Preserving and Creating Affordable Housing
Background and Key Issues to Address

The neighborhoods surrounding the Gowanus Canal area – Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, and Boerum Hill – are some of Brooklyn’s most expensive and hottest neighborhoods, far beyond the reach of most New Yorkers. Rents within Gowanus have risen at an astonishing pace – 17% in the last year, compared to 8.6% overall for Brooklyn. The average market rent in the area is currently $3,134 per month — a price that is affordable to a family of four earning more than $125,000 a year (half of Brooklyn’s households earn less than $45,000 a year).

 

Housing Affordability in Gowanus

Yet Gowanus itself remains a more diverse and inclusive neighborhood. It has a median income 15% lower than Brooklyn and 30% lower than New York City. African- American and Latino residents make up 50% of the population within the areas zoned for manufacturing, and 20% are new immigrants.1)Fifth Avenue Committee, Getting a Fair Exchange: Preserving and Creating Truly Affordable Housing in the Rezoning of Gowanus, Brooklyn(2010)

The diversity of Gowanus is due primarily to the 1,864 units in three NYCHA public housing developments: Gowanus Houses, Wyckoff Gardens, and 572 Warren Street (also known as Warren Houses, which is how it will hereafter be referred to). In addition, several hundred units of rent-regulated housing continue to provide housing in (and on the edges of) the manufacturing-zoned areas around the canal.

Maintaining this diversity is a key priority for many Bridging Gowanus stakeholders. Recent land use actions in the area have contributed to the rapid acceleration of gentrification. There is widespread speculation around new sites for condos and requests for variances to build them under the current manufacturing zoning.

NYCHA public housing

The primary source of affordable housing in the Gowanus area is three NYCHA public housing developments that together house approximately 4,500 residents:

+ Gowanus Houses (a 12.57 acre complex bordered by Wyckoff, Douglass, Bond and Hoyt Streets) consists of 14 buildings, 4, 6, 9, 13 and 14-stories high. It has 1,134 apartments housing an estimated 2,836 residents.

+ Wyckoff Gardens (a 5.81 acre complex bordered by Third Avenue, Nevins, Wyckoff, and Baltic Streets) consists of three 21-story buildings with 528 apartments housing some 1,226 people.

+ Warren Street Houses on the south side of Warren Street and the corner of Third Avenue, is a 6-story development that contains 202 apartments, with approximately 300 residents.

The average family income in NYCHA developments is $23,150, and the average monthly rent is $445. Of NYCHA households, 47% are working families; 11% receive Public Assistance; and 41% are supported by Social Security, SSI, Pensions, Veteran’s Benefits, etc. Approximately 37% of NYCHA households are headed by persons age 62 and older. Of NYCHA residents, 19% are 62 or older, and 27% are under 18.2)New York City Housing Authority, “About NYCHA: Fact Sheet,” last modified January 1, 2014, http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycha/html/about/factsheet.shtml.

Privately-owned and rent-regulated housing

There are approximately 1,300 residential units located in the manufacturing-zoned areas of Gowanus. These units were built prior to the 1961 NYC Zoning Resolution that created the current zoning designations. Most of these units are in 1-3 family, privately-owned homes on the blocks of 6th, 7th, and 8th Street east of Third Avenue, around Our Lady of Peace on Carroll Streets, and along Union and Nevins Street.

Approximately 200 of these units in the area are rent-regulated (stabilized and controlled) stock. Many of these units are in buildings four stories or less.3)Fifth Avenue Committee, Getting a Fair Exchange, 13.Because of their age and proximity to active manufacturing uses, these older residential units have historically been more affordable than newer housing in the area, and they are certainly more affordable than those in the adjacent neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, and Park Slope.

Under current manufacturing zoning, these units are unlikely to be demolished, because they could only be replaced by non-residential uses. However, a change in zoning without consideration for this housing and protections for the tenants is likely to lead to a loss of affordable units.

New housing development

New residential development has taken place in recent years near the Gowanus Canal, including the Hudson Group’s Third + Bond development (44 residential condominiums in eight 4.5 story townhouses). Most of these developments were not in areas zoned for manufacturing, and did not contain any affordable units.

