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New report on Prospect Heights: incomes rise, racial mix flip, shift in concerns from education/safety to affordability/diversity

Though Prospect Heights is absent in the Regional Plan Association's recent report on potential displacement, a new report from the Intersection | Prospect Heights project, We’re All Part of the Neighborhood, starkly details dramatic changes that indeed, point to past and potential ongoing displacement.

Consider the dramatic change in income in Prospect Heights, as detailed in the graphic below: as of 2014 (and surely rising), 40% of households earn six figures, up from 15% in 2000. That's well above projections, as noted lower down.

The report draws on federal statistics and also surveys sponsored by the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council in 2004 (366 respondents) and 2015-2016 (508 respondents). The surveys are not scientific polls, but the general trends they track have resonance.

Changing racial mix

Prospect Heights, once 53% black and 31% white, has in 14 years flipped to 28% black and 56% white.

Changing concerns

For example, between 2004 and 2015-6, residents surveyed recognize improvements in public education and security, while worrying about limited housing opportunities and declining socio-economic diversity.

"When asked if they expected to be living in Prospect Heights in five years, one third of 2016 respondents answered 'no' or 'I’m not sure,'" according to the report. Understandably, 73% of those earning less than $100,000 cited housing cost as a factor, but 60% earning over $100,000 also did.

"In this environment, it will be especially important to preserve what is left of Prospect Heights’ affordable housing, in particular in multifamily buildings in the southeast part of the neighborhood (e.g., on Lincoln Place and St. Johns Place), and in the northwest part of the neighborhood (below the Atlantic Yards project, e.g., Dean Street and Bergen Street)," the report states.

A racial divergence

Queried about Prospect Heights' strengths, white respondents--who presumably have a different perception of what constitutes an ideal social mix--see more diversity and community than do black ones.
What's next

In the future, nearly all respondents expressed support for more independent retail (94%), local restaurants (90%), and arts and performance spaces (89%). Of course, some independent retail and restaurants are more affordable than others, and when rents continue to rise, the mix changes.

Understandably, newcomers--residents with less than six years in Prospect Heights, and likely younger--were far more likely to support more bars. Similarly, such newcomers (59%) like contemporary architecture, compared to 39% of others.

"A slight majority (51%) would support increasing density if new buildings include affordable housing—a cornerstone of Mayor de Blasio’s housing program," the report states. (That also is a justification for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park; I'll address the report's findings re AY/PP separately.)

As displacement pressure on tenants and businesses increases, new residents will likely "be both whiter and more affluent than the existing community." The report suggests supporting current affordable housing and trying to "improve the affordability of new subsidized housing." (That's also a nod to Atlantic Yards, given the lack of affordability.)

"The community should strive to find ways to support local businesses as they manage through transition in the neighborhood and absorb increased rent cost," the report says. That's not simple, until and unless there are policies like commercial rent control.

Other challenges include "infrastructure strain, including traffic calming and pedestrian safety initiatives, new school construction, and streetscape improvements."

The report ends by suggesting that working "public and private partners to build engaging common spaces that residents experience collectively and that foster and extend a sense of community." Such spaces, presumably, could be indoors as well as out. But the delayed Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park buildout, however, means that that "park," at least, will take a while.

From the environmental reviews

Note that the 2006 Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement suggested that, within the the ¾-mile study area--an area well beyond Prospect Heights--households earning $100,000 or more would go from 16% of the population in 2000 to 21% without Atlantic Yards by 2016, or 25% with the project, assuming it was fully built out.

The reality was starker, in the court-ordered 2014 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (p. 41 of Chapter 4A) regarding Phase 2 of Atlantic Yards, as shown below.

The study area had changed faster than predicted, with already 34.5% earning over $100,000 by 2011. According to the document, without Phase 2 of the project, there'd be 40.7% earning six figures by 2035, but with the project, there'd be 42.9% by 2035. Current trends suggest those estimates may have been conservative.

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