My mind wonders as the L train glides suspended high above the urban terrain. The train passes by the family homeless shelters so close we can see inside. We pass over recycling plants littered with abandoned cars and industrial waste piled so high it almost reaches the train track. In the distance is a group of NYCHA buildings vaulted against the skyline. This is East New York, the part that sits on the cusp of Brownsville, Brooklyn, a place close to my heart.
East New York – Brownsville, Brooklyn
Lately, East New York, Brooklyn has been in the spotlight. Approved for rezoning in 2016, the neighborhood was to be the first to benefit from the many pilot programs and initiatives implemented by Mayor de Blasio’s “Housing New York,” under the “Ten Year Plan,” intended to invigorate the economy, benefit homeowners, and address the affordable housing shortage .The City Comptroller Scott Stringer had a different perspective on the rezoning. In December 2015, “The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and the East New York Rezoning” report, Stringer details the possible failures of the de Blasio rezoning plan for East New York and other low-income neighborhoods in the five boroughs, deeming the program a “developer giveaway.” Later in January 2016, he provided testimony to the New York City Planning Commission, pointing out the redevelopment plan of East New York “could inadvertently displace tens of thousands of households leaving only a small number the ability to afford the new units being built.” https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/East_New_York_CPC_final_letterhead.pdf
The Stringer report indicated that 84 percent of the residents in East New York would be unable to afford the market rate housing proposed under the rezoning, and 55 percent would not afford the affordable units. “The city promised 1,300 affordable housing units under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing rule” in the first two years of the rezoning, according to Housing and Preservation Development (HPD), In April of 2019 only 187 MIH affordable housing units have been created since the rezoning passed in 2016. Recently there has been frenzy of predatory practices by land developers has housing advocates in the area speaking out against the Mayor and focused on protecting the interests of homeowners of East New York.
“It makes my head spin,” exclaims Marie de la Pierre, long-time resident and business owner in East New York, Industrial Park, Brooklyn. I have lived and worked here for 25 years and have seen more action and interest in the neighborhood than ever. Just yesterday, a realtor knocked on my door and asked if I was interested in selling my house; I was ready to get my mop to hit him in the head.” Marie de la Pierre refers to the recent predatory practices several real estate land developers have been convincing cash strapped homeowners in the neighborhood to sell their homes for a lower value than the market rate. There have also been reports regarding deed stealing as well.
In multiple cases, homeowners believed the documents they were signing were financial assistance because a good portion needed financial assistance, but the documents were the actual property deed. In October of 2019, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura of the New York Times reported, the practice of stealing property in East New York and for most of Brooklyn communities of low-income households has evolved, and developers are currently “luring homeowners with all-cash sales for a lot less than the property value.”
Once the sale is complete, the developer renovates and sells the property for more than the purchase price, leaving many long-time homeowners forced to leave the community. This practice has raised property values, property taxes and left residents displaced in the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York.
Advocates in the East New York neighborhood are ready, requesting the Mayor and City Council to declare East New York a “Cease zone” forbidding developers from contacting homeowners directly and creating safety guidelines for home sales in the neighborhood, and halt fraudulent practices. Many developers have already invested in the neighborhood. Developers want to turn a profit with no regard for the residents; when building affordable housing, many management companies refuse tenants using rental vouchers in fear of the inability to sell their tax abatements to syndicator agencies. East New York is home to large NYCHA complexes seven homeless shelters and has spent years suffering from disinvestment by prior administrations. The vacant space is directly contributing to the speculation and affordable housing boom in the neighborhood.
The interest and investment in East New York is due to the prime under-developed property available, and the multiple modes of mass transit in and out of the neighborhood: five subway connections, the Long Island Railroad, and many bus lines are in walking distance. Atlantic Avenue, Linden Blvd., and the Jackie Robinson Parkway (once called the interborough) all direct routes to and from Queens and other parts of Brooklyn, all easily accessed from East New York.
Additional sources of vast income have invested in the community of East New York. Non-profit service providers and the largest megachurch in the borough have entered bids for additional properties with the promise of affordable housing for the community.
Catholic Charities, the resource hub for rental subsidies and eviction prevention, has intentions to build an eight-story building with 155 units of affordable housing at 2367 Pacific street. The largest Christian Mega Church, lead by the Reverend A.R. Bernard; 45,000 parishioners strong and the most prominent house of worship in Brooklyn, will transform acres of property on Flatlands Avenue to include 2,100 affordable housing units. The complete details of the deal are not available yet, but the community will benefit from the investment.
East New York has many homeless shelters in the area that can benefit from affordable housing in the community. The neighborhood needs investment in infrastructure, land developers that will not pillage and gentrify the neighborhood but preserve the community’s needs by adding stronger broadband services , proper childcare facilities, and community centers. Promoting homeownership in the neighborhood; which is affordable and community-based. Community can be strong in East New York.
The East New York neighborhood residents, whether homeless, homeowners, tenants, understand the neighborhood’s future path is only possible through advocacy and the commitment to community that serves everyones needs equally. The neighborhood’s future; hopefully, will meet the community’s needs and upgrade for future long-term sustainability. East New York was my home for a few years, and during that time, I learned why preservation and investment could only make it better. East New York is great community.