Espinal Says Project Doable If Developer Succeeds In Affordable Housing

1601 dekalb – rendering

City Council Member Rafael Espinal Jr. (D-Bushwick, East New York) today softened his stand against a controversial proposed residential project in his district after the developer confirmed it is working on ways to make it 100 percent affordable.

City Councilman Rafael Espinal Jr.

Developer Camber Property Group has proposed to build two-nine story residential buildings at 1601 DeKalb Avenue bounded by Hart Street, and Irving and Wyckoff avenues with 122 units of housing, 27 of which were originally intended to be affordable.

The rub is that the development needs city approval because part of the property is currently zoned for manufacturing so the developer needs a zoning amendment for it to become residential. Additionally, the property would be within the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) which allows developers to build higher as long as it includes some permanent affordable housing.

Espinal and community members originally opposed the proposal because it did not include enough affordable housing, it would block light and airflow from adjacent buildings, and it would push out local residents if property values were to increase around the development.

But at a City Council Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee hearing on the project yesterday, Camber Principal Rick Gropper said, “To achieve 100 percent affordability, we are considering several development scenarios and are in discussions with HPD about how to ensure this project is not only affordable, but reaches the deep affordability levels requested by the community in a significant way.

Gropper said that Camber has partnered with RiseBoro Community Partnership, a non-profit affordable housing developer based in Bushwick, to achieve its goal.

In testimony at the hearing Tuesday, RiseBoro CEO Scott Short said, “Camber has been receptive to the discussions and there are currently three potential scenarios under consideration. Each of the scenarios would yield a 100 percent affordable, income-restricted, rent stabilized building with at least 40 percent of units below 50 percent of Area Median Income.”

Short said that two of the scenarios would also include supportive housing for elderly tenants.

Espinal, who in May participated in a rally in Bushwick opposing the development, responded to KCP through email following the hearing, “It’s good to see the developers make a 180 from their original plans. I think they listened to a lot of the community concerns and made some good changes, but there is still more work that needs to be done over the next month to make sure it satisfies the community’s needs.”

Espinal said that he supports one of Camber’s proposed scenarios to make 1601 DeKalb more affordable. “We have to make sure that 50 percent or more of the units are built below 40 percent of AMI, which is a reflection of the community,” Espinal said.

Espinal will be the deciding vote when the proposal heads to the City Council. That vote is set for mid-September, but the proposal must first go to the Council’s Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee for a vote on August 14.