Activists rally against proposed Greenwood Heights development

Protesters rallied against a proposed 14-story mixed-use structure at 737 Fourth Ave.
Photo by Jessica Parks

Sunset Park activists are beginning their battle against a planned 14-story apartment building in Greenwood Heights that they claim will price out the area’s current inhabitants. 

“As a community, we want to come together and we want to say what do we envision here,” said lifelong Sunset Park resident Antoinette Martinez. “We want a say in how we are going to move forward, how we are going to have real housing policies that are going to benefit real neighborhoods and real families.”

Protesters rallied at the site of the proposed structure on Fourth Avenue between 24th and 25th streets on Monday demanding developers meet the needs of the neighborhood’s low-income residents who’ve been severely impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“What we are looking for are real housing solutions,” Martinez said. “We have folks in this community who are backed up thousands, thousands and thousands…in rent right now.” 

Totem, the Brooklyn-based development firm behind the project, is seeking approvals to rezone the lot at 737 Fourth Ave. — where a Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins drive-through currently stands — to allow for the proposed mixed-use development, which would include 140 apartment units. 

Of those 140 units, the developers have proposed that 40 will be “affordable” under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program — but protesters say they want developers to make their estimates according to the average median income of the neighborhood, as opposed to more general citywide data.  

“The metric that the city is using to quantify affordable housing just doesn’t really go to who really needs it,” said Sunset Park resident Joseph Laura. “These metrics are so abstract they involve counties from outside the city who don’t really live here…some of the poorest people in the city aren’t really accounted for.”

Developers, however, maintain that they intend to target the real incomes of the neighborhood at 30 to 60 percent of the annual median income for the percentage of their proposal that is “affordable” — which they say will cater to individuals making between $23,881 and $95,520 annually. The monthly rent for a one-bedroom “affordable” apartment will be priced between $503 and $1,143, while a market-rate one-bedroom is expected to be priced between $1,500 and $1,900.

“There is a bunch of other AMI levels within the affordable programs for the city that we are not targeting. We are really making an effort at the behest of the community board to really focus on these lower AMI levels,” said Tucker Reed, Totem’s chief principal officer at an October meeting of Community Board 7.

Apartment units will mostly be one- and two-bedrooms, with some three-bedrooms, developers said — but protesters further argued that the 40 “affordable” units will be mostly one-bedrooms, which they say don’t serve the needs of their community.

“Sunset Park is a working-class community of families,” Martinez said. “What families are going to benefit from mostly one-bedroom apartments?”

Developers told Brooklyn Paper they will try to “squeeze out” as much space as possible for low-income tenants, and have elected to eliminate all studio apartments from the proposal.

“We have been working to make sure that there are two- and three-bedrooms in the affordable units,” Reed said. “Going above and beyond the traditional breakdown to try to squeeze out one and two bedrooms because of a request to make the building more family-oriented.”

And while some protesters called for Totem to earmark every unit in the proposed building as “affordable,” Reed said they would love to — except the city has no programs to facilitate such an endeavor, and the company still needs to see a financial return from the property. 

“If there were a city program that we were allowed to enter that would foresee 100 percent affordable, we would love to,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “But this land is not for free. It cost significant dollars to put together.”

Assemblywoman-elect Marcela Mitaynes — who will replace longtime incumbent Felix Ortiz in office come January — echoed protesters’ call for 100 percent affordable housing, and said she cannot support the proposal unless their demand was met. 

“We need affordable housing, but this is not the project to give it to us,” she said. “At this moment I can’t support it. We need 100 percent affordable housing in perpetuity and most importantly, they have to target the people who are most needy.”

Area Councilman Carlos Menchaca said he will prioritize the opinions of the community in his decision on the project, but is in agreement with protesters on Sunset Park’s need for affordable housing and the city’s failed mandatory inclusionary housing policy. 

“The neighborhood’s voice is most important on this proposal and I look forward to the Community Board’s public hearing and subsequent vote,” Menchaca told Brooklyn Paper. “I have consistently stated my concerns with MIH and Sunset Park’s need for deeply affordable housing, but will prioritize what I hear directly from the community.”

Residents can voice their opinions before Community Board 7 at a public hearing scheduled for Thursday before the board’s Land Use/Landmarks Committee discusses the proposal on Nov. 16.