The Castle Braid vs. Occupy Bushwick Fight Has Devolved Into a Highly Entertaining, Possibly Fake Twitter Brawl
Castle Braid's exterior at 114 Troutman Street in Bushwick
Image via Google Maps.
For months, there's been a battle raging in Bushwick between Castle Braid, a pricey condo building "custom-built to enable the artist," as their website puts it, and Occupy Bushwick, who accuse Castle Braid of failing to provide affordable housing, despite receiving a generous tax abatement that required them to do just that. OB also accuses Castle Braid of flooding the neighborhood with credit-card-wielding, barely post-college youngsters whose parents will offset the cost of the eyebrow-raising rents (between $1,700 and $2,200 for a one-bedroom, up to $3,300 for a three-bedroom). The local 99 percenters responded to Castle Braid's general existence by circling the property with police tape that read "Occupy" a few months back.
"They seem to be mad about a lot, including that." a representative of Occupy Bushwick, who declined to identify themselves, told us in a interview conducted through direct messages on Twitter.
Twitter, you see, has become a main character in all this. While the affordable housing question has been more or less settled (Castle Braid did get the tax abatement, and they don't provide affordable housing, a situation made possible because of a rather large loophole in how the law was written), it's given way to another set of questions. Like whether Castle Braid's slightly loopy Twitter presence is real, and whether the entire controversy has been ginned up to sell more apartments.
Let's deal first with the affordable housing aspect: Occupy Bushwick have persistently accused Castle Braid of failing to make 20 percent of its units affordable, despite getting a tax abatement that requires them to do just that. Mayer Schwartz, Castle Braid's developer, told the New York Post that's true; the paper says Schwartz "confirmed that the building got the abatement, but says owners are not required to offer low-income housing because ground was broken on the building before the rules were changed."
Even taking into account the boulder-sized grain of salt with which we read anything in the Post, that seems pretty unambiguous. Also, the city's own Department of Housing Preservation and Development has confirmed that Castle Braid isn't doing anything illegal.
The rule in question is called a 421a exemption, and it gives property owners a partial pass on property taxes under certain conditions, based on the location of the building, how the property is used, and whether it provides affordable housing. A group of unhappy tenants in the building, Anti Castle Braid, recently tweeted at HPD, asking when Castle Braid will be taken to task for failing to provide affordable units. This was HPD's response:
@AntiCastleBraid It received 421a as-of-right due to its location and when it was built and does not have an affordable housing requirement.— NYC Housing (@NYCHousing) November 27, 2013
In other words, it was never required to provide affordable housing. The rules were changed in 2011, saying that 421a buildings in Bushwick and various other areas had to include affordable housing (it's on page 2 of that PDF). But Castle Braid broke ground way before that, opening in 2010.
On Twitter, the Castle Braid Twitter account celebrated the news in its usual, rather unhinged manner.
The Castle Braid account is a thing of wonder, tweeting something new and offensive seemingly every hour. By turns, it insults Occupy Bushwick, defends the management of the building, merrily trolls the politics of most young people in the neighborhood by making pro-Israeli government and anti-Bill de Blasio statements, and sometimes just goes on extended rants about how the neighborhood's hipsters "need to stop hitting the bottle for a minute or two."
In the Bushwick Daily, reporter Emilie Ruscoe reported in November that the account is a fake, writing, "Khalil Chishtee, a long-time Castle Braid resident and official representative, has confirmed for Bushwick Daily that the account is not in any way affiliated with the building's management."
Occupy Bushwick disagrees, telling us, "it isn't a parody. ... Management of the building fed stories to press saying that it wasn't, and admitted 'privately' that it was real."
And it's very hard to interpret Castle Braid's tweets as a parody; the account reads instead as a full-throated, occasionally tone-deaf defense of the building's management, frequently delivering extended monologues on how they're uplifting the neighborhood.
On Monday afternoon, for example, over the course of several hours, the account strenuously defended the apartment complex's honor, attacking stories it called biased (including Ruscoe's; she's been the subject of a number of personal attacks from the account):
We will continue poking holes in these unfair attack pieces until needed corrections are issued. Facts are important.— Castle Braid (@CastleBraid) December 2, 2013
Whoever runs the CastleBraid account also felt the need to clarify that they were NOT freaking out:
@blurstoftimes Not having a meltdown and we have been talking about sensible economic/development policy for a long time from this account— Castle Braid (@CastleBraid) December 2, 2013
@kthorjensen Racist? Absurd. Castle Braid accepts all tenants. If you have the funds to live here it doesn't matter what skin color you are.— Castle Braid (@CastleBraid) December 2, 2013
@Castlebraid is color-blind multicultural community, signs saying "welcome to castle braid" in 10+ languages on our facade for Christ's sake— Castle Braid (@CastleBraid) December 2, 2013
@kthorjensen tenants aware of our politics we send circulars in the building regularly with announcements and we have blogs on official site— Castle Braid (@CastleBraid) December 2, 2013
It also managed to draw links between the knockout game and Castle Braid (we'll note here that Mayer Schwartz, the developer, is Orthodox, the same group who have suffered several recent knockout attacks).
