The Demand for Land in ENY/CH – A Blog Post

 

Image Source: MMZach

Image Source: MMZach

I had been following the Mayor’s housing plan for a while before I began working in ENY/CH. The following is a reflection I wrote a few months into my time working in the neighborhood.

Whether you live in New York City or not, you are probably aware  that the real estate market is hot. In recent decades, housing prices have been rising citywide, with some neighborhoods seeing dramatic spikes in housing costs. These spikes are often related to a neighborhood’s geographic location (near water, near midtown, near a shopping district) or amenities (transportation hub, dog run, multiple parks, shorter buildings and more neighborhood appeal) which increase the ‘demand’ for the neighborhood, and drive up the real estate value.

By ‘demand’ I mean two things. First, demand refers to the housing demand of the residents – both new and long-time – who are seeking an affordable home in the city. Second, demand refers to the profit desires of land speculators. Land speculators track housing price fluctuations across the city and buy property(ies) in cheaper markets with the intention of selling the property and cashing in  as the cresting wave of spiking real estate properties moves through the neighborhood. This process, known as house flipping, becomes endemic in neighborhoods just on the horizon of spiking real estate values, and these transactions create a meta-demand as land speculators come to compete with one another for properties in the neighborhood.

Both demands work together to drive up real estate prices in the neighborhood. Though increasing costs may be beneficial to stable homeowners, they can be particularly threatening and dangerous for lower income households, many of whom are renters, that may be residing in these neighborhoods. It is no secret that housing affordability is an important factor in perpetuating or preventing homelessness, and that both have serious consequences for mental and physical health and well-being and overall quality of life.

When we think about these shifts in the real estate market, some specific neighborhoods may come to mind: the Lower East Side, Harlem, Crown Heights, or Brooklyn more generally, to name a few. Increasingly the neighborhood of East New York is thrown in this mix.

Similar to the other neighborhoods on the list, both the location and the amenities of East New York have played a role in its increasing demand.  East New York is just east of the wave of gentrification moving through Bushwick and Bed-Stuy at the moment, making it seem like the logical next target. Moreover, East New York is home to a number of current and envisioned amenities. An important amenity is access to local and regional transportation: with a number of bus and subway lines running through the neighborhood and an LIRR stop, East New York acts as a hub that provides easy access to neighborhoods throughout Queens and Brooklyn, a straight shot to Manhattan and  easy access to regional travel.

In addition, East New York is the first of fifteen neighborhoods identified for rezoning by the De Blasio administration. The rezoning is part of the new housing plan for the city, which combines neighborhood rezoning with a plan for mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH). Basically, certain neighborhoods will be rezoned to allow for taller buildings and more residential and commercial development. The intention is to drive investment into the neighborhood. Investment make the form of developers buying, building, and improving properties/buildings in the neighborhoods and residents and businesses moving in – in sum, demand for the neighborhood will increase. Critics fear this will drive up the value of real estate in the neighborhoods, threatening the ability of lower income households to remain in their homes and neighborhoods. The MIH is the mechanism charged with controlling for this effect. MIH requires all citywide new residential development properties to market 20-30 percent of new households as ‘affordable’.

Critics have identified a number of issues related to this housing plan, all of which together assert one important flaw with the plan – that it ultimately encourages and quickens the gentrification of formerly disinvested neighborhoods that in recent history have been occupied by lower-income and working class communities of color. This understanding is tied to three important shortcomings of the plan:

First, by creating a list of neighborhoods for rezoning, the city also identified fifteen neighborhoods primed for speculative practices. And in fact, recent research suggests that speculation has increased since De Blasio’s announcement of these fifteen neighborhoods. Increased speculation increases the demand for the neighborhood, agitating housing prices further.

Second, though many argue that MIH is a huge improvement in comparison with recent citywide housing plans, critics argue that generally speaking the scale of affordability devised by the administration isn’t deep enough, and doesn’t consider what is affordable from the perspective of long-time residents of these neighborhoods scheduled for rezoning. For example, the scale of affordability is based on the AMI of the entire city, which is considerably higher than the AMI in these neighborhoods. This is compounded by the fact that the majority of affordable units will be created for those who fall near the middle of this scale – around $50,000 – though the need for affordable housing is much higher among households making much less.

This leads many critics to believe that in addition to the anticipated improvements for these communities – more investment, lower crime rates, cleaner streets and parks, more housing, etc – the rezoning will also contribute to the mass displacement of the current community, and really a replacement by wealthier – and probably whiter – community.