+ Lightstone Group (363-365 Bond Street). The Lightstone Group is currently in construction of a development containing 700 rental units at 363-365 Bond Street, occupying most of the two blocks bordered by Carroll Street, Bond Street, the Gowanus Canal, 2nd Street, and the Gowanus Canal. The development will consist of two 12-story buildings along the canal (268 units at 363 Bond Street and 429 units at 365 Bond Street), as well as 5-story buildings on Carroll, First, and Bond Streets. Twenty percent, or 140 of these units, will be affordable under the City’s inclusionary zoning program. The development will also include publicly-accessible open space along the Canal, under NYC’s waterfront zoning requirements.

This canal-front site was rezoned from manufacturing to allow residential use in 2009. At the time, it was owned by Toll Brothers, who proposed a 450-unit condo development (with the same square footage as the current development). After Superfund designation, Toll Brothers chose not to continue, and the Lightstone Group purchased the site. Lightstone altered its plans in order to comply with new resiliency regulations after Superstorm Sandy and is required to move substantial amounts of contaminated soil and build a barrier to prevent future contamination of the Canal under agreements with the U.S. EPA and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Construction at the site involves extensive pile-driving and the removal of contamination, which has created severe nuisances for neighbors.

+ Public Place/Gowanus Green. The six-acre, City-owned site known as “Public Place” is along the Gowanus Canal, bordered by 5th Street, 7th Street, the Canal, and Smith Street. In 2008, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development conducted a Request for Proposals and selected (through a process that included local stakeholders and elected officials) the “Gowanus Green” team (Fifth Avenue Committee, Hudson Companies, Jonathan Rose Companies, and the Bluestone Group) to develop the site. The Gowanus Green proposal includes 774 units of rental and for-sale housing and 65,000 square feet of community and retail space, in 8 buildings ranging from 5 to 14 stories. Seventy percent (70%) or 540 of the units will be affordable to households with incomes between 30 percent and 130 percent of area median income (i.e., $25,770 to $110,670 annually for a family of 4).4)New York City Housing Development Corporation, “Income Eligibility,” accessed on November 20, 2014, http://www.nychdc.com/pages/Income-Eligibility.html. More than 100 apartments will be affordable rentals for seniors. The proposal also calls for a waterfront park along the Canal (though this is a site that may be utilized for staging the Superfund cleanup, and there is a sewer interceptor line that may need to be re-routed).

+ Stakeholder Priority. Recognizing Gowanus’ historic affordability and rapid pace at which it is disappearing, in the third public meeting of Bridging Gowanus, 65% of the participants identified “affordable housing” as a benefit that must accompany any new density added to the neighborhood, and 58% also selected “deeply affordable housing” as a required benefit. 72% of respondents who said they could accept new density in the neighborhood said that it was because they felt it would advance the shared value of preserving and creating affordable housing. Where new residential is allowed, therefore, a significant share of it must be affordable, and attention must be paid to the impact that new housing has on existing affordable housing.

The process by which new developments of any type come to Gowanus is also critically important. Community members expressed concern over the negative impact that previous land use actions in the area, such as the Fourth Avenue rezoning, have had on pre-existing affordable units in the area, and this was echoed by the experiences shared by housing advocates. Furthermore, community members expressed widespread dissatisfaction with the land use and zoning approval process that led to the Lightstone development as well as the subsequent construction practices undertaken at the site.

 

 

References   [ + ]

1. Fifth Avenue Committee, Getting a Fair Exchange: Preserving and Creating Truly Affordable Housing in the Rezoning of Gowanus, Brooklyn(2010)
2. New York City Housing Authority, “About NYCHA: Fact Sheet,” last modified January 1, 2014, http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycha/html/about/factsheet.shtml.
3. Fifth Avenue Committee, Getting a Fair Exchange, 13.
4. New York City Housing Development Corporation, “Income Eligibility,” accessed on November 20, 2014, http://www.nychdc.com/pages/Income-Eligibility.html.