City Lawyers and Councilman Stephen Levin: Plan for Brooklyn Broadway Triangle is Solid
Elected officials like to be cheerleaders for affordable housing. But that doesn't mean they're always cheering for the same thing. For some Brooklyn pols speaking out this week about the Broadway Triangle -- the 31-acre parcel of city-owned land on the border of Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant, where gentrification tensions are high -- there is, shall we say, a lack of consensus on the best path to produce affordable housing.
Yesterday we reported on a group of advocates and electeds rallying at City Hall to criticize the city's plan and praise a recent state Supreme Court decision that bars the city from moving forward with its housing development. The opponents of the city's plan, with support from City Councilwoman Diana Reyna and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, argue that the current proposal would promote segregation by giving preference to those living in the whiter parts of north Brooklyn. The courts agreed last week, saying the project would perpetuate discrimination and granting the city a preliminary injunction barring the plan.
On the other side of the fight, Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin strongly supports the city's plan, arguing that it is contextual and still provides needed affordable housing for the area. Plus, he says, the city has already gone through an extensive public review process, starting from a rezoning plan several years ago that paved the way for this kind of development.
After yesterday's rally (which awkwardly caught the attention of Mayor Mike Bloomberg walking into City Hall), Levin's team sent out a press release criticizing the court decision and praising the project.
Runnin' Scared chatted on the phone yesterday afternoon with the councilman, who explained some of the reasons why he's in favor of the plan and frustrated with the opposition.
"I honestly believe that this is a good and appropriate rezoning," he said. "A lot of work went into this. To go back would delay affordable housing for many, many years to come. It is not a segregationist plan: The whole purpose of the rezoning was to ... accomodate all communities' affordable housing needs," he said, explaining how the apartments that the city would build would be accessible to a diverse spectrum of residents.
Sounds like the goals of the opposition, too! Why can't everyone agree, then? Levin said he thinks it's about political games.
"In my view, much of the opposition was politically motivated. Some of the groups that were not working closely with the city on the plan itself...were not some of the major players in the rezoning, so they opposed it," he said.
Levin has many more arguments focused on the complex history of this area and the rezoning process (dating back to a time when he was still in high school!). But mainly, he argues, the process was solid and the plan appropriate. The fight, he said, is delaying 1,000 units of affordable housing.
The city also sent out its frustrations in a statement emailed to Runnin' Scared late yesterday afternoon, from city attorney Gabriel Taussig: "The plaintiffs' outlandish claims have no merit. The proposed plans for the development help to meet the affordable housing needs of the community while preserving the overall physical scale of the neighborhood. We look forward to bringing new affordable housing opportunities to this neighborhood and to hardworking New Yorkers throughout the City."
After hearing these responses, Runnin' Scared ran back to some of the opponents to get their thoughts on Levin's thoughts. They were not happy.
"The protestations that this plan is not going to cause discrimination really ring hollow," said Taylor Pendergrass, a senior staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the city's plan alongside Brooklyn Legal Services. "The numbers just don't lie here." (His team argued in court that 3% of residents in the new housing to be built in the Broadway Triangle would be black; Levin said that's "not close to being accurate.")
Pendergrass added, "The only impediment to getting affordable housing in the neighborhood has been the city's stubborn insistence on clinging to a plan that will clearly perpetuate segregation."
The two sides can, it seems, agree on one thing. These groups fighting the city were in fact excluded from the process, and that is why they are fighting, Pendergrass said.
Oh, and yeah, they both want affordable housing.
After we published this post, Steve Levin reached out to clarify a point he had made. He had said in our first interview that he thought the groups felt excluded and that's why they were strongly opposing. He called to clarify. "I really do not believe that anybody one was excluded from the process. ... Groups had ample opportunity to participate," he said, saying there were at least 20 public sessions.
Update: After we published this post, Steve Levin reached out to clarify a point he made. He had said in our first interview that he thought the groups felt excluded and that's why they were strongly opposing. He called to clarify. "I really do not believe that anybody one was excluded from the process. ... Groups had ample opportunity to participate," he said, saying there were at least 20 public sessions.
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