Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Fears for Downtown Brooklyn- Public Housing in the Crosshairs

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to lecture in my friend John Ehrenberg's Civil Rights class at Long Island University Brooklyn campus. As I drove John in from Park Slope, he warned me that the neighborhood around the campus had changed dramatically since I last spoke there five years ago. One luxury tower after another was going up in the neighborhoods adjoining the campus, including a new 70 story residence directly across the street from LIU on Flatbush Avenue.  Most of the people who owned these apartments, John observed sadly, didn't even live there.  They were wealthy people from around the world who, in John's words "used the apartments for money laundering." 

  As a Brooklynite born and bred, who returned to the borough to live in the mid 70's, the idea of  a Brooklyn filled with luxury towers owned- but not inhabited- by the global rich filled me with sadness.  It was people, extremely colorful people, who gave Brooklyn its legendary vitality and an infusion of cash without people seemed more of a step backwards than forwards.

  But as I drove home after my lecture, I saw something which made me far more apprehensive than said, something a lot more sinister than merely the loss of a sense of community.  As I turned right from Flatbush Avenue onto Myrtle Avenue, passing one luxury tower in construction after another on the right side of Myrtle, I looked at the row of public housing projects directly across the street from them, extending for ten blocks and thought " How long is it before the powers that be set their sights on public housing and seek to privatize the developments and evict their tenants."

  All over downtown Brooklyn, there are large public housing projects- the Farragut houses, the Ingersoll Houses, the Sands Houses.  I  knew young people who grew up in those developments, took youth basketball teams to play in them, followed the legends they spawned during the golden years of hip hop. They are still desirable places to live for poor families. There is a 14 years waiting list to get into them.   But now, once feared, once avoided by middle class Brooklynites, they sit on some of the most valuable land in the city, and it is only a matter of time for policy makers, whether in Washington, Albany or City Hall, give developers a free hand to move on them

 The temptation to do so will be enormous. The rewards great. And given the policy perspectives of the so-called Democrats sitting in Washington and Albany, I see few if any obstacles to a push to privatize those developments and give them over to the vagaries of the private housing market

 This is a grave and imminent danger to the residents of those projects, and to Brooklyn's existence as a place where poor people and people of color still have a chance to live near the borough's most vital cultural institutions.