“The word affordable has no meaning anymore because what’s affordable to developers may not be affordable to people in Bushwick,” said Nadine Whitted, district director of Community Board 4, about 242 so-called “affordable” units that are brewing in the former site of Rheingold Brewery under a rezoning plan.
The proposal of redeveloping the site with 977 units, of which 242 are affordable, was approved by CB4 on August 3. Affordable units are realized through the Inclusionary Housing Program, which “offers an optional floor area bonus in exchange for the creation or preservation of affordable housing.”
According to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), monthly rents for affordable housing in New York City are projected to be at least $801 for a studio, $861 for one-bedroom apartment, $1,042 for a two bedroom and $1,196 for three.
The affordable housing will be provided for families making less than 60 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) of NYC.
According to the US Census, more than three-fourths of overall households, around 20,000 households in the proposed rezoning area, earn an income below 60 percent of AMI. Only they are eligible for the 200-plus affordable units, which is, according to Whitted, “unfortunately just a small number.”
The competition is fierce because 100 households compete for every one unit. Still, for almost half of the 20,000 eligible households the affordable housing is not affordable.
“Over $1,000 for a two bedroom is called affordable? I can’t afford that,” said Margarita Reyes, a Mexican immigrant whose family’s annual income is about $24,000. For Reyes, rent for an “affordable” two-bedroom apartment would cost over half her household income.
April De Simone, an academic from Design and Urban Ecologies Program of The New School, said, “Something is better than nothing but the fact remains what is defined as being affordable.”
According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), “the generally accepted definition of affordability is for a household to pay no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing.”
But for four out of ten residents in this area, whose household incomes are less than $25,000, 30 percent of their income, which is at most $625 a month, is just not enough.
From 2007 to 2011, the median income of the 11206 zip code, the proposed rezoning area, was $28,114, only half of the median income of NYC.
“The gentrification of Bushwick… generates profitability, profitability not to residents but to developers,” said Whitted. “They look at it as a gold mine and that gold mine does not always benefit the community.”
But CB4 still approved the proposal and Whitted also voted for it. “We are hoping that the developer would… provide more affordable units as well as look for ways to deepen the subsidy, look for ways where [the developer] can bring the rents lower,” said Whitted.
The developer, Forrest Lots, LCC, refused to comment on whether they would offer more affordable units nor reduce rents.
According to Whitted, affordable housing is always an important factor when considering rezoning. But when asked about the development of other affordable units existed in Bushwick, Whitted pondered for ten seconds and said she only knew one under construction on Lincoln Avenue.
What also puzzles Whitted and perhaps most residents in Bushwick is that, since the 242 affordable units are so unaffordable, “who can afford the remaining apartments?”