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Residents Call for Equity, Transparency in Brownsville Plan at Semi-Annual Meeting

The $500 million Brownsville Plan promises to bring many developments and improvements to the neighborhood, but residents want a fair share as community stakeholders
Brownsville Plan, BK Reader
Dorothy Barnes, president of the Christoper Avenue Block Association. Photo credit: A. Leonhardt for BK Reader

Brooklyn Community Board 16, which serves Brownsville and Ocean-Hill, held on Thursday a semi-annual community meeting to review the Brownsville Neighborhood Plan at the Brownsville Multi-Service Center. 

Michael Sandler and Giovania Tiarachristie of HPD's Office of Neighborhood Strategies joined residents and community organizations to give updates on current and upcoming projects. Following their presentation, community members had the opportunity to ask questions and give feedback. 

Launched in the summer of 2017, the $500 million Brownsville Plan is the result of a community process to realize four main goals over the next five years: improve neighborhood health, safety, economic development, and foster local arts and identity. 

Currently, there are four projects which will bring approximately 900 affordable units coupled with other community benefits: Van Dyke III, a mixed-use building with 179 of new affordable units, a health and wellness center and an early learning center; Ebenezer Plaza, which includes 532 new affordable apartments, retail and community space, and 210-214 Hegeman and Edwin's Place which will bring combined 195 affordable units and support services for formerly homeless and low-income individuals.

Three major projects are currently in the early planning stages: The Brownsville Art Center Apartments, a mixed-use development of 230 affordable homes coupled with a 24,000-square-foot arts and cultural space at Rockaway Avenue; Glenmore Manor, which will yield approximately 230 affordable units and 20,000-square-feet of commercial and community space; and Livonia 4, which will combine 420 affordable units with a greenhouse, a grocer, and a health and wellness space.

The $500-million-Brownsville Plan promises to bring many developments and improvements to the neighborhood, but residents want a fair share as community stakeholders
Giovania Tiarachristie, senior planner/ HPD and Michael Sandler, director of Neighborhood Planning/ HPD

"It's still going to be a bit of time for these developments, until we finally get the shovels in the ground and for the units to be ready to get rented," said Tiarachristie. "But it's important that we follow the due process which also gives you lots of opportunities to contribute feedback."

Gentrification being a major concern to Brownsville residents, HPD officials listed a range of initiatives and emphasized that the city will continue to provide education and resources such as affordable housing ambassadors, as well as tenant and homeowner fairs to project them from displacement. Tiarachristie pointed out that Brownsville is part of the city's Certification of No Harassment pilot program, which requires building owners to obtain a certification to prove that they did not engage in any tenant harassment prior to applying for demolition and renovation permits.

The city will also continue to provide education and youth training programs, as well as workshops, networking events and the Business Chamber on the Go to spur Brownsville's economic development and to support small businesses and local entrepreneurs. Additionally, a city-owned industrial building at 181 Powell Street will undergo rehabilitation to provide space for new job opportunities, Tiarachristie said.

Other ongoing projects in line with the Brownsville Plan's objectives include the improvements of pedestrian walks and expansion of bike lanes, the continued support of local initiatives that conduct cultural programming and art exhibits, as well as the renovations of the Brownsville Recreation Center, Betsy Head Park and Newport Playground.

To improve access to healthy foods, the city will continue to support local organizations, community gardens and schools that produce and distribute fresh, locally-grown produce, HPD officials said.

In the following Q&A, community members and residents raised concerns, primarily regarding their position as community stakeholders and the transparency of the overall process.

The $500-million-Brownsville Plan promises to bring many developments and improvements to the neighborhood, but residents want a fair share as community stakeholders
CB 16 Committee Chair Albion Liburd. Photo credit: A. Leonhardt for BK Reader

"We did not hear anything in reference to the sustainability and inclusivity of senior citizens, nor the residents who are shareholders in this community," said Dorothy Barnes, a long-time resident and president of the Christopher Avenue Block Association. "Constructors come and go. We're building, building, building, but we are not sustaining what is already here. What is the plan for the residents in this community who are shareholders and who have an invested interest in the neighborhood?"

Michael Sandler of HPD responded that improvements to the public spaces such as Betsy Head Park and the Brownsville Recreational Center benefit all residents. To protect and support local homeowners, the city offers a range of workshops and resource fairs which "saved hundreds of homeowners from foreclosure in the recent years," Sandler added. 

Albion Liburd, chair of CB 16's economic development committee, raised the question of how the city will make sure that the community will also have equity in the multi-million plan.

"The city is talking about jobs and training. But I don't see anything that relates to the people that live in this community gaining equity in some of these large deals," said Liburd. "We're talking about moving hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, but is that money going to stay in our community?"

The $500-million-Brownsville Plan promises to bring many developments and improvements to the neighborhood, but residents want a fair share as community stakeholders
CB 16 Chair Genese Morgan. Photo credit: A. Leonhardt for BK Reader

Sandler explained that the projects included in the Brownsville Plan "come with a robust set of strategies to improve the community around those sites and to involve the community in the development of those sites." 

"You saw the projects we went through tonight," said Sandler. "These projects are being funded by the city for local organizations to implement. You have local M/WBEs and nonprofits involved, not just to lease the space but as equity partners in these projects." 

Sandler encouraged Liburd and other residents to continue to share their concerns and to get the answers they need during the public review process that all projects have to go through.

Community Board Chair Genese Morgan added that it is important to understand what the community defines as equity and to provide transparency throughout the process.

"This board is committed to working through these projects to ensure that the community gets some equity," said Morgan. "But what does the community define as equity? Is it jobs, ownership and contracts? This Brownsville Plan is about 500 millions of dollars. But with everything that's happening in Central Brooklyn right now, which also affects this community, it's 2 billion dollars. So we want to make sure we get our fair share. And we are creating processes that will allow us to have a degree of equity and transparency."

The next Brownsville Plan community partners meeting will take place in July. To learn more about the plan and to stay up to date with the different projects, go here.


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