Downtown evictees: The city is booting us from Brooklyn


Tenants at one of Downtown’s last rent-stabilized buildings say they aren’t just getting evicted — they’re getting kicked out of Brooklyn.

Low-income residents of a brick tenement on Albee Square between Willoughby and Fulton streets claim they received city-stamped letters reneging on a promise to provide nearby housing after the city made plans to demolish their home and build a small park and a parking lot in its place.

Dozens of tenants found out the city will place them into far-away areas of the Bronx and Manhattan — even though the Department of Housing Preservation and Development agreed to give them “comparable housing,” after it acquired the five-story building using eminent domain, activists and residents say.

The agency has not provided any living options in the neighborhood, let alone the borough, said Carlos Barrera, who has lived there for decades.

“It’s terrible,” Barrera said. “I feel like my hands are tied behind my back.”

He said the city last month offered him a new rental in the Tremont section of the Bronx — roughly a 90-minute commute by train and more than 15 miles from his doorstep.

Far-away living options such as that uproot families and make it hard for tenants to hold down jobs and keep their children enrolled in Brooklyn schools, residents say.

Instead, many residents are asking for dibs on units at the nearby Ingersoll and Walt Whitman houses in Fort Greene, where there are ample available units — more than 800, according to a 2010 report by the Local.

Activists say it’s only fair.

“These tenants have roots here— it’s a major concern,” said Lorena Walter of Families United for Racial and Economic Equality.

Plans to demolish the crumbling, five-story building emerged in 2009, when the city secured the structure to make room for the proposed Willoughby Square Park and a 700-space subterranean parking lot. The city has since helped some residents of the building, which once housed 40 families, find affordable housing in the Lower East Side while it arranged the construction the triangle-shaped park, which is intended to “encourage development” in the neighborhood.

Relocation letters arrived after residents and social justice activists for years claimed the city let the building become a dilapidated slum house, complete with collapsed roofs, shoddy electricity, and broken plumbing. And as the city started warning dwellers about their pending evictions, homeless people began squatting there illegally, according to residents.

Eric Bederman, a spokesman for Department of Housing Preservation and Development, did not return a call and an e-mail by press time seeking comment — but Downtown developers defended the city’s project, saying it will ultimately be great for the neighborhood.

“We expect that residents and shoppers will make use of it,” said Tom Montvel-Cohen, whose company Washington Square Partners is developing the site that now houses DeKalb Market, across from the soon-to-be park.

The city has set no official demolition date for the building, according to tenants and activists.

That’s part of the reason why Barrera claims he’s not going to take the city’s offer to move to the Bronx.

“I’m sticking it out,” he said.

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at [email protected] or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

Carlos Barrera is angry the city is booting him from his home on Albee Square to make way for a parking garage and park combo.
Community Newspaper Group/Natalie O’Neill