Executive Director Jaron Benjamin of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, who led the April 3rd march, placed the blame for shrinking affordable housing stock citywide on the Bloomberg administration’s choice to favor luxury development over established community interests.
“We can’t continue to run an affordable housing project in the city this way,” Benjamin said in an interview. “What the previous administration did was give away millions in tax breaks to developers, who then in turn built non-union, and nobody got anything out of it. We didn’t get any jobs out of it, we didn’t get any housing out of it, but yet they ran away with our tax dollars.”
Jose Luis Rodriguez was one of many displaced former DoBro residents who spoke out at the rally. For decades, Rodriguez’s entire extended family rented apartments in the same building at 343 Gold St.
But when Avalon Fort Greene built up its 631-unit luxury high-rise with zero below-market apartment offerings, they were forced to disperse throughout the five boroughs, finding affordable housing wherever they could.
“We’re spread out, some in Brooklyn, some in Queens. There used to be a point where we could all get together in the same locale, but we can’t really do that now,” Rodriguez said. “I’m talking about people who lived here for decades at a time. They saw the changes over time, but not so extreme that they had to be pushed out before.”
LeCarl Ellison, a member of the General Building Laborers’ 79 union who was also pushed out of his residence at 343 Gold St., was appalled that so many non-union developments are currently taking place around the city, and especially in DoBro.
“They’re being built up non-union, and we still can’t afford them,” Ellison said. “It’s time for us to stand up and do something about it.”
Outside of Brooklyn Gold, a luxury development just down the street at 277 Gold St., Barbara Smith shared her own story of forced relocation, which came about when was told she would have to pay almost $3,000 per month to hold onto her single-occupancy apartment.
“$2,900 for a one-bedroom? I can’t afford that,” Smith said. “Developers need to know that housing isn’t just for the rich because the rich don’t live here alone.”
In the report entitled “Luxurious Loophole: How Developers Use Taxpayer Money to Subsidize Housing for the Rich,” which was released by the Real Affordability for All Campaign the same day the rally took place, a sharp demographic shift from 2000 to 2011 is detailed, with a 23 percent decline in the black population and an almost 20 percent decline in the Hispanic population. All the while, the white population rose by 23 percent in Downtown Brooklyn in the same period.
One reason behind this shift, the report surmises, is that the median income level of the falling demographics is on average lower than $75,000, while the income level of whites moving in is generally above the $75,000 median level.
As further evidence, the RAFA report points out that white income level in DoBro has increased by 65 percent over the past decade, a steeper rise than anywhere else in the borough.
Out of 61 new buildings comprising 4,395 units built in the downtown area from 2008 to 2012, all of which received 421a property tax abatements, only five included a total of 257 below-market rate apartments. That’s roughly 6 percent of the total.
“Only 151 of these units are affordable for low-income families and only 106 more are affordable to moderate-income families,” the report reads. “Ninety percent of taxpayers who subsidized these new buildings cannot afford to live in them.”
The report calls on Mayor Bill de Blasio to help turn the tide of housing development in favor of lower- and middle-class residents.
“For too many years, city developers receiving massive taxpayer subsidies have produced little affordable housing,” the report reads. “But Mayor de Blasio and his administration can begin to reverse this trend by including the recommendations described above in their affordable housing plan set to be released on May 1.”
Russell Cheek, manager of programs and development at the Black Institute, spoke to that point in an interview during the march.
“We want to ensure that the new mayor keeps his promise that there will be affordable housing here,” Cheek said. “We want to ensure he makes good on his promise of 200,000 affordable apartments throughout the city.”