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.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Cheap Post

It's a cheap post because I already put this up on the Yahoo listserv, but it says what I was going to say. Also, Nancy's smart comments are below, and I'm referring to them when I write. (Though I'm no so sure I would take Charles Barron's words at face value. He may be inflating his efficacy in the fight to build affordable housing in his district):

(As written to the 1,000 comments written before it on the Lefferts Listserv)

Thanks for the solid thoughts on the issue. None of your evenness of tone was on display tonight at the ULURP meeting. It was the same horrorshow it's been for some time. Cumbo and Boyd nearly brawled. I'm not kidding - it could have come to blows. She baits, and baits, and baits...patient as a fisherman. Then when she hooks you in the lip, she pulls tight and won't let go.

"Unaffordable" is the catchword. Market rate is now, in Brooklyn, unaffordable. We are officially the least affordable City in America (were we our own) because median cost of housing is so many multiples of median income.

So...if I read Nancy's analysis right, we shouldn't be building ANY market rate apartments. They'll all be unaffordable, so what's the point? Well, for one, so say the perfessers, the "laws" of economics suggest downward pressure on market rate prices if you build enough. This is likely to happen, oh, in the next downturn, but not until. Which could be sooner; could be later. Whenever people start imagining a world where prices keep going up indefinitely, there's usually a correction. That's been true my whole life. Now, if you OWN you're probably set for the long haul. And ironically, most of the people I talk to in this debate OWN. Because if you don't, you get pushed out of the neighborhood eventually because your income doesn't keep pace with rents. If you're new, you're not here long enough to get settled and involved! If you're old, well, the City's got a lottery system. About a 1 in a hundred chance at this point, and apparently people are turning on the City for trying to up folks chances.

Tonight, Pearl Miles and I commiserated. We see the writing on the wall. The power of Alicia Boyd and her scare campaign is just too strong. She has gotten normally reasonable people screaming at the Community Board for disrespecting them, when the Board itself gets no respect, even when it TRIES to do the right thing. Look, the CB is made up of neighbors - volunteers, mostly just there to listen and take notes and parse the issues. It's phenomenal the hate that gets thrown at them. I guess people just want a punching bag for their frustration. And this particular punching bag, CB9, is pretty depressing - so deflated it hardly bounces when you try to dribble.

It's over folks. Plain and simple. It's clear that consensus is not on the horizon. City Planning will walk away from this one. HOWEVER, Alicia so got Laurie's goat tonight that I wouldn't be surprised if we didn't see Laurie Cumbo put ULURP in motion herself - she actually threatened to do so, and I found myself joyous at the thought. We will, of course, have very little say. But I like Laurie. She'll probably handle it better than we could anyway. Then she'll have to answer to her constituency at her next election. But let's face it (don't I know it) it's REALLY hard to knock out an incumbent.

Laurie, go for it. The silent majority has your back. But don't take the bait. Just ignore Alicia and do what Ben Edwards should have done last night. Throw her out if she can't settle down. I've seen it done all the time. Why can't we follow through on our threats? Hasn't anybody been a parent of a toddler before???

People seem to forget that doing this through the Community Board is the only chance we have of having ANY say in the process. Look at East New York. That plan was designed top down. When I was talking with Winston from Planning it was very clear we were going to be able to help design a plan, as long as it met certain goals. Most of those goals were pretty reasonable too, given the City's current growth projections. C'mon guys, you want to help make choices or have them made for you? What a lot of hubris. But nobody seems to want to be reasonable right now. Anxiety is too high, tensions are too high. Reasonable doesn't sell. I know it's nice to imagine a calm and rational consensus emerging (Alan Berger I'm talking to you!) But I'm really close to the fire and I'll tell you in all my years on the planet I've never seen more chaos and dysfunction. There's not even a "consensus" position in any of it. Some folks want to firebomb the whole thing, burn down the house, not let the conversation start. And it's not fun. It's really just not fun at all. Even Kenya Sollas, god bless her, couldn't reassure me with her impassioned speech at the end of the night. (She's got a future that one, though, I'll tell you. Though I wish she would state what she wants. Seems she's playing all sides right now, and it's hard for me to imagine she hasn't formed an opinion yet.)

CB9 will remain in chaos til we get new leadership. It might be a year or two before it gets up and running again. In the meantime, maybe MTOPP will follow through on its threat of a study. Maybe Alicia will break her jaw while working on her garden and be unable to speak for a few months. I suspect this whole "Hunter College" study idea is hot air though, a gimmick. And I GUARANTEE even if their study comes gift-wrapped in bon-bons, Planning won't give Alicia anything at all. They'll shut that study down as fast as you can say kiss my bureaucratic booty.

