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Willoughby Square Park evictions in Downtown Brooklyn

Downtown evictees: The city is booting us from Brooklyn

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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 noneill@cnglocal.com or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.

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Reader Feedback

FUREE from Downtown Brooklyn says:
Last week FUREE (Families United for Racial & Economic Equality) sent a certified letter to higher-ups at HPD on behalf of the Albee Square West tenants requesting a meeting to discuss the critical matters this article brings to light. The remaining families want to sit down face-to-face with the housing agency reps to share their stories and find workable solutions for the terrible conditions they face.

We are still waiting for a response from HPD.

One of the buildings has been without gas for over 4 months. Residents were given hot plates to cook in return, which has sent electricity bills skyrocketing and meaning cooking a simple meal can take hours.

The neglect of tenants in these buildings is part of a bigger picture. The distorted model of development in the area that has seen thousands of new luxury condos and hotel units constructed while many low-income families have been pushed out of the area.

www.furee.org
July 24, 2012, 7:58 am
Albee Squared says:
I live nearby. Lived nearby for the past 10 years. Grew up in Brooklyn for the past 40 years an often visited Fultron Street/Albee Square to shop. The truth? These are the only two buildings in downtown Fulton Street area where one would find drug dealers right in the middle of the day. Disgusting. Not saying others in the building are guilty as well, but there's a reason nobody cares about these buildings. You should have cleaned out the trash long before you ended up in this mess.
July 24, 2012, 8:50 am
eeknaYpmawS from nylkoorB deniur says:
It seems to be a very nice park they've designed. I hope they have plans to install some bike lanes leading too and from the park. It is unfortunate those people have to move but things change sometimes. I'm sure they will get use to their new apartments.
July 24, 2012, 12:58 pm
Diana from Fort Greene says:
How would you like it if the government tore down the home you'd lived in for decades, forcing you out? What if you had kids in local schools? What about the friendships you had established over years? Would you happily adjust to life in East New York or the Bronx?

It's a shame that despite the billions of $$$ that have gone into Downtown Brooklyn over the past few years that there is NO OTHER PLACE downtown that these families can remotely afford. What's up with that? Why should our tax money only benefit fancy buildings and not more real affordable apartments?

If the previous landlord and now HPD have allowed the buildings to crumble, it's the tenants who are paying the price. If there are drug dealers taking advantage of this neglect and housing code violations, then the tenants are paying the price once again. It's a shame. I hope the City does the right thing. And it sounds like finding a place for them nearby where I live in Fort Greene's public housing could be an ok solution to this sad story.
July 24, 2012, 3:48 pm
Tom from Park Slope says:
Dear Brooklyn Papers:

As classy a rag as you ain't, you still have a responsibility for what gets published here, even in the Comments section, whether or not people are using the "Report abuse" button. You are supposed to have editors, and scanning software at the very least.

Find the IP and MAC numbers for "Diana" and "Fatisha" and block them, period, end of sentence. You might consider prosecuting them to show you mean business. You could go out of business. There are legal consequences.
July 25, 2012, 8:26 am
Fort Greene Peace from Fort Greene says:
Fort Greene Peace, a community peace and justice group in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene and the surrounding area supports the struggle of these tenants.

We echo the statement from FUREE that:
"The neglect of tenants in these buildings is part of a bigger picture. The distorted model of development in the area that has seen thousands of new luxury condos and hotel units constructed while many low-income families have been pushed out of the area."

We recommend that people go to see the film "My Brooklyn" which focuses on the struggle around community displacement and gentrification. The film will be screened on

Wednesday, July 25, 7pm
Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture
53 Prospect Park West, Brooklyn, NY 11215

and again on
Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 6:30pm - 8:30pm
Park Slope United Methodist Church - 410 6th Avenue at 8th St.

Fort Greene Peace
fortgreenepeace@gmail.com & on facebook
July 25, 2012, 10:55 am
James from Park Slope says:
Hey Tom, who OWNS you? Were you ignored in your childhood or something? Why so passive-aggressive and mean?
You want Diana to be blocked for 'abuse'. Where is the abuse, exactly? Care to debate? She's saying something that's quite true, and you KNOW it.
How long have you lived in the Slope? I'm betting not long. I've been here for over 20 years, and I know all too well what it has turned into. It's infested with heartless, passive-aggressive so-and-so's like you now, which is a crying shame - walking about the Slope like a bunch of eternal tourists, never truly belonging here. Brooklyn used to be beautiful and lively, where both wealthy, and not so wealthy lived together, and were happier with their lives.
July 25, 2012, 8:42 pm
Clarification for James from Park Slope says:
Tom is probably referring to several racist comments posted under the names "Diana" and "Fatisha" that have since been deleted.
July 25, 2012, 10:24 pm
HipHopSays from Fort Greene/Clinton Hill says:
I feel for the tenants and sadly believe even with a 'sit down' with HPD there will not be a 'solution' for them. The current round of hyper-development was speared on by a call for 'jobs' and 'affordable' housing options, which has not and will not come together in a meaningful way for the communities that are being displaced by the development. The current municipal administration leadership is full of career bureaucrats and monied folk who do not have the best interest of brooklyn and the communities surrounding downtown at heart and only understand urban development as a tool to create in the image of manhattan. on some levels i recognize that i am the type of person of color that this wave of development is suppose to attract, but the sad part is that after the low-income, working poor, and just out right poor have been swept away into the deeper recesses of the boros and box stores have come (and gone) leaving little unique identity to the community and i can't buy/swipe another item....i too will find myself without the very basic stabilizing item we all across class levels need ---housing.
July 26, 2012, 10:03 am
Grays from Fort greene says:
It is sad that the only thing that matters in this world is money. Why should they have to leave the neighborhood that they have lived in for many years. Only luxury high rise are being built in Fort Greene. Their is no low income apartments available. At least offer them apartments in that are available in whitman and Ingasoll houses.
Jan. 22, 2013, 3:23 pm
bklyngirl from Bed-stuy says:
When do we take ownership of our own surroundings? I was born and raised in Brooklyn and I have seen the failed construction of a 6 story building which sits as just a shell across from my family home. We have fought for the last 15 years to stop drugs on our street and the construction of this building. How can the tenants cry foul when they should have reached out to community activists and advocates to rid their buildings of drugs and force the slumlords to repair the buildings? We did it and if there are any drug dealers near our blocks they know we will have our councilman and leaders on the backs of NYPD management to get them out. Fear keeps us from moving forward. Its unfortunate that these families have to leave but the fight should have begun years ago.
June 14, 2013, 11:44 am

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