“I’m a member of BUILD [Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development],” declared Anthony Wright, a working class black guy, heavy-set, with a grey-flecked goatee and white knit cap with “Allah” on it. “I’m also a member of the streets.”
Wright, clean of drugs and alcohol for 16 years, spoke as if at a revival. Work--thanks to BUILD, one of the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement signatories--could make a huge difference.
"Because, see, when you go to one of them minimum-wage jobs and you come home with two hundred and thirty five dollars and the rent is, you know, nine hundred dollars, it just don't add up," Wright declared. "So I want to take a hit off the pipe"--he mimed it--"or smoke some reefer, or drink some alcohol to try to medicate the feelings of pain, you know, and disgust that, you know, I can't make it."
Video excerpt from Brooklyn Matters, by Isabel Hill
"But with Bruce Ratner's project, y'know, I really know, in my heart, and I'm not going to say I believe, I'm going to say I know, that it can change a lot of people's lives," he continued. " Y’know what I'm sayin': with the apprenticeship programs, and with the affordable housing, everything that I believe that this man is bringing to us is beneficial."
Wright's precarious position--and the deep need of many in Brooklyn--fostered not just sympathy for Atlantic Yards, but deep belief, despite the project's flaws and question marks. Elected officials and other leaders had done too little to foster opportunity in Brooklyn and share the benefits of prosperity.
But the project was delayed, the economy changed, and Ratner renegotiated many terms. That affordable housing, much of it for people well above Wright's (presumed) income bracket, is coming only now, ten years later.
The pre-apprenticeship program would not be funded until 2010, after many complaints from BUILD, and would dissolve in rancor, with a lawsuit settled ambiguously in 2015.
One lesson, in retrospect, is that such deep need deserved more attention before this project launched. Another is that promises must be locked in--or they're not promises. Another is that the question marks raised by critics and opponents deserved credence.
I've tried to find Anthony Wright, but haven't been able to yet. I'd like to learn his thoughts today.