City Planning Hears Application for Arts Center and Affordable Housing Development in Brownsville

Image Credit: City Planning Commission

On December 13, 2023, the City Planning Commission held a meeting on the City’s Brownsville Arts Center and Apartments project, an application that would enable the development of a mixed-use residential and community space at 376 Rockaway Avenue in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. The proposed site is currently a vacant city-owned lot. The applicant, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, seeks to rezone the area that is located mid-block between East New York Avenue to the north and Pitkin Avenue to the south with street frontages along Rockaway Avenue to the east and Chester Street to the west.

The nine- story building will have 290 residential units, all of which will be permanently affordable under mandatory inclusive housing. While a specific option for MIH was not selected, the affordable units are set at between 30 and 80 percent area median income (AMI). However, approximately 45 units will be set aside for the formerly homeless.

The building will also include approximately 25,000 square feet of ground-floor community facility space dedicated to arts and cultural uses, and 17,000 square feet of outdoor open space.

The project is part of the City’s plan for the area – The Brownsville Plan – a $1 billion investment to, among other things, create over 2,500 affordable homes on city-owned land. The applicant seeks to rezone to allow for medium-density residential developments, along with a commercial overlay to serve local retail needs. The Brownsville Arts Center and Apartments project is the last of The Brownsville Plan projects to move forward in ULURP.

On October 24, 2023, Brooklyn Community Board 16 voted 21 to 3 to disapprove the application. The Board reasoned that, among other things, the affordable units should not exceed 70 percent AMI, the unit sizes are not large enough, the building must be redesigned to avoid an institutional appearance, and parking must be included within the development.

On November 22, 2023, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso approved the application, and found that the project is aligned with the City’s goals of developing deeply affordable housing in transit-accessible areas while prioritizing arts and culture.

Commissioner Leah Goodridge, who is from the Brownsville area, expressed concern that the project does not include enough “extremely low income” units to meet the needs of the local community. Commissioner Goodridge likened components of the project to “fake affordable housing” and echoed Community Board concern that, because qualifying AMI can reach 60 percent to 80 percent, the project does not truly cater to low-income families and is instead geared towards “moderate income” individuals, if that. The applicant responded that the project was developed under HPD’s Extremely Low & Low-Income Affordability (ELLA) Program, in which 80 percent of units are reserved for households earning up to 80 percent and 15 percent of units are set aside for formerly homeless households.

Approximately two-thirds of the affordable units are studios and one-bedroom apartments. Commissioner Goodridge shared Community Board concerns that the project features few two and three bedroom apartments, and noted that the Brownsville area is largely populated by families and not young professionals or people in college. The applicant responded that they tried to create as many larger units as possible and that most studio units are supportive housing for the formerly homeless.

Commissioner Goodridge also shared the Community Board’s concern that the building does not include parking, and may impact wait times for trains in Brownsville, where public transit is slower than in other areas of Brooklyn, such as Bed-Stuy.

The applicant expressed that the project is attempting to balance the need for affordable housing with The Brownsville Plan’s goals of creating more arts community spaces – where more housing or parking spots may otherwise be developed.

The City Planning Commission will vote on the application at a later date.

By: Nick Negron (Nick is a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2023.)




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