Still have not seen evidence the knockout game is a fake. Why would all major media outlets be colluding? Seems conspiratorial...some people— Castle Braid (@CastleBraid) December 2, 2013
People say we are having a 'social media meltdown' but we have been trying 2 change things in #Bushwick for years now and are seeing results— Castle Braid (@CastleBraid) December 2, 2013
The fact is if you want to question our tax status or so called lack of 'affordable units' its a matter of public record just ask the city— Castle Braid (@CastleBraid) December 2, 2013
If any of you occupiers would stop hitting the bottle for a minute or two or look up from WHAT IS TO BE DONE you'd see we have tax abatement— Castle Braid (@CastleBraid) December 2, 2013
Day the knockout game ends is the day BRAID has done its job in changing the community for the better. We develop communities, not only land— Castle Braid (@CastleBraid) December 2, 2013
We called Castle Braid's management office, where a man who declined to give his name said he'd call us back, then didn't respond to several more phone calls. But almost immediately, the Castle Braid Twitter started sending us a series of direct messages, which continued on and off for two nights.
When we asked who tweeted from the account, this was the reply: "Our lawyers have advised against answering these questions, but we're pleased to have engaged so many members of the community on Twitter. Please stay tuned as CastleBraid will continue to vigorously defend against the petty politics of envy and class warfare from our detractors."
One tipster on the Bushwick Daily story suggested that the tweeter is Ehud Rabin, who works for Mayer Schwartz. When we asked if we were speaking with Rabin, the answer was, "Sorry, we can't comment on that."
But with us, the account changed their tune slightly, saying that although they're not Castle Braid's management, they are tenants who are affiliated with them.
"The truth is we are CB tenants who do not want to be identified," the account wrote to us last night. "But we are posting from the perspective of the management for this account." When we asked if we could speak to their attorneys, they replied, "Our lawyer friends advise us not to use names, and they do not want to be outed in relationship to this either. We hope you can respect this."
The account added:
We share development goals and politics of MGMT and know them personally. But we don't think it would be good if they found out who we are. Don't want to risk eviction or the ire of fellow tenants, many of whom unfortunately tend to suffer from liberal guilt. We strongly disagree with this mentality, however, and are working to change it -- Braiders should not have to apologize for living here. We consider ourselves a Tenants Committee for Castle Braid, we feel it is necessary to speak up and we will continue to defend our community.
The account also decried Castle Braid's unfair depiction in the media: "CB, development, innovation, and capitalism itself are under siege, lampooned and exoriated [sic] in press, politics, & pop culture." That lampooning, the account added, "betrays a clear liberal bias of local press that there is no effort to unmask @OccupyBushwick activists yet obsession with our identities. We are tenants committing no crimes, they are the anarchists out smashing windows and openly threatening vandalism with impunity. ACB even bragged they stole a flash drive containing financial documents from MGMT and promptly deleted the tweet when we called them out."
Castle Braid management agrees with them, they added. "We know for a fact that MGMT agrees with these sentiments whether they are willing to say so publicly or not, and we feel we are doing right."
With Castle Braid's management not responding to requests for comment, it's a little bit difficult to sort out whether this is the work of a really dedicated troll with a very subtle sense of irony, or an actual tenant, or a member of management masquerading as a tenant.
For their part, Occupy Bushwick says they'll stop engaging with the Castle Braid twitter. They suspect the building's management is enjoying the publicity a little too much, heightening their battles between OB and Anti Castle Braid for maximum attention.
"Unfortunately, we are starting to believe that the entire thing was a setup to bring more publicity to castle braid and rent more units -- just conjecture," OB wrote to us. Another unhappy tenants group, Change CB, seems to be suggesting on their blog that Anti Castle Braid is a fake account; however, Anti Castle Braid recently tweeted a screenshot suggesting they've reported Castle Braid to the state for tax fraud.)
Occupy Bushwick says they've moved on to demanding affordable units in future developments in the neighborhood. "We'd prefer the publicity be on the issue of affordable housing and them using loopholes to avoid housing promises rather than 'us vs them.'"
Bushwick sounds lively, doesn't it? Don't think we'll move there, though. Getting to be out of our price range.
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