The lawsuit challenges the methodology that city officials use to determine the potential for residential displacement in land use decisions. City law requires officials to conduct an impact assessment using the City Environmental Quality Review Technical Manual.
Legal Aid lawyers said the manual assumes only residents in unregulated apartments are at risk. In their experience, advocates argued that both unregulated and regulated buildings are vulnerable when market-rate developments come to a neighborhood.
The opponents of the Bedford-Union Armory plan said the city’s methodology produced a “false premise” on how many Brooklyn residents would be affected by the project.
“The city’s methodology not only puts Crown Heights tenants at risk, but others barely making rent in every borough,” said Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “The current proposal sets a dangerous precedent, and it will worsen displacement if left unchecked.
“Our concerns have been raised continually with the city, but to no avail,” she added. “Gentrification affects all apartments, regulated or unregulated, and the city’s land use decisions need to factor in that obvious reality.”
Last Thursday, the City Council overwhelmingly passed the rezoning proposal. The mayor’s office released a statement praising the project for bringing more affordable housing, jobs for local residents and community spaces.
“As we work to make this city more equitable, we are building and preserving affordable housing at a record pace,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “As we plan for the future, we must protect the core values of our city and our neighborhoods, and most importantly the very residents who built these communities.”
Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, who brokered the final deal with the city and developer BFC Partners, said the vote marked the culmination of a two-year journey. The final product now “reflects what we have long envisioned” for the site, she said.
But Vaughn Armour, an advocate with New York Communities for Change, a community group that staunchly opposed the project, called the vote “a betrayal” by Cumbo and the City Council.
“Despite campaign promises, Cumbo approved a project that turns a public resource over for private profit, and in exchange she is giving us a recreation center that no one will be able to use because they will have been pushed out,” he said. “This is an insult.”
The revised deal removed market-rate condominiums from the project. More than 400 apartments will be rental units rather than a rental-condo mix, meaning the site will remain publicly owned.
The proposal includes nearly 250 units of affordable housing, and 10 percent of those units will be for formerly homeless families.
The armory’s Drill Shed will be converted into a recreation center with basketball courts, a multipurpose court and a swimming pool. Half of the memberships at the center will be reserved for community members at a discounted rate.
Other amenities include discounted office space for local nonprofits, a goal of dedicating 25 percent of construction jobs to minority and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) and community space for a health care center.
On the steps of City Hall last Wednesday before the City Council vote, advocates slammed the project for not being affordable enough for the current community, and for the city’s “taxpayer giveaways” to the developer.
Donna Mossman, a longtime resident and founder of the Crown Heights Tenants Union, said the neighborhood is in dire need of “true affordable housing, not market-rate luxury rentals.”
“Instead of housing us like cattle, 100 percent affordable housing for working-class Crown Heights tenants must be built in our community,” she said.
She noted that Ebbets Field, an apartment complex two blocks away, has suffered more than 1,000 evictions.
“This plan, and the decision-making process that created it, screams of unfairness,” Mossman said. “It’s a plan to continue to build housing for the rich, and to speed up the displacement of long-standing tenants who are the heart and soul of Crown Heights.”
In addition to two longtime Crown Heights tenants, Lyris Ming and Faith Wilder, the advocacy organization Tenants & Neighbors is also named in the lawsuit. Katie Goldstein, the group’s executive director, said they joined the lawsuit because they are opposed to market-rate housing on public land.
“We believe that a market-rate project of this magnitude in this neighborhood will lead to displacement of both unregulated and regulated tenants,” she said. “The mayor must radically shift his housing agenda so to provide housing for low-income New Yorkers and to protect tenants from being displaced from their neighborhoods.”