Tag Archives: Brooklyn

Brownsville’s ‘broken windows’…



Between Thanksgiving weekend and the first week in January, when the gang rape of an 18-year-old woman in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn was reported, the neighborhood could too easily have found confirmation that it was a place doomed to lurid violence, if its broader history hadn’t proved the claim.

On the morning of Nov. 27, Robert Hinton, who two months earlier had been awarded a settlement from the city, ending a lawsuit against the guards who had beaten him on Rikers Island, was shot to death in Brownsville. Later that night, a father and his grown son, said to have been gang members, were also killed. In mid-December it was determined that an elderly woman who had been found dead in her apartment several weeks earlier, presumably of natural causes, had in fact been stabbed in the neck.

The murders all took place within the bleak and dangerous parameters of Brownsville’s public housing complexes, where both crime and the Police Department’s efforts to impede it have been concentrated. The suspected rape, which has led to the arrest of five teenage boys, did not; it occurred at night, in a playground (adjacent to a school), which was neither locked nor adequately lighted.

Six days after the attack, in the early evening, the playground remained very dark, and even during rush hour, foot traffic around its borders was minimal. Three of the four lights attached to a small building of toilets illuminated a tiny section of the park, but on the night that the incident occurred all three of those lights were broken. A handball court almost entirely walls off another quadrant of the park, situated in a low-density section of Brownsville, from public view.

The case, with bizarre and conflicting details as if from a Richard Price novel, has emerged to highlight, affirm and upend common biases surrounding urban poverty. A father and his teenage daughter were drinking together on a Thursday night, in the park; you can hear the refrain of good liberals telling themselves that this would never happen among the chess-playing families of Park Slope. Some of the suspects said the father and daughter were having sex, a claim one law enforcement official felt the need to point out would not mean that the woman “was not a victim of a pretty horrific attack.” What seemed to go unrecognized was that if the assertion turned out to be true, she would already have been horribly victimized.

Beyond that, two of the suspects were turned in by their mothers, women clearly unafraid of difficult lessons in consequence. The gesture provided an image strikingly different from what we received at the hands of Tonya Couch, known to the world as the affluenza mom, who was accused of helping her privileged son leave the country to avoid probation for killing four people in a drunken-driving accident.

Although the events that unfolded at the Osborn Playground on Jan. 7 are still unclear, what seems obvious, as it did in the case of Akai Gurley, mistakenly shot to death in a dark stairway in the Louis Pink Houses in East New York when a light bulb was out, is the inconsistency with which “broken windows” policing is practiced. The philosophy behind it is that safety and civility arise as a function of well-maintained public spaces, and yet, not surprisingly, it is the challenged neighborhoods that are the most poorly tended. Playgrounds in Brooklyn Heights, for example, are locked at night, precisely, one assumes, to protect the well-established from whatever might erupt if the ill-behaved were to congregate there.

Consider the state of Osborn Playground alongside the story of Shamuel Cherry, a teenager in Brownsville who was needlessly funneled into the criminal justice system. Over a year ago, Mr. Cherry was confronted by a police officer in the lobby of a building in the Tilden Houses; he lives in the Tilden Houses but he didn’t live in the particular building where he was approached. This was apparently problematic, as was the fact that he wasn’t carrying identification. As a result, he was ticketed. When he didn’t appear in court to resolve the issue — because, he said, he felt he had done nothing wrong — he was issued a bench warrant.

Fortunately, Mr. Cherry was remanded to the Brownsville Community Justice Center, a nonprofit organization that works to help young people — through counseling, tutoring, mentoring and paid internships — who have had contact with the legal system.

One of the center’s stated goals, James Brodick, the executive director, recently told me in his office, is to improve public space in the neighborhood, essential as it is to crime prevention.

Empty lots are a problem in Brownsville. So are vacant storefronts, particularly along Belmont Avenue, where businesses have vanished over the years because of the violent feuds among neighboring housing projects. The Justice Center has spearheaded projects both to revitalize Belmont Avenue and to build a clubhouse, designed by young people, in a shipping container in a vacant lot on Chester Avenue. The idea is to hold movie screenings there, as well as games, sporting events and so on. Prior misery isn’t destiny. Over a year ago, Brownsville got a clean and bright gym on Rockaway Avenue, a branch of Planet Fitness, where membership is $10 a month. It has punctured the neighborhood’s drab streetscape of check-cashing outfits and dollar stores. If only the city could keep the rest of Brownsville looking as energized.

‘Gentrification is the new colonialism’…



It’s no secret that Bushwick’s been fiercely gentrifying for some time now, having won the approval of both Vogue and SantaCon organizers over the years. But one lifelong resident is so sick of watching developers try to push her and her neighbors out that she’s decided to wage war with the visual power of Christmas lights.

DNAinfo reported on the efforts of one Pati Rodriguez, who has lived most of her 33 years in a house on Greene Avenue. Rodriguez says she’s been inundated with calls from developers who’ve been trying to purchase her home, presumably to turn it into an overpriced condo building complete with an offensive name. Fellow community members, she says, have suffered the same, and she’s over it—she’s enlisted a number of long-time residents, including homeowners, tenants and small business owners, in hanging up anti-gentrification signs lit with Christmas lights outside their homes and establishments.

