Williamsburg ‘Wild West’ for ‘affordable housing’ ads: Official

News digs on the block: The below-market-rate apartments in this new building at 59 Orient Ave. have not been advertised as widely as one local official would like.
Photo by Jason Speakman

Building owners are gaming the city’s rules for so-called “affordable” housing by advertising cheap rentals on an obscure government website no cash-strapped Brooklyn renter would be likely to read, said a local official who wants to make such apartment deals impossible to miss.

Williamsburg community board member Rob Solano is imploring the city to change the rules, which he says now basically do nothing to ensure broke Brooklynites will hear about lotteries for below-market-rate apartments.

“Right now, it is like the Wild West and there are no monitors,” said Solano.

Solano said he became alarmed when he learned that the developers of 59 Orient Ave. in Williamsburg, which has four apartments available at below-market rates, quietly put the application online on the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s website in the first week of February without alerting the community board or any local housing activist organizations, meaning that thousands of Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents never heard about the rental opportunity. That may not have violated the rules, but it ran contrary to common decency, he said.

“The developer is supposed to contact the community board and the area non-profits,” said Solano. “If it’s coming out, we should know about it.”

In the newly-constructed Orient Avenue building, folks with annual incomes between $31,749 and $41,280 can apply for a one-bedroom apartment that rents for $926 per month and applicants making between $35,760 and $51,540 can shoot for a two-bedroom that costs $1,043 per month.

Solano would like to make it is mandatory for developers to contact the local community board and all local housing organizations when such digs open up.

The current system also allows for online applications that are only in English. He wants to see rules requiring paper applications and translations in multiple languages.

“We have people here who do not have computers and who do not speak English,” said Solano. “So right off the bat, [developers] are discriminating against them.”

Solano said he fears that some developers are keeping the applications quiet so that they can offer the apartments to their friends and family if they do not get enough qualified takers.

This is not the first time the Orient address has been in the spotlight. The last building on the spot made headlines back in the late 2000s when, after starring in director Michel Gondry’s arthouse gem “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” it became an abandoned junkie den.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development did not return requests for comment.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurfaro@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.
Changing Williamsburg: The address was once home to a picture-perfect-mansion-turned-shooting-gallery.
The Brooklyn Paper / Allison Bosworth

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