As the executive director of Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFH), Solano has been leading members of a variety of North Brooklyn Churches in the battle for more and better affordable housing.
“I got involved with planning during the waterfront rezoning,” said Solano of his initial interest in housing. “When we began, there was zero percent affordable housing in the plan, but we got involved and helped get the 33% percent that exists now. It got me excited about doing that kind of work.”
Solano grew up on the south side of Williamsburg, and has seen the neighborhood change for the better.
“I was very much around for the drugs and guns phase, when I would have to run to and from school,” he recalled. “It’s great to see the south side change so much.”
Now, Solano lives on Whipple Street in East Williamsburg, right near the site of CUFH’s current project, the Broadway Triangle.
The Triangle is currently at the center of plans to create a new neighborhood that will include a large portion of affordable housing, but Solano and CUFH feel that much more could be done with the area, and are currently working with the city to integrate their plan into an existing one.
“Because I live here now, it’s much more personal to me,” Solano said. “There’s so much open land at the Broadway Triangle. I’d love to see a movie here, eat here, shop here and keep doing business here.”
The Broadway Triangle issue has been so divisive within the North Brooklyn community that Churches United itself was divided over differing views between the church leaders and the parishioners over what should be done with the area. The pastors who lead the churches that make up the organization were in favor of the existing plan, while many of the parishioners felt that more could be done, and so Churches United for Fair Housing, already operating independently from the larger Churches United group, amicably broke off. “We felt adamant that there was so much more potential for the Broadway Triangle than what had been planned. Churches United for Fair Housing is now run by a lay leadership, and we maintain a very good relationship with the pastors.”
In addition to the Broadway Triangle, Solano and CUFH are working on a number of other initiatives to improve the quality of life in North Brooklyn.
“We’re excited about a job training program that is set to begin at Domino in the next few months,” he said. The program will work with local unions to train young people for high-paying professional positions.
As the group’s efforts to influence the development of the Broadway Triangle begin to pay off, Solano knows that it is definitely not the last time he will have to work hard for the cause of affordable housing.
“In Williamsburg, there is always something to fight for,” he said.