“We’ve been living in our home here in Bushwick since I was eight or 9 years old. My mother has been receiving letters from real estate developers for the last eight years,” Rodriguez told us. “They’re calling her at work to get her to sell her house, but where are we going to go? We understand that land is power, we don’t want to sell our home.”

Rodriguez, who is an active member of the Mayday Space artist collective in Bushwick, began collecting some of the flyers and letters from developers, initially planning to make a collage to post outside her home. “It was just going to be a piece I was going to do with my daughter,” she said. But other activists and community members expressed interest, and Rodriguez ended up getting connected with the NYC Light Brigade, who’ve been involved in a number of protest projects in the city, and came up with the idea for the lights as a form of protest. The project is dubbed Mi Casa No Es Su Casa.

About two businesses and about 15 households posted lights with anti-gentrification messages outside their homes, and though Rodriguez says some were uncomfortable about keeping them up for more than a day out of fear of angering landlords, Rodriguez says this is just the beginning. The group plans to film testimonials featuring individuals who are being displaced, for instance, and more projects are up ahead. “They’re trying to drive us all out,” she said, referring to developers. “Poor people are being driven out of all the boroughs of New York City, we’re just one of the first places that was hit hard a few years ago.”

And though Rodriguez says they’re not specifically targeting gentrifiers—”We’re attacking the developers, we’re attacking the people who are coming here to flip our houses,” she said—she does hope the project reminds moneyed newcomers to the neighborhood that their arrival has real side-effects. “Because you’re willing to pay these higher rents, we’re getting displaced,” she said. “Your luxury is our displacement.”

Nearly 50,000 East New York residents face displacement under rezoning plan…

Gentrification run amok… >>

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s bold plan to build 200,000 affordable units in New York City over the next ten years was designed to serve as a protective measure against resident displacement. Unfortunately, it’s turning out that the one-size-fits-all prophylactic it was intended for may do more harm than good.

First, let’s look at the word “affordable.” Affordable for whom?

For example, the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York– already deemed the next new target for mass development (read: gentrification)– is first up on the mayor’s list for rezoning for affordable housing. However, according to a report released today by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, these so-called affordable units (at around $1,300/mo), by the City’s own standards would be too expensive for 55 percent of the neighborhood’s current residents.

“There’s nothing affordable about a housing plan that is beyond the reach of half the community,” said Stringer.

And unlike neighborhoods like Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, which have enforceable rent regulation laws, and Greenpoint and Williamsburg which have enforceable rules prohibiting tenant harassment, East New York has zero protection for 21,788 units that house low-income tenants. In other words, once the rezoning and development is completed, it will potentially displace close to 50,000 of its current residents.

The number of rent stabilized units in the 37th Council District (which includes part of East New York and the surrounding communities) already has dropped by more than 14 percent between 2007 and 2014 —the eighth largest decline among the City’s 51 Council Districts. The rezoning will only add fuel to the fire.

Stringer noted that for generations, East New York has been overlooked and under-resourced by the City in the way of its schools, parks, public transit and affordable housing. He added, the City’s new plan to add a large number of so-called affordable and market rate units would make matters worse by effectively pushing more than half of its residents right out of the neighborhood.

According to the report, the rezoning plan would add a total of 6,312 new apartments to the neighborhood. However just 1,724 of these would be affordable rental units available to existing neighborhood residents, and in certain circumstances that number could drop to low as 948 units.

The report shows East New York’s Area Median Income (AMI) at $32,815. Using City and State metrics which define an affordable rent as 30 percent of income, a family of three would have to earn at least $46,620 a year to afford one of the new units– a difference of nearly $14,000 between what it would cost and what a family actually earns.

Further, for that same family to move into a market-rate unit in that same new building, it would have to make upwards of $83,484 – more than double the current AMI in East New York and still far beyond the median income for Brooklyn, which was $47,520 in 2013.

Comptroller Stringer shared the data with the City Planning Commission on Wednesday, along with a letter addressed to the commission’s Chair Carl Weisbrod: “Instead of strengthening the affordability of this community, the proposed rezoning would serve as an engine for displacement,” said Stringer in the letter.

The Comptroller urged the commission to “amend the current proposal and chart an alternate course,” one that abandons the one-size-fits-all approach to rezoning based off a citywide standard and instead takes into full account the income levels of each local community.

Another recommendation was to included establishing clear, enforceable rules prohibiting the harassment of existing tenants to reduce the threat of displacement.

“We have to do this right,” said Stringer. “One-size-fits-all doesn’t work for New York City. We must find ways to ensure community-based development is the way we move forward together.

“When it comes to urban planning, we need to do a better job of listening to existing communities, engaging residents, and considering the long term impact of rezoning on the people who have lived in our neighborhoods most, if not all, of their lives.”

Listening to and engaging the current, local residents in the planning process.

How about that? Maybe it made too much sense.

*To read the full report, go here.*