Families March to Save Threatened Nabe: Downtown Brooklyn Star, Brooklyn NY, 10/18/07

Pols Lead Discussion About Emminent Domain and Luxury Development in Downtown Brooklyn

By Jeffrey Harmatz

Tackling a process that has already begun, a convention was held on Saturday to promote discussion among residents about eminent domain and the possibility of being priced out the Downtown Brooklyn neighborhoods that they call home.

The Downtown Brooklyn Plan calls for several million square feet of new retail space and luxury housing in the middle of what has been an affordable residential neighborhood for the past few decades. These new construction projects, many of which have already broken ground, provide no affordable housing or services that will cater to the established community, and critics say that they are being built in an effort to squeeze out the current residents and change the character of the of the neighborhood.

Local politicians spoke alongside neighbors at the convention, which was organized by Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE). The event culminated in a march down the streets of Downtown Brooklyn to protest the new construction and inform Brooklyn residents of the upcoming changes. Council members Charles Barron and Letitia James, assemblymen Hakeem Jeffries and Karim Camara, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, and a representative from Borough President Marty Markowitz were on hand at P.S. 67 to discuss the issue with residents and hear their stories.

"Displacement is on the way up and affordable housing is on the way down, and it’s so plain that even Stevie Wonder can see it," said Jeffries. "Public housing is an important part of the fabric of this neighborhood and a big part of what initially attracted developers."

The changes that are coming to the Downtown Brooklyn area are symptomatic of a trend that is taking hold of the entire city. In the past decade, eager developers are quick to seize working-class neighborhoods steeped in local character and charm and develop them without consideration for the original residents. Such neighborhoods all over Brooklyn are being redeveloped, leaving the established community with even fewer options than they originally had. Organizations like FUREE hope that by uniting the neighborhoods, they can protect and preserve them.

"We demand to get what we deserve," said Arnetha Singleton, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, "and what we deserve is affordable grocery stores, laundromats, and check cashing stores. We are human beings and we pay taxes. We have to really unite."

Not everyone who spoke placed the blame for the displacement on the developers and government.

"I’m ashamed of this neighborhood," said Claire Bradley, a sergeant in the NYPD, raising the ire of the gathering. "People on the outside look and say, ‘I’d be willing to pay a million dollars to live there,’ and they see that the people who do live here, who pay reduced rent, leave garbage and trash all over the place. I respect this neighborhood, and the first thing we need to do is clean up our own buildings."

Many people in the audience also expressed their dismay at the plague of violent crime in the neighborhood, and cited it as another obstacle to overcome if the neighborhood is to resist development, as well as what was termed a job crisis.

"We need to make sure that as these buildings go up, some of our young people have jobs on the construction sites," said Jeffries.

At the conclusion of the discussion forum, the families left the P.S. 67 campus and, led by the Approaching Storm Marching Band, marched through the Fulton Street Mall carrying anti-eminent domain signs and handing out literature.

Joy Chatel, who owns a house widely regarded as being an integral part of the Underground Railroad that may be taken away through eminent domain, said, "They’re changing the fabric of this downtown area, and the new fabric does not include us."

Chatel was joined by James on Tuesday on the steps of City Hall to protest the use of eminent domain in Downtown Brooklyn. Chatel and others have filed a lawsuit against the city, which caused the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development to withdraw its original eminent domain determination. Another hearing will be held on October 29, and another 60-day determination period will follow.

Downtown Brooklyn Star, Brooklyn NY: http://www.brooklyndowntownstar.com