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Gentrification Victims Should Get Dibs on Affordable Units, Advocates Say

By Leslie Albrecht | February 12, 2016 3:06pm | Updated on February 15, 2016 8:04am
 A rendering released Feb. 9, 2016 of Avery Hall Investments' plans for 120 Fifth Ave., a parcel that's now home to a Key Food grocery store.
A rendering released Feb. 9, 2016 of Avery Hall Investments' plans for 120 Fifth Ave., a parcel that's now home to a Key Food grocery store.
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Avery Hall Investments

PARK SLOPE — Longtime Park Slopers who were pushed out of their homes to make way for luxury housing should get first dibs on some of the apartments that will replace the Key Food on Fifth Avenue, advocates say.

Developer Avery Hall Investments wants to build 165 apartments, shops and a grocery store at 120 Fifth Ave., and advocates want tenants who've been displaced by gentrification to be first in line to rent the 41 affordable apartments proposed for the site.

"We feel it's important that some of the people who have been here, who helped create this community and make it into the family atmosphere that everyone loves, they should have space in this new development," said Ayana Muhammad, property manager at Park Slope North Housing Development Fund Corp., home to 101 low and moderate income families on St. John's Place.

Muhammad was one of more than 400 residents who packed a Feb. 10 meeting where Avery Hall Investments unveiled its plans for 120 Fifth Ave., now home to a Key Food and a parking lot. Angry locals demanded that Avery Hall maintain a large, affordable supermarket on the site, but they also said they want to make sure the 41 affordable apartments meet the needs of locals.

Avery Hall Investments has proposed setting aside the 41 affordable apartments for people who make between 60 and 100 percent of the Area Median Income. That translates into $51,780 to $86,300 a year for a family of four.


But organizers with the Fifth Avenue Committee and local officials such as City Councilman Brad Lander say those income levels are too high. They want some apartments at the new development to be reserved for people who make just 40 percent of the Area Median Income, or $34,520 for a family of four.

Avery Hall Investments founding principal Brian Ezra said at the Feb. 10 meeting that his firm is "open to" allowing tenants with lower income levels and to giving preference to people who were displaced by gentrification, as long as those goals can be achieved while meeting city rules.

The affordable apartments will be doled out through a city-run housing lottery, which sometimes gives preference to certain groups of people, such as city workers or residents of a specific neighborhood. Advocates with Fifth Avenue Committee said a similar system will be used for the affordable housing now under construction at Atlantic Yards, with preference given to locals who were displaced for that development.

RELATED: More Than 56K People Applied for 86 Affordable Apartments on Gowanus Canal

Park Slope, where once-blighted buildings have been transformed into multi-million dollar brownstones, has seen droves of tenants pushed out as the neighborhood has steadily become more desirable, advocates say.

Muhammad, who grew up in the neighborhood and still lives there, said she's watched many longtime residents forced to leave their homes after developers bought their buildings. Among them were tenants in a building on the same block as the Key Food site, Muhammad said. After it was purchased in 2015, the new owner emptied the building and residents scattered to East New York, Canarsie and Flatbush, she said. 

Organizers with the Fifth Avenue Committee — the nonprofit started by some of the locals who organized to bring the Key Food to Park Slope in the 1980s — have watched as new high-rises sprouting up on Fourth Avenue have replaced low-rise buildings home to middle- and low-income tenants.

RELATED: 13 High-Rises Will Add 895 Market Rate Apartments to Fourth Ave.

Among them were five rent-stabilized buildings that were razed when a luxury tower was built on Fourth Avenue and Butler Street.

"By 2009 these buildings were demolished and today our community walks by a luxury development that receives a 421a tax break where 40 of our beloved neighbors once lived," FAC organizer Dave Powell told the City Council this week during a hearing on the mayor’s affordable housing plan.

Powell told DNAinfo New York that losing community assets such as the Key Food, one of the largest and most affordable grocery stores in the area, is another way low-income families get pushed out of gentrifying neighborhoods.

"People are also displaced when the amenities they rely on — laundromats, supermarkets, childcare facilities, healthcare facilities, cultural institutions — are pushed out of the neighborhood," Powell said in an email.

"To paraphrase something we've heard more than once from residents who hear about the Key Food closure: ‘It’s like they’re trying to starve us out’."