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On BK Live, my message in affordable housing discussion: the devil's in the details

I appeared two days ago on a segment of BK Live, Brooklyn Independent Media's daily program, focusing on affordable housing and gentrification, two rather complex topics.

Joining me as panelists were Sharon Toomer of Black and Brown News, and Gerard Flynn, a freelancer on housing issues for City Limits and other publications.


The hosts first asked for a quick reaction to the term "gentrification." Toomer said it connoted displacement, and Flynn declared it a mixed bag, given rising rents and attendant impacts.

Given that they'd covered the summary, I provided a quip: "expensive coffee, doggie day care, yoga or pilates."


BK Live 1/7/15: Affordable Housing Roundtable from Brooklyn Independent Media.
The image is from my article on Atlantic Yards housing for BKLYNR.

Looking at de Blasio's plan

The conversation then turned to Mayor Bill de Blasio's affordable housing plan.

The focus is supposed to be on low-income households, as 77% of them are are rent-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income on rent, while far fewer moderate- and middle-income households face such stresses.

Affordable housing, I said, might better be described as "income-linked," because it technically means renters pay 30% of their income.

So the issue is the distribution among low-, moderate, and middle-income households.

Even low-income households may be challenged in applying for such housing, as it requires a credit score of at least 600, a relatively high bar.

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, I noted, is co-sponsoring seminars on applying for such housing, in tandem with nonprofit groups; the next one is Feb. 4.

My main message, regarding affordable housing and Atlantic Yards, was that the devil's in the details, since the distribution of such housing in the next two all-affordable towers skews significantly toward middle-income households paying more than $3,000 for a two-bedroom unit.


That was not what the people marching and rallying for this project were asking for, I pointed out, even though the mayor can claim "affordable housing."

Flynn cited NIMBYs (not in my backyard) who will oppose 50-story towers that advocates say are needed to bring affordable housing.

I said there's an intellectual recognition you can have density near transit hubs and wide streets, but, again, the devil's in the details.

What tell the mayor?

The hosts asked what we'd tell the mayor.

Toomer cited the need for sustainable jobs. Indeed, the affordable housing equation is not merely the supply of units, but also ensuring that people can pay increasing rents.

I said it was important to be transparent, and that the press was obligated to scrutinize the mayor. I pointed out how nearly everyone at the groundbreaking Dec. 15 for affordable Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park tower was cheering, but it was more complicated, and the Daily News, at least, noticed the cost of the apartments.

Coming up at BRIC

Two events are scheduled on the gentrification theme.

Jan. 22 and 23: Brer Rabbit The Opera: A Funky Meditation On Gentrification (ticketed) is an exploration of tricksterism, techno-animism and urban survival techniques, that tackles the modern dilemma of gentrification through the lens of legendary black folklore hero, Brer Rabbit, and his birthplace, the Briar Patch.

Jan. 28: Brooklyn for Sale: The Price of Gentrification, A Community Town Hall (free), featuring
Sharon Zukin (Sociology Professor, Brooklyn College)
Robert Cornegy (City Council Member, 36th District)
Neil deMause (Journalist/Author of The Brooklyn Wars: The Stories Behind the Remaking of New York's Most Populous Borough)
Ron Shiffman (Urban Planner/ Founder of the PRATT Center for Community Development)
Jherelle Benn (Community Organizer, Flatbush Tenant Association)

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