Today local residents describe the corner of Bushwick Avenue and Beaver Street, spotted with run-down buildings, as a “rat-infested garbage dump.” Within a couple of years, that could change. Last Wednesday, Brooklyn’s Community Board 4 voted overwhelmingly in favor of a plan to build hundreds of units of housing, shops and parks on the seven acres that once held the Rheingold brewery. It would be the largest community development project in Bushwick since the mid 1980s.
Bushwick Gardens, proposed by the city Department of Housing and Urban Development, would consist of 460 new homes, storefronts, a day care center and parks, all built to the tune of about $75 million. This project marks one of the first efforts in the state to re-build abandoned industrial areas, or “brownfields.” (According to HPD, extensive environmental tests have shown the site is clean and ready for development.)
In a rapidly growing neighborhood with the largest average household size in Brooklyn, new housing is certainly welcome. “I talk to so many people every day who are desperately looking for a place to live,” said community board member Daina Reyna.
Exactly how many residents of the neighborhood will benefit from the project is up for debate, however. In the current plan, only 94 of the proposed homes are for low-income tenants, with rents from $470 for a one-bedroom to $690 for three-bedrooms. The New York City Housing Partnership will build the rest of the homes, two-family row houses, for sale to families with incomes between $32,000 and $70,000, far above the area’s average household income of $18,800.
“Housing is great, but a lot of the members of our organization work in minimum wage or sub-minimum wage jobs or rely on public assistance,” said Andrew Friedman, co-director of Make the Road by Walking, a neighborhood advocacy group that does not oppose the project but questions its emphasis on middle-income home ownership.
One of the project’s biggest backers, state Assemblyman Vito Lopez, said the Partnership homes will benefit the poorer residents. “When people from Bushwick buy those homes, they leave their apartments, and those then open up for others,” he said. Lopez also hopes to get more low-income units written into the final plan. And he is certainly in a position to wield influence: The Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a social services group he founded in 1973, is slated to build and manage the low-income apartments and to sell the Partnership homes.
Some community members question the group’s involvement. “We have serious reservations about the cost and quality of these homes, but no one listens,” said Father James Kelly, pastor of the nearby St. Brigid parish. “It’s the dictatorship of the Lopez machine.”
The assemblyman snorts at this charge. Not only were 47 community activists involved in planning the project, he said, but Ridgewood-Bushwick is the only local group qualified to develop housing in the neighborhood. “Let me know if there is someone else who could do it or has thought of it,” he said.
From here, the approval process has a ways to go: Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden will weigh in next month, followed by the City Planning Commission, the City Council and the mayor. Some local residents can’t wait. “It’s been known as a place where people dump their dead pets,” said community board chair Anna Gonzalez. “It’s so amazing that now we’ll have private homes and affordable housing there.”