Off the rails: Williamsburgers worry streetcar will displace locals

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Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector

The city’s planned Sunset Park-to-Queens streetcar could be a one-way ticket out of Williamsburg for low-income residents, locals said at a public forum about the trolley on Wednesday night.

The system is expected to raise property values along the route — that’s how the city says it will pay for the $2.5 billion tram — and one housing activist wondered if the two dozen locals who gathered at the First Spanish Presbyterian Church will even be able to afford to live there when the streetcar opens in 2024.

“If property values go up, it displaces a lot of residents because landlords want to move tenants out to capitalize on the economic growth of the community,” said Ausar Burke of Churches United for Fair Housing. “We feel that’s not fair to the people already living there, it moves a lot of people out of the community.”

The city plans to use the expected increase in property taxes to foot most of the bill for the streetcar — a plan first pitched by the very developers who have properties along the line and stand to benefit the most from it.

Critics argue that it is more of an amenity for their buildings than a mass transit system designed to get Brooklynites around — especially when it will run along the waterfront, where the city about to launch a new ferry service, while farther-flung parts of the borough remain true transit desserts.

But one participant said he saw it differently — the streetcar is a chance to connect commercial and manufacturing hubs in Sunset Park, Red Hook, and Fort Greene, he argued.

“One criticism is that it won’t support the whole outer borough — that it’s only supporting the rich and sexy waterfront, there’s truth to that, but I look at it from a manufacturing background,” said Dan Chertok, a Brooklyn Law School grad who worked as an intern for the Navy Yard. “The Navy Yard, Sunset Park are huge manufacturing hubs and if you have the opportunity to connect to them, it’s better for the city, it means more jobs, and hopefully this thing grows and there’s trolleys throughout Brooklyn.”

Attendees broke off into working groups to identify key destinations and streets they’d like to see the pseudo-trains pass. Most said it had to hit Brooklyn Bridge Park, Ikea in Red Hook, and Downtown. And as at previous forums, most agreed the so-called Connector must live up to its name by linking up with existing subway, bus, and ferry stops.

One group of senior residents suggested the streetcar extend into the Bronx and Queens, so they can visit shopping centers where prices were lower than in their neighborhood.

The street-level transit system could be a huge score for older Brooklynites, some of whom struggle to get up and down the stairs at subway stations, according to one Williamsburg resident who worked in their group.

“At least there they can just hop on and go where they have to go, it would be very useful for them,” said Adrienne Vega, though she wondered if there would be any old people left in the neighborhood to use it.

The city will announce its official route in 2018 after more workshops in neighborhoods where the tram will traverse.

Reach reporter Dennis Lynch at (718) 260–2508 or e-mail him at dlynch@cnglocal.com.
Connector: Locals point out what amenities and destinations they want linked by the Brooklyn-Queens Connector streetcar at a public input workshop on June 1.
Community News Group / Dennis Lynch