Brooklyn lawmakers enter gentrification feud over Crown Heights neighborhood

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US congresswoman Yvette Clarke and state legislators call on New York economic development group to ‘hear community’s voice’ on Bedford-Union Armory

The Bedford-Union Armory in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.
The Bedford-Union Armory in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Photograph:
The Bedford-Union Armory in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Photograph:

Last modified on Mon 3 Feb 2020 07.51 EST

Elected officials representing the rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights have waded into the growing fight over the redevelopment of the city-owned Bedford-Union Armory.

On Monday, the US congresswoman Yvette Clarke, state senator Jesse Hamilton, state assemblyman Walter Mosley and state assemblywoman Diana Richardson released a letter they had written to the president and CEO of the New York City economic development corporation (EDC) asking that “the community’s voice is both heard and acted upon” as the project progresses.

Currently, the developer selected by the EDC, BFC Partners, plans to redevelop the site with a 13-story building with 300 rental apartments and 24 condominiums, along with a state-of-the-art recreational center that will be open to the community in some capacity. Of the 300 apartments, 18 will be reserved for households earning no more than 40% of average median income (AMI), which is defined by the city as just over $36,000 for a family of four; another 49 will be set aside for households making no more than 50% of AMI ($45,000 for a family of four). The developer will reserve 99 units for households making no more than 110% of AMI (about $100,000 for a family of four), and the remaining 164 units will go at market rates to those with the minimum income to qualify.

The elected officials representing the neighborhood say that’s not nearly enough in exchange for what is currently public land.

“At a time when gentrification threatens many longtime residents with displacement, we need a comprehensive approach that significantly and substantially addresses all of the community’s needs,” said Clarke in the statement.

In the letter, the elected officials called for the building to be comprised entirely of affordable housing units up to 130% of AMI (or just under $118,000 for a family of four), and for income levels to be determined on the basis of the median income of the community, rather than the region at large. They’ve also asked the EDC to increase the number of units reserved for area residents from 50% to 80% of available units. (Those preferences are currently the subject of a lawsuit suggesting that the preferences perpetuate segregation. It was brought by several African American New Yorkers, who applied for affordable housing in mostly white neighborhoods and were denied because of the community preference requirements.)

Clarke, Hamilton, Mosley and Richardson additionally want the number of studio apartments and one-bedroom units reduced to 40% of the overall development, with the remaining units divided equally between two- and three-bedroom apartments, which would allow more space for family units than currently envisioned.

“We stand resolutely with our constituents who will not support this project until changes are made that act upon the above-mentioned concerns,” the officials wrote in their letter, which also mentioned concerns about union labor and how the community space would be allocated.

The development, which is one of the largest in Crown Heights, has become a focal point for many anti-gentrification activists in the neighborhood.

But the developer says its opponents’ misgivings are misplaced. “Revitalizing the Bedford-Union Armory will provide the Crown Heights community with much-needed affordable housing, affordable office space for non-profits and local organizations and free or low-cost recreational programming and facilities,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We will build the housing component of this project without any city funds, which frees up the city’s resources to create even more affordable housing for low-income and homeless families in Crown Heights and across the city.”

The EDC did not respond to requests for comment.

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