Saturday, October 14, 2017

City-Owned Vacant Land Moves To Forefront Of Broadway Triangle Dispute 

With Hispanic and black residents of the Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick area crying for more affordable housing, City Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Northern Brooklyn) said today that he remains reluctant to broker a deal that would free up city-owned property to do just that.

Levin’s thoughts on the city-owned parcels of the Broadway Triangle Urban Renewal area come as he has already recommended the city council approve the redevelopment of smaller private parcels just outside that area. Both areas are in his district, and the city council traditionally backs land use projects up for a vote upon the recommendation of the member in whose district the land sits.

The entire area has been a battleground for affordable housing, between blacks and Hispanics, and Hasidic Jews. The blacks and Hispanics say the development is mainly for Hasidic Jews, which creates segregation, while the Hasidic Jews are saying anti-Semitism is involved because the developer is a Hasidic Jew.

The Broadway Triangle is a partially city-owned, and partially privately owned 21-block area on the border of Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant, that is bordered by Broadway, Union and Flushing avenues, according to DNA Info.

In 2009, the entire area was rezoned as part of the Broadway Triangle Urban Renewal Area, a city plan to allow for affordable residential development in North Brooklyn. Under that plan, in a deal that several sources said the Met Council of Jewish Poverty brokered, the United Jewish Organization (UJO) of Williamsburg and the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council (RBSCC) were given the rights to develop the area.

The late Assemblymember and former Kings County Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez founded the RBSCC, and Levin, who comes from a politically connected family worked for both Lopez and specifically for the RBSCC at the time the city greenlighted the organization get conditional site control of the city-owned parcels to develop it into affordable housing.

This led to a coalition of mainly Hispanic non-profits and church organizations forming the Broadway Triangle Coalition (BTC) that felt the city should have put out a request for proposals (RFP) instead of unilaterally giving rights to develop the city-owned parcels to the RBSCC.

The BTC then successfully sued the city on the grounds it violated the fair housing act and created segregation. The court sided with the coalition and in 2012 issued an injunction, ruling that the deal unfairly favored Hasidic residents over Blacks and Latinos, and promoted segregation.

Also in 2012, the Rabsky Group, a private developer, bought a privately owned 2-block area within the triangle for $12.8 million from the Pfizer Company, not included in the original Urban Renewal plan.

Rabsky is targeting their property for redevelopment with a proposed plan of 1,149 mixed-income residential units of which 287 will be permanently affordable units including  65,000 square feet of neighborhood retail, a half-acre of public open space and 405 parking spaces situated between Harrison and Union Avenues, from Walton Street to Gerry Street.

It is this project that is now before the city council for approval, and which the BTC and the adjacent City Council Member Antonio Reynoso is trying to stop and Levin supports.

Lost in this hubbub is the city has been in negotiations with the coalition for the past five years to settle the lawsuit over the more than a dozen city-owned plots of undeveloped land within the triangle including Block 2269, Lots 25, 27, 28 ,29, 30, 31, 33, 35, and 36 (Throop St Site);Block 2269, Lots 47, 48, 49, 50 (35 Bartlett St. Site); Block 2269, Lot 52 (32 Bartlett St. Site); Block 2269, Lots 14, 16, 17, 18 (Gerry St. Site); and Block 2272, Lots 49, 51, 52, 53, and 108 (Whipple St. Site).

Since the 2012 injunction, the RBSCC’s rights to develop the properties have expired, and according to Reynoso, a resolution to this property through a competitive RFP to develop it into affordable housing where blacks and browns and Hasidic Jews could live together would go a long way to resolving the animosity between the groups.

“It’s beyond me how in this one area why the city wouldn’t go above and beyond to ensure fair housing. I don’t know how they can just turn a blind eye and endure lawsuit after lawsuit,” said Reynoso.

Levin said although the lawsuit is over property in his district and he has had nearly four years to play peacemaker in helping to negotiate a settlement between the city and the BTC, he is loath to do so.

“I don’t have the standing to intervene myself as a city councilmember,” said Levin, adding any RFP issued would have to be an actual competitive process and he would not support an RFP in name only. “If there is a discussion to be had I would have to be approached with that.”

According to Barbara Schliff, Tenant Organizing Director for Southside United HDFC-Los Sures, the plots have remained unchanged due to the City’s unwillingness to negotiate an equitable settlement until very recently. Additionally, Schliff was quick to note that the City would never simply release the land in an RFP to a Hispanic non-profit.

These sentiments were echoed by Shekar Krishnan, Director of the Preserving Affordable Housing Program at Brooklyn Legal Services, and an attorney for the Broadway Triangle Coalition, who noted that the ultimate goal of the lawsuit was not to reclaim City-owned land for use by minority residents but to allow for integrated-inclusionary housing at the site.

“It’s not just that in rezoning this portion of land, the City should be looking at the whole area/the fair housing needs/and history, including fair housing litigation.  It is that they are required to.  As a recipient of HUD funding, the City must Affirmatively Further Fair Housing when rezoning in a neighborhood (it’s their AFFH duty).  As a result, they must study and understand the fair housing needs of an area, and whether a proposed rezoning would exacerbate existing segregation or address the fair housing needs.  This is not a duty to avoid segregation, this is a duty imposed on government to affirmatively integrate a neighborhood,” said Krishnan.

A City Law Department spokesperson said settlement negotiations are moving along nicely.

“We’ve had fruitful discussions with the community members and their lawyers and think we are close to resolving this matter so that affordable housing can be developed in this community,” said the spokesperson.

But Reynoso is not holding his breath, saying the city has said it was close to settling a number of issues and then a few years go by and nothing gets done.


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