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Watching their garden go: City wants to bulldoze community plots for discount digs

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The city’s push to build below-market rate housing could have Brooklyn community gardens pushing up daisies.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development added 10 borough gardens to the list of 181 city lots it wants to open up for development as so-called “affordable” housing. One gardener who, with neighbors, convinced the city last year to allow planting in a Bushwick lot, said discounted apartments are needed, but that Mayor DeBlasio’s housing goals can be achieved by protecting rent-stabilized tenants and developing lots that are disused, not ones being tilled by green thumbs.

“The thought of the garden being paved over is just so sad,” said Keri Kroboth, a founder of El Garden on Jefferson Street, between Central and Evergreen avenues in Bushwick. “After all of the energy that went into this garden, for it to be cut short so soon, people are devastated about it.”

If the city approves a developer’s pitch for a lot, the company gets the green light to tear up the garden and commence construction. More than 750 city-owned lots did not make the list.

The gardeners knew their stay was touch-and-go, subject to the whims of city officials, but advocates say that there is no need to pull up their planting when other options are available, and that doing so shows residents the city doesn’t value green space, or the hardworking locals who create it.

“The history of community gardens in New York City is a history of vacant lots that people imagined as something else and then created,” said Paula Segal, head of the garden-activist organization 596 Acres, which pushes to give everyday people access to vacant lots in their neighborhoods. “At least 550 of them were gardens first and were protected only after neighbors proved that their pilot projects were working.”

A gardener from another threatened veggie patch in Bedford-Stuyvesant said closing it would cut neighbors off from a source of nourishment — for mind and body.

“This garden is bringing people together and giving people access to fresh fruit and vegetables,” said Kyiesha Kelly, one of the organizers of the Patchen Community Square. “A lot of the kids that live in the neighborhood benefit from it because it is a teaching tool.”

The Patchen Avenue garden came together last year, and when the fruits and veggies were ready to be picked, gardeners handed them out to people in the neighborhood.

“We will give food out to anyone who stops by and is interested,” Kelly said.

The city said it has no timeline on when developers will start building, so the gardeners have some breathing room. The problem is, they don’t know how much, and housing officials have made it clear what they care more about.

“While community gardens add great value to our city, our mission as an agency is to address the affordable housing crisis that affects tens of thousands of hardworking New York families, and to revitalize and strengthen communities through the development of affordable housing – that is the primary use of our pipeline of vacant land and available resources,” said housing department spokesman Eric Bederman.

Mayor DeBlasio is pushing a plan to “build or preserve” 200,000 units of below-market-rate housing in the next decade by rezoning to encourage density and offering tax breaks and funding for projects that include below-market apartments. In emphasizing speed in construction, DeBlasio has foregone trying to make most of the new apartments permanently below-market.

Gardeners from El Garden have launched an online petition to save their plots. The petition has garnered 327 backers so far.

The full list of gardens in the city’s sights is as follows:

Patchen Community Square, Patchen Avenue at Putnam Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant

462 Halsey Community Garden on Halsey Street between Ralph and Howard avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant

Tranquility Farm, Willoughby Avenue at Throop Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant

New Harvest Community Garden, Vernon Avenue between Marcy and Tompkins avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant

EL Garden, Jefferson Avenue between Central and Evergreen avenues in Bushwick

Isabahliah Ladies of Elegance, Saratoga Avenue between Sutter and Blake avenues in Brownsville

Brownsville Student Farm, Rockaway Avenue between Sutter and Pitkin avenues in Brownsville

Powell Street Community Garden, Livonia Avenue at Powell Street in Brownsville

Imani Garden, Pacific Street between Schenectady and Utica avenues in Crown Heights

La Casita Verde, Bedford Avenue at Division Avenue in Williamsburg

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: Context added.
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Reasonable discourse

bkmanhatman from nubrucklyn says:
As much as I like community gardens, they got build as much affordable housing in the BK
Jan. 30, 2015, 4:24 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
There ya go! The "Affordable Housing" you've been whining about!
Jan. 30, 2015, 4:39 pm
Mario from Greenpoint says:
Its always amazing to watch the crime rate double when you introduce "Affordable Housing" to a neighborhood. Cant wait
Jan. 30, 2015, 4:56 pm
jjm from c. hill says:
They dont have to build too much of anything. They can just tell all of those developers with those lux apt. buildings to let in some low-incomers because really those lux apts. look like some regular ol' apts on the inside. Besides, they're getting tax breaks from the city anyway so the city should just force them to rent to low-incomers.
Jan. 30, 2015, 6:53 pm
Ian from Williamsburg says:
Dr Blasio is forcing this issue to meet his arbitrary figure presented in his campaign. Throwing up cheap subsidized housing on an otherwise developed block isn't good planning. I also think in this entire debate about subsidized housing has mischaracterized staxpayermarket rate payers as swimming in luxury. Many beneficiaries of these affordable housing lotteries are undereducated or underemployed. In contrast, market rate payers such as a doctors, lawyers or bankers spent incredible money and time to pay for education so they could earn good wages and afford apartments. Their reward is getting hit with some of the highest taxes in the country to fund subsidies and paying higher rethes so builders can provide below market units.
Jan. 31, 2015, 7:53 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
The city has land for affordable housing. They just dont want to give it to affordable housing. Give the good land to the rich, and give the community garden land to the middle and lower classes. As the rich get richer, the rest fight for the scraps. Pathetic.
Jan. 31, 2015, 2:32 pm
ty from pps says:
build affordable housing and then people move into it and the next thing you know it isn't affordable anymore.
Jan. 31, 2015, 6:08 pm
Ty from Bed Stuy says:
Just a bunch of white folk that don't want black & Hispanic folk living near them, that's all. Community gardens are modern day bull whips
Feb. 1, 2015, 3:16 pm
Rob from Williamsburg says:
White guy here- who has lived in South Williamsburg for 27 years. I love gardening with my black and hispanic neighbors. Please don't take la Casita Verde away.
Feb. 2, 2015, 12:20 am
jjm from c. hill says:
@ty bed-stuy, yeah but yet the white folks wanna come to bed-stuy, bushwick, crown heights & other minority neighborhoods & make the rent go up with coffee shops & other crap. they wanna have it both ways
Feb. 2, 2015, 11:47 am
jjm from c. hill says:
they rather build ugly a** condos for affluents then to take care of the majority of working ny'ers 1st, now thats truly pathetic.
Feb. 2, 2015, 11:54 am
S from Bed Stuy says:
Y'all realize that these 'affordable' units are priced at $3,200/month for a family of four. Quite a bit higher than the medium income for the neighborhoods that these gardens are located in. Also, most the gardens are quite small, so developers can only build 8-14 units on them and only 1/3 of the units need to be affordable, the rest can be 'luxury.' It feels like deBlasio initiative in building these units will only further the class divide.
Feb. 2, 2015, 6:25 pm
David Nieves from L.E.S. says:
We must protect the small green Islands within our city. The future is absolutely Green and we must gather all forces to battle against encroachment. There is a need for Low Income housing and that too
is a shared responsibility. I am certain the City and developers have an over abundance of viable spaces for development in Brooklyn. Sometimes it seems they target the Green spaces if they believe no fight will occur for that space. D.N. (Third Party)
Feb. 3, 2015, 5:01 pm
Bushwick native from Bushwick says:
Forget the affordable housing, and keep the gardens Affordable housing benefits few and screws all the market renters by forcing us to pay for the "affordable units". People shouldn't be living where they can't afford anyway.
Feb. 5, 2015, 12:50 pm

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