Jessica and Nancy and others are right to be cynical of the City's goals in all this. But it's the only game in town. And sometimes (don't shoot me) they get it right. Now, as Laurie warned tonight, just watch and see what happens when you don't play ball with them. They will rezone as needed, and it won't be what you or I or anyone else wants and we will be relegated to voting on someone else's plans. We might say no, but that won't mean much.

You know, the City isn't in the business of building affordable housing for working people anymore - maybe someone can convince them too? They spend their clout convincing developers to build it for them. The City IS building some housing for the least able to fend for themselves - through CAMBA-style non-profits and with  special grants and tax breaks - it's like outsourcing the building of Projects. Lots of units are coming online if you suffer from various conditions and circumstances. That's the bright side in the current system. Seriously it is. You can't just turn your backs on the most vulnerable. Then you'd be Texas.

I'm through. Seriously, it's just a waste of time at this point. And mark my words, zoning is not going to solve gentrification if that's your issue, which seems to be the cause of all the race-baiting. Two dozen new market rate projects are already happening in the area with exactly ZERO affordable units. The war is on to evict rent stabilized tenants, and the tenants are being routed. The neighborhood becomes wealthier and whiter every day. If you take issue with that, I'm sorry, but you're not going to be able to stem the tide. I think it's time that all we homeowners woke up to the fact that the soul of the neighborhood is disappearing and a new normal is emerging; we can watch it happen like spectator sport or get involved. And a lot of us white homeowners need to face facts. We just made a ton of money off the bet to live in a predominantly black neighborhood that hadn't "popped" yet. Feeling guilty? I do, though I ain't moving. 12 years is long enough to lay down roots, and I love it here. Still...

So for those who don't have time to make meetings or to volunteer (Tara - great ideas. Who exactly is going to do all those things you request? Video, online chats, outreach, surveys. There's no money for it, and I don't see anyone clamoring to do the work. Maybe you can do the surveys at least? I'll lend you some clipboards), there is a process to follow if you want to plan for the future. That process is broken. And it's a bloody shame.

Though you haven't asked, I'll give you my analysis in a nutshell. You can always count on me for an honest prediction:

1. There will be no study through the Community Board
2. MTOPP will declare victory and try to "lead" the community. No one will follow.
3. The City and Cumbo/Adams/Eugene etc will go case by case - spot rezoning buildings and projects they like; or if they really feel like sticking it to Alicia, they'll be the applicants for a rezoning.
4. The gutting of the neighborhood's character and people will continue, though it will start to feel normal and most folks won't care.
5. I'll have to find something else to write about on my blog - new businesses, art shows, the weather, business closings, new ugly buildings, the ineptitude of our councilperson. Oh wait, I already write about those things. Well, more of that then.

G'night y'all. Another evening wasted. Glad to be home with my family, who've put up with a lot of dad going to pointless meetings. Oh, and I got called racist three more times. And the KKK lady said she's sure she saw my face at a rally. To which I must ask: what was she doing at a KKK rally anyway? Good times!


From Nancy H. at PPEN:

When I first got involved with neighbors and helped to form PPEN a year and a half ago, we were focused on 626 Flatbush.  We hoped  to get Hudson Companies to build out instead of up so that we wouldn't end up with a luxury high rise in the middle of our affordable low-rise community. (They could have built the same amount of apartments if they had stayed low and used the whole lot instead of opting for a skinnier taller building.) We were told by the developer that 626 had to go high because the the great views of the Park would give the building its best profits (and by the way there will be profits for Hudson Companies!), but, not to worry:  20% of the units would be affordable! 

 As the months went by, we became more and more educated about this question of affordable housing.

 David Kramer, the head of Hudson Companies, likes to think of himself as someone who is deeply concerned about affordable housing. 626 Flatbush is, for him, a case in point: 20% of the units will be "affordable."  But, as my husband likes to say, that means 80% of the units are....well...unaffordable  (also known as market rate). With 254 apartments slated to be built at 626, that means the neighborhood (and the de Blasio administration) will get 51 affordable apartments. The Mayor will be adding that to the "affordable" housing tally he is keeping.  But what about the other 203 "unaffordable" apartments?  Right now our neighborhood has one of the highest percentages of rent stabilized apartments in the city.  But as more market rate apartments are built, there is an upward pressure on the rents at nearby apartment buildings and the end result is that we will lose more affordable housing than the 51 units we gain. 

