Lawmakers Fight for Affordable Homeownership in Brownsville

Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, left, and State Sn. Velmanette Montgomery, right, fight for more homeownership in Brownsville. Photo by Owen Maldonado

To State Senators Velmanette Montgomery (D) and Zellnor Myrie (D) and Assemblywoman Latrice Walker (D) the vacant lot on Howard Avenue and Madison Street in Brownsville is an opportunity for increased homeownership in the neighborhood, but it needs state help to get shovels into the ground.

The lot, which is due to be built into a 12 unit co-op building, has been stalled in the development pipeline for some time. To help push it through, Walker has championed a bill alongside State Senator Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx) that would increase the state’s financing per unit from $40k to $75k and require permanent affordability restrictions to ensure the long-term public benefit from the project. The bill passed in the state assembly 95 – 46 and is now heading to the NYS Senate. If  the bill succeeds in the upper chamber, it will then need the approval of Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The state’s recent budget signed by Cuomo, however, does not see an increase in the Affordable Housing Corporation (AHC) – the only program for homeownership subsidies in the state. The AHC has not seen an increase since 1985, when then-Governor Mario Cuomo (Andrew’s father) first created the program. 

Katrell Lewis, Senior Manager of Advocacy & Community Engagement at Habitat for Humanity, says that while the fight for affordable homeownership funding in the state government has been extensive, he is proud that Habitat for Humanity to date has been able to serve over 1,300 families across the five boroughs through affordable housing projects.

“We’re making sure that when we start to renegotiate this budget that we are not just negotiating homeless and rent to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), but we are also including homeownership as well,” says Lewis. 

Montgomery (Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Red Hook, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Sunset Park, Gowanus, Park Slope) is also calling for an additional $18 million in funding to help the project in Brownsville get off the ground. “This year we are finally able to take another look at community housing organizations for leadership and make it possible for us to do what is necessary,” she says. “We can, in fact, do this project and others in my district.”

Myrie (D-Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Gowanus, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, South Slope, Sunset Park) believes the project can provide a much-needed investment into the community. “We are seeing wealth being stripped from our communities at a rapid rate and we have a proven solution to build wealth in our community and keep it affordable,” he says. “We should as a state invest in the communities that are being ravaged right now by the affordability crisis.”

Assemblywoman Latrice Walker is leading the charge for more homeownership in Brownsville. Photo by Owen Maldonado

Walker’s (D-Brownsville) bill is inspired in part by the famous Nehemiah homeownership communities in Brooklyn.  “The Nehemiah development was about the creation of not just affordable housing, but affordable homeownership, and it worked. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we already have a model that works,” she says. 

Walker hopes to see this project and others like it create multigenerational opportunities for families in need of affordable housing. “Parents who invested in this affordable homeownership program and raised their children within these homes have created a new generation of individuals in this neighborhood that do not live below the poverty line. They have had opportunities to go