This is where our project comes in. We aim to speak with long-time residents in the community to understand their perceptions of and relationship with the neighborhood and how the rezoning or speculation in the neighborhood is affecting their everyday lives. Moreover, we aim to use these narratives to contribute to the debate about housing policy in the city – and more specifically, to advocate for community-centered policy development approach.

RESOURCES

Housing New York: A five-borough, 10-year plan. The City of New York, the Administration of Bill de Blasio.
This is an overview of de Blasio’s ten year housing plan

Zoning for Quality and Affordability. Housing New York, NYC Planning:
This is an informational webpage on the NYC Planning website that lays out de Blasio’s plan and intention for rezoning

East New York Neighborhood Plan, NYC Planning:
This the rezoning plan for ENY. 

Coalition for Community Advancement. East New York Re-zoning Community Plan. July, 2015.
This is a plan proposed by the Coalition for Community Advancement, which is a collective of community members and leaders from East New York and Cypress Hills that have come together in response to the rezoning that intends to assess and monitor the consequences of the rezoning for the residents of ENY as well as advocate for the community in relation to how the rezoning unfolds in neighborhood.

The Impact of Property Flipping on Homeowners and Renters in Small Buildings. A report by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods. April 18, 2016.
This report examines the spatial distribution of housing flipping  in NYC.

What happens to homeless families in Redeveloped East New York? A report by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. June 2016
An analysis of how the rezoning and ramped up speculation may be affecting the most vulnerable of ENY

For more on how other communities are addressing the rezoning of their neighbohroods: Check out some of the work being done by grantees of the Neighborhoods First Fund.

A Saturday, October 15th Community Event!

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Cypress Hills Senior Center at 3208 Fulton Street is located on the corner of Richmond St and Fulton St, two blocks from the Crescent Street stop off the J/Z.

On Saturday October 15th, available students and I made our way out to the “Cypress Hills Local Development Corp. Rent Freeze and Exemption Information Session.” Held at the Cypress Hills Senior Center (3208 Fulton Street, Brooklyn) from 10:30a – 2:00p, we spoke with attending residents about the rezoning about our plans to collect oral histories from residents in the neighborhood. For the most part, we were well-received, though it became immediately apparent that language would be a barrier – about half of the residents who we ‘spoke’ with at the event were Spanish-speaking; no one in the course including myself were fluent in Spanish.

Environmental Psychology and ENY at The New School

 

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This image shows a streetscape of traffic and 3-5 story commercial buildings on Atlantic Avenue. This busy thruway marks the border between Cypress Hills and East New York, and serves as a major commercial street and commuter artery for the communities. Image Credit: Kristen Hackett

In the Fall of 2016, I was invited to teach an Environmental Psychology Course at the The New School. As an PhD student in an Environmental Psychology Program, I was thrilled – excited to compose a course that shared the theoretical perspective that had become home to me, and to share my research and interests on Environmental Psychology with students. In addition to introducing them to the syllabus and requirements of the course, in the first couple of weeks, I also introduced them to the ‘Walking in My Shoes’ Project, which was narrowly conceived at the time as a oral history project take place in and with residents of East New York and Cypress Hills.

Below is a draft of the syllabus and a draft of the WIMS  project proposal I shared with the class in those first few weeks.

Download (PDF, 152KB)

Download (PDF, 7.91MB)

 

CHLDC Hosts a ‘Researcher Meeting’

downloadIn August of 2016, the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation held a ‘researcher meeting’ at their Fulton-Street office, off the Cleveland Stop on the J Train. The community had been banding together over the last year to contest the Mayor’s rezoning plan for the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the rezoning had recently been made official, having successfully navigated the ULURP process. The researcher meeting was a response to this reality – and the desire to have people documenting how the rezoning took place in Cypress Hills and East New York – the neighborhoods targeted by the rezoning. Documentation was seen as a means of resisting the rezoning in their neighborhood and others across the city which were being considered for the same fate and identifying specific policy positions that might help keep people in their homes and in their community. Researchers from ANHD, Center for NYC Neighborhoods, Pratt Center for Community Development and more were in attendance.

I went into this meeting wanting to do oral histories with residents in the community. I saw this approach as a means to understand and elaborate the the complex relations  that existed between community members and their place – an angle I felt the City nor mainstream media or gentrification scholars were really illuminating (I elaborate on this in a theoretical way in my 2nd Doctoral Exam). In that it was a qualitative inquiry, this project also seemed to complement the research proposed by the other groups at the table, and the research being pursued by CHLDC themselves).