CROWN HEIGHTS – As plans to develop the Bedford-Union Armory work through the city’s approval process, neighbors sense an inevitability to a project some feel has ignored their concerns.
Leveraging private development to address New York’s housing shortage, the armory illustrates the complexities of building housing in neighborhoods fearing displacement and gentrification. Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing by 2024.
In 2014, the mayor’s Economic Development Corporation requested proposals to convert the vacant former National Guard armory at Bedford Avenue and Union Street in Crown Heights into a recreation center. In December 2015, EDC announced that BFC Partners would develop the site into a 542,000 square-foot complex including a recreation center, office space for community organizations, 330 rental units, and 60 condos.
Plans call for 166 of the rental units to be affordable as determined by the Area Median Income, which combines the median incomes of New York City and the surrounding counties. 99 of those affordable units would go to households making up to 110 percent of AMI, or $94,400 for a family of three. This rankles community groups like Movement to Protect the People and New York Communities for Change, as the most recent American Community Survey estimates the neighborhood’s median household income at $41,984.
A spokesperson for BFC said the project would help address the neighborhood’s need for low- and middle-income housing without using public subsidy or displacing any current tenants. Proceeds from condo sales and market-rate rental units would finance the recreation center.
The community could use the recreation center but the housing isn’t affordable for the neighborhood, says Desmond Romeo, 41. His barbershop, Dr. Cuts, is an institution in the neighborhood despite its changing demographics. But housing prices pushed him to Queens five years ago. “That’s what’s causing displacement,” he said of the higher-end units.
After months of consultations, the District 9 Community Board voted unanimously against BFC’s proposal in June and suggested the process start over. The board’s role in the land use process is only advisory, and the project is now under consideration by the City Planning Commission.
Michael Liburd, chair of the board’s land use committee, was frustrated. “Why are they presenting the same plan when the community, based on a wide variety of people, would like to see something else?” said Liburd, 46. “It’s ridiculous that we’re in this situation.”
Reverend Daryl G. Bloodsaw, whose First Baptist Church of Crown Heights sits across the street from the armory, said backroom negotiations are ongoing. He supports the project and anticipates changes to the housing components, after which he predicted the plan will be approved. “I could be wrong, but I’m probably not,” he said.
Tim Thomas, 51, is a member of the Board’s land use committee and blogs about the neighborhood at “The Q at Parkside”. “I think ultimately anything that happens there is going to piss people off,” he said.
“I think some people think they can fight gentrification and I don’t think they can,” said Thomas. “I’ve been around New York long enough to see neighborhoods fall one by one and I’d like to think that this time it’s going to be different. But it’s not.”
THE PLAN FOR BEDFORD-UNION ARMORY
- The proposed recreation center includes a pool, athletic facilities, and other amenities. BFC Partners have said they will provide a $1.5 million public benefit annually through subsidizing membership, classes, and activities for qualifying neighborhood residents.
- The plan calls for the construction of 330 rental units. Of the 330 rental units
- 18 will be for households making 40 percent of AMI ($34,360 for a family of 3).
- 49 will be for households making 50 percent of AMI ($42,950 for a family of 3).
- 99 will be for households making 110 percent of AMI ($94,490 for a family of 3).
- The remaining 164 units will be market rate.
- The project’s plans also include 60 condominiums. 48 will be market-rate, while 12 will be reserved for families making up to 120 percent of AMI. Condominium ownership requires the sale of city-owned land to BFC Partners. Borough President Eric Adams and Councilmember Laurie Cumbo have both publicly opposed this element of BFC’s plan.