 In short, we at PPEN came to the conclusion that building 80% market rate/ 20% affordable is a Trojan horse for gentrification.  This is the problem that the article in the New York Times is getting at. 

 The reason that PPEN has suggested to CB9 that the area to be rezoned have a rather restricted height limit is to make sure that developers of outsized projects have to ask for a variance to build higher than the height limit. To build beyond the height restriction, they would need to consult with the Community Board and the area's City Council Member.  This gives the community more power and a chance, going forward, to ask for more of what it needs including a higher ratio of affordable housing or other amenities than we could get out of 626 which didn't need a variance to be built.

 Former Council Member Charles Baron explains that when developers came to him because they needed a variance to build in his district, he was able to get them to build much higher ratios of affordable housing (sometimes even getting all-affordable buildings) and to give the community other benefits as well.  Developers often cried poor at the beginning, but, he said, in the end they still wanted to build and so the community was able to get much more of what it wanted and needed out of the project.

By the way, on the topic of tone, I agree with Duane and others who have called for more neighborly conversation and sharing of information and ideas.  I'm going to aspire to the "We are Neighbors not Sheep!" approach. When the atmosphere gets too caustic, it silences those who might have a good question or idea and would like to speak up but feel intimidated. It also limits the depth of the conversation because everyone is focused on the personality fight rather than on the issues and their possible solutions.



Anonymous said...

"And mark my words, zoning is not going to solve gentrification if that's your issue." Well exactly. Certain people involved in this effort are in truth only on board because they're against high rise buildings. If downzoning happened and there were 6 story luxury replica prewar condos, or very expensive and lovely newly built townhouses replicating the historic Manor houses being built instead of highrises you would not hear a word of protest from these people.

Anonymous said...

The laws of economics you're describing have never worked in NYC real estate. Those arguments were used to end rent stabilization, which is one of the huge things that got us here. If we still had rent stabilization, none of this would be happening.

The landlords back in the day argued to kill rent stabilization with the rationale you are presenting on this blog: that they will build more housing and rents will then naturally lower. It's nonsense, as we've seen. There's always more demand. And the people that have been brutally displaced so you can own a brownstone with your white middle class family are gone from their homes forever.

So, if you have this point of view, the other side is right - that you are not on their side. You dismiss renters, likely life long residents, getting tossed out of this neighborhood in this very post as not a big deal. So - I can understand this group hating you, you think you're one of the good guys but you're one of the bad guys in this fight. Sorry to say. Please fight to bring back renters rights in NYC. that's the only way out of this mess.

Any other point of view, like your pretend liberal one, is actually aiding in the profiteering from the destruction of neighborhoods and lives. Which, by the way, you, the blogger in question, are.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Please. You haven't read a word I've said. I put the "laws" of economics in quotes for a reason. Of course those laws don't work in a place that people are rabid to live in. Well, until they do. A serious terrorist attack will make the word "glut" meaningful again.

Your reading skills need some brushing up. Try a couple more posts and you'll see you haven't a clue where I'm coming from. Actually don't bother. You're just like the rest of that crowd - quick to judge, short on facts, reading and hearing what you want to hear.

I'll say it again:

"gentrification is not going to be solved by zoning." If that's your issue, you should be looking at the racist, greedy tactics of the big real estate holding companies gobbling up apartment buildings. They're laughing as this ridiculous fight captures everyone's attention.

And you sir, if you're not already involved with the Crown Heights Tenants Union, need to get involved. This zoning thing is a red herring.

Anonymous said...

Full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.

That's how I feel about this entire struggle.

I have lived in this community for almost my entire life. Gentrification is a fact of life, and the fact is this neighborhood has been particularly resistant to it for years due to the heavily Caribbean population. People don't have roots down south to go to as with other African American communities that have been gentrified.

Nevertheless, neighborhoods shift and change all the time. Brooklyn is undergoing a renaissance, and for better or worse, or more likely for better AND worse, gentrification is a reality.

You're a renter? Sadly, Welcome to America. You don't have a ton of rights, because you don't actually own anything. The laws were written by landowners from the inception of this country, and not a lot has changed in that regard. Fighting a war against the shifting realities of the demographics NYC neighborhoods is a pointless and fruitless endeavor. You would have better luck warring against the rain.

It will be sad, when the character of the neighborhood changes. It will also be joyous, because it will be the dawn of something new and different. It seems rather pointless to expend so much energy fighting what is the inevitable course of things.

