What Was the Affordable Housing Unit?

A residence at The Kestrel, in Windsor Terrace.

Just four months after the New York Times was able to locate Prospect-Lefferts Gardens on a map of New York City, luxury residential towers are sprouting like weeds in the sidewalks east of Prospect Park. They’ll join recently completed residences in nearby Flatbush and Windsor Terrace—the sorts of buildings with their own websites and “residences” instead of apartments—in what could be called [huge, defeated sigh] the Bushwicking of central Brooklyn.

Like many quote-unquote “recently discovered” neighborhoods, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens is changing at the speed of a Coney Island–bound Q. (That is, pretty fast, but with like twenty minutes between trains.) At least ten luxury residential buildings are currently being constructed in the neighborhood, Crain’s New York Business reports. A planned redevelopment and rezoning of Empire Boulevard, currently home to warehouses and fast food restaurants, has neighborhood residents nervous, and organized against it, in the Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP). Despite the oft-heard promises of “affordable” housing and mandatory inclusionary zoning that usually allow residential towers to break ground in the first place, only to disappoint one way or another, many Prospect-Lefferts Gardens residents are wary of any such rezoning.

“Affordability”—like “diversity” and “gentrification”—means something different depending on whom you ask. Curbed NY reported in August that some of the “affordable” units in Forest City Ratner’s (now Greenland Forest City’s) Pacific Park development will be open to tenants with annual household incomes ranging from less than $25,000 to $138,000. While that second figure looks like a lot, it’s actually a crazy ton: $138,000 is more than three times the median income of Brooklyn householdsThough the as-yet-unapproved residential redevelopment would be made up of between 20 and 50 percent affordable housing units, it’s anyone’s guess as to exactly what that means.

The term “affordability” does not necessarily refer to a numerical fact, at least not in the way it is used in the real estate industry. Affordability is a way of living, a relative comfort among the immovable facts of salary and cost of living—one harder than ever to attain in a city that slowly filling, somewhat inexplicably, with deeper and deeper pockets. If anything can slow megadevelopers’ green-eyed march to Canarsie, it’s community organizing, local legislative action, and freedom from delusion about the slipper slope of neighborhood change. Empire Boulevard may need to be redeveloped, but it should be redeveloped for the sake of current residents, not new ones. “Prospect-Lefferts Gardens is the last affordable neighborhood surrounding Prospect Park,” the MTOPP Facebook page reads. “Stand with us as we fight to keep our community strong.”

Follow John Sherman on Twitter @_john_sherman.

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