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Gowanus Rezoning Must Reverse Rapid Loss of Affordable Housing: Advocates

By Leslie Albrecht | March 23, 2017 3:13pm | Updated on March 24, 2017 4:57pm
 Advocates with Fifth Avenue Committee and other local groups launched the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice on Wednesday to demand that longtime long-time residents reap the benefit of rezoning Gowanus.
Advocates with Fifth Avenue Committee and other local groups launched the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice on Wednesday to demand that longtime long-time residents reap the benefit of rezoning Gowanus.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

GOWANUS — Advocates have found that Gowanus has lost 22 percent of its rent-stabilized units in recent years, and on Wednesday they demanded that any rezoning of the neighborhood reverse that trend.

Neighborhood advocates announced a coalition that will speak up for the needs of longtime low-income residents as the city mulls whether to rezone the mostly industrial neighborhood to allow for new market-rate housing.

"When a lot of people think about this part of Brooklyn, they think it has already been fully gentrified and they think there is no existing affordable housing that is here," said Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the nonprofit Fifth Avenue Committee. "That's not true for Gowanus."

Statistics about rising income levels overall in Community District 6 mask the poverty that still exists in the area, de la Uz said.

Including public housing and rent-regulated units, some 33 percent of housing in Gowanus is affordable, according to data collected by FAC. But those units are dwindling quickly: Between 2007 and 2014, Gowanus, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens and Park Slope saw a 22 percent drop in rent-stabilized apartments, FAC's data shows. Citywide, the decline was only 6 percent, according to FAC.

With big-name developers poised to profit if Gowanus is rezoned, FAC and other local activists said Wednesday that the neighborhood's little guys — longtime low-income residents — must reap the benefits of looming land-use changes, too.

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"Those of us that have been in this community for multiple generations... those of us that live in public housing, those of us that run the bodega... our voices need to be heard," said Dave Powell, director of organizing and advocacy for the Fifth Avenue Committee.

"We do need change, we do need investment, but it has to be done in a way that includes us, not at our expense."

FAC has joined forces with several neighborhood groups — including NYCHA resident associations, the Gowanus Alliance, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality and the Gowanus Canal Conservancy — to demand that racial and economic justice be at the forefront if the city rezones the neighborhood.

Advocates said the neighborhood is still feeling the negative effects of the 2003 and 2007 rezonings of nearby Park Slope, which triggered a wave of tenant displacement and harassment as low-rise walk-ups on Fourth Avenue were razed and replaced with 11-story "luxury" buildings.

Advocates want to make sure this time around, vulnerable low-income tenants don't get pushed aside as land values rise and wealthy residents move in.

FAC and the other neighborhood groups, who have dubbed themselves the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice, released a report describing the growing disparities in the neighborhood and a list of demands they'll take to the city's Department of City Planning.

Advocates said the rezoning must "elevate" the following priorities: "real" affordable housing, protecting tenants from displacement, environmental justice, preservation of the “culture and community” of longtime residents, and protections for industrial and small businesses.

The coalition's priorities list pays particular attention to Gowanus's 4,300 public housing residents, who have watched the neighborhoods around them grow wealthier but seen little change in their own situations.

Monica Underwood, a 35-year resident of the Wyckoff Gardens NYCHA complex, said she and her neighbors contend with broken elevators, leaky pipes and mold. They're skeptical about how a rezoning will benefit them, she said.

"We don’t want to see the separation of public housing from the rezoning process," Underwood said. “We understand that NYCHA is one entity and [the City Planning Department] is running this process, but how can you allow luxury developments when thousands of public housing residents are living in substandard conditions?"

Prominent developers with projects planned in the neighborhood, once only famous for its filthy canal, include Kushner Companies, Property Markets Group and Alloy Development. The neighborhood's median home price hit $1.2 million in 2016.

New residential development hasn't been allowed in Gowanus since 1961, though developers got approval for a spot rezoning to build 365 and 363 Bond St., two rental buildings on the banks of the Gowanus Canal where 140 of the 700 apartments are reserved for low-income renters. More than 56,000 people entered the lottery to win a chance at one of the 86 affordable units at 365 Bond St.

Locals can learn more about "land use and urban design" issues related to the potential rezoning at a March 25 workshop hosted by the Department of City Planning.

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