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Is Brownsville On The Cusp Of Transformation? Gentrification Appears To Be Heading Its Way

Some called Brownsville the neighborhood NYC left behind. But now, some wish it still was.

By Jeff Vasishta October 20, 2016
Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera America

Predicting the gentrification of Brownsville is a bit like predicting Keith Richards’ demise. You know it’s coming soon but exactly when is still uncertain. Judging by the reaction to a new glossy photo kiosk installed last month at Livonia and Rockaway Avenues, some residents are worried a new shinier, pricier Brownsville is just around the corner.

Related: Crime Rate And Real Estate: Do Lawsuits Against Police Reflect Crime Rates?

One side of the kiosk features a map of Brownsville highlighting libraries, public art and parks, as well as a range of other local institutions. The other side has photographs of four murals in the neighborhood. At night, the kiosk lights up. The kiosk was actually designed over the course of the past year by the firm ORE in consultation with youth participants at Brownsville Community Justice Center. But some residents weren’t having it, invoking Trump-like conspiracy theories on Facebook that the city or developers were sprucing things up for would-be kale juice sipping, yoga pants wearing gentrifiers to suddenly appear in “The Ville”.

Photo courtesy of New York Daily News
Photo courtesy of New York Daily News

Concern is understandable given the rapid escalation in prices in Crown Heights, Bedstuy, Bushwick and the rezoning of East New York. The fact that long-term residents from those neighborhoods who’ve been displaced are now looking to Brownsville to relocate haven’t helped fears that the gentrification express is heading their way. With a reputation for high crime rates, high unemployment and the highest concentration of public housing in the city, the area has thus far avoided the same kind of change as its neighbors. Brownsville has few brownstones but with the L Train stopping at New Lots Avenue, developers, it appears, are figuring how to flip Brownsville.

“The only reason developers aren’t all over this place already is because of the projects,” Diana Jimenez, resident and one third owner of the new Black Cats Café, a coffee shop aimed at beating gentrifiers at their own game, told Al Jazeera America last year. “If they all get torn down, the party’s over.”

According NewYorkYimby.com, the party may not yet be over but the music may soon be turned down as several construction permits have been filed. A 481-Unit Affordable Residential Project is planned at 110 New Lots Avenue. Dubbed the Ebenezer Project, the church of God of East Flatbush will be located in the basement under the city’s initiative for faith based building projects.

While the “affordable” part of the new development may allay some fears, the new plans recently filed for a five-story apartment building at 255 Grafton Street appears to be for a market rate building. The project would have ten apartments. The developer is Borough Park-based B&H Management, and Great Neck-based Icon Engineering applied for the permits.

Last April Maspeth-based Aasrah Holdings Corp. filed applications for a four-story, six-unit mixed-use building at 98 Thatford Avenue in Brownsville. Nearby, plans for a seven-story budget hotel at 120 Thatford Avenue were filed only a month prior. The seven-story building would rise on a block situated between two sprawling housing projects, Howard Houses and Brownsville Houses. Cedarhurst, N.Y.-based Amritpal Sandhu, and Jamaica-based architect Manish Savani applied for the permits.

Last January, plans for ten unit, six story market rate rental building at 802 Howard Avenue were set into motion by Jamaica, Queens-based developer Meir Shaul who hired architect Olabanji B. Awosika – also headquartered in Jamaica.

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Brownsville, it appears, is teetering on the cusp. Let’s hope at least Keith Richards sticks around a bit longer.

Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jeff Vasishta

Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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