I live across the street from 626 Flatbush, and I for one am eager to see what it brings. It will indeed be a game changer, and likely will indeed bring more affluent, white professionals to the neighborhood. I'm not threatened by that, and while this may mean that some of us may not afford to live here anymore after a time, that's OK too. After all, this is life, and the one constant in life, is that all thigs inevitably change.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Anon: Thanks for stating the obvious, with a touch of disdain for the people being kicked out for being too poor and too black.

You miss the point. Landlords are breaking the law, targeting tenants who don't make their buildings enough money. Not providing heat in the worst of winter? Not cashing rent checks then taking you to court? Making sham improvements and doubling the rent? You call this the nature of things? I call it criminal and heartless.

I've said it many times - gentrification is here, it can't be reversed. It's the cruelty that must be stopped.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

And by the way "this struggle" is not about gentrification. Alicia Boyd is thrilled that you think that. It's about planning, zoning and smart, contextual growth.

She's got the whole neighborhood eating out of her hand.

Last night, she busted up another committee meeting. This time the Executive Committee. Glad I wasn't there.

Anonymous said...

@ ClarksonFlatBed

Its not about disdain, and its not about being too black. It might indeed be about being too poor, but that is LIFE in this town, and it always has been.

I wholeheartedly support going after landlords who are illegally denying services to tenants in order to pressure them to leave. Thats what our community leaders SHOULD be spending their time on.

Buit it *is* very much about gentrification. "Smart contextual growth" wouldn't be an issue at all in this neighborhood if PLG weren't experiencing the rapid gentrification that is has over the past five years. This wouldn't be seen as a threat by Ms. Boyd and her supporters, if this weren't about gentrification.

A zoning study 10 years ago wouldn't have sparked any of this.

PLG has rapidly changed over the last 5-10 years, and it has sparked what many of the old guard see as thee writing on the wall to the inevitable deeper change, pure and simple.

It is very much about the very raw and emotional feelings of some elements of a community that feel pushed out and excluded, and they have to be acknowledged for what they are, not dismissed as "crazys" as so many here do. It's not as antiseptic an issue to people that feel powerless, and have watched their officials sell them out time and again.

With that said, all of the emotion and the screaming and the fighting, will amount to little.

You mistake my disdain for the shouting and fighting about what ultimately isn't possible to change for disdain for those that have these feelings. Gentrification is coming. The only thing left to discuss is a matter of degrees.

To suggest that this isn't about gentrification is to misunderstand the very crux of the issue.

The opposition to the rezoning plan is counterproductive in my opinion, and ultimately fruitless. That said, what will come without it, is sadly worse than what it's opponent's fear, and its tragic that they don't understand that.

This is indeed very much about gentrification, and its also just life in the big city.

Things change.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Um...are you talking to me? Because you've managed to argue over things I didn't say or mean. Pretty much everything you just said I've written more than once.

I don't agree that gentrification is coming, though. It's already here. Has been.

Growth is happening because of gentrification, though technically it COULD be happening primarily because of immigration or movement to the cities like it's happened in the major metropolises all over the world. But given we're talking about here, and now...check. We agree again.

It's not about being too black? Who said that? No Slappz? (yes he still writes about a post a day but lucky for you you don't see it). I have no idea what you mean by that, especially in this context.

Is it about racism? Of course. And yes, leaders can and should be fighting it, particularly around housing. We agree again. Though I think you dismiss the bigger forces at work, and seem to think they're all natural and undeniable.

I know lots of people who are upset. I call just three or four crazies. That leaves hundreds who are just, well, upset. I stand by my armchair diagnoses of a few, however. They know who they are. We're saving a bed at Kings County.

So what's left that we disagree about? Well, I say that the zoning fight needs to be undertaken with the full understanding of gentrification and its effects into consideration. But it is not about whether we can slow it or speed it up. Because, like I've said in a number of different ways, it's beating to its own drummer, sometimes faster. Well, usually faster. It's the drummer that needs a slap upside the head.

We should be able to talk about planning without the shouting, and we do. When we're in a room without the shouters.

I still don't know what you're saying, but I'm happy to read you try again. If you want to spar with me, you may need to pick a different topic.

Oh, and just a little tidbit. A rezoning 10 years ago would have prevented 626 Flatbush from rising to 23 stories. That's enough for me right there.

Alex said...

Anon, what you've gotten wrong is that AB is completely disingenuous, and she's manipulated the community into thinking that she's all about the interests of preserving the neighborhood. She's not. She's about keeping apartment buildings away from her house, plain and simple. She didn't even get into the issue of gentrification and displacement until she was well into ranting about Empire becoming Times Square, complete with pictures. She added social justice to her diatribes to rally more people. That is what Tim means when he says "it's not about gentrification," because AB is not at her core concerned about gentrification.