DNA Info:

EAST FLATBUSH — A large complex of affordable and supportive housing on the campus of Kings County Hospital is nearly halfway built, with more than 200 units completed and work on another 300 underway on the border of Crown Heights and East Flatbush. Leaders from the city, state and the non-profit CAMBA  which is leading the development of the project  broke ground Monday on CAMBA Gardens Phase II, a 293-unit building to be constructed on the site of KCH’s former psychiatric hospital.

Once completed in the fall of 2016, the building will house families earning less than 60 percent of the area median income and people exiting the city shelter system, CAMBA said, with case management, counseling and health care assistance offered to all tenants. By combining supportive services together in one location, officials hope to reduce overall costs of care.

“The two buildings together will save us over $3 million a year in emergency taxpayer costs including shelter, hospital emergency rooms and jail,” said Jessica Katz, assistant commissioner at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

“We recognize that affordable housing, access to supportive services and quality health care need to work concurrently to ensure a quality life,” said Joanne Oplustil, president and CEO of CAMBA, of the new project.
Next door to the new construction site, more than 209 residences are ready for tenants at CAMBA Gardens Phase I, a 193,000-square-foot housing complex built in a formerly underutilized KCH building, which officially opened Monday as construction at the second building began.
Many residents of the first building have already moved in, including Elizabeth Melendez, the mother of a 21-year-old son and 16-year-old twin daughters born with developmental disabilities.

After losing their three-bedroom apartment in The Bronx following Melendez’s divorce from her ex-husband two years ago, the family moved to a one-bedroom apartment provided by the city. While caring for her daughters and dealing with health issues of her own including asthma and arthritis, Melendez said she looked for work and a better home, but “no one was biting.” “I couldn’t fight as much as I wanted to. I fought as much as I could,” she said.

But she found luck last summer when CAMBA accepted her application to CAMBA Gardens I at 738 Albany Ave. at Clarkson Avenue. Last March, she and her family moved into a brand-new three-bedroom apartment.

"We opened the doors and I looked at my children and I said, ‘Can you believe this?’ … I was like 'We are the luckiest people in the world,'" Melendez said through tears at Monday’s ribbon-cutting. “We went through a lot, but never once did I expect to be housed in a place as wonderful as this.”

Tenants at CAMBA Gardens pay 30 percent of their annual income toward rent, a CAMBA spokeswoman said, and the rest is subsidized by the nonprofit and the state. The building project will cost $165 million, $100 million of which is funded by New York State. Phase I includes a rooftop solar panel array designed to reduce energy consumption by 45 percent, several multi-purpose rooms, gardens and a rooftop terrace.
Phase II will include community rooms for health services, adult education and a computer lab in addition to 60,000 square feet of landscaped outdoor space, open to the public.

More than 7,000 people applied to live at the first phase of CAMBA Gardens, the CAMBA spokeswoman said. Tenants of the second phase of the project will be determined by a lottery conducted by HPD when the building is more fully constructed, she said, which will be publicized on both CAMBA and HPD's websites.


diak said...

The latest issue of the Lefferts Manor Echo featured a profile of the architect of CAMBA II. He is also a neighborhood resident.

FlatLen said...

Housing on the grounds of a hospital, that seems an apt location for the population they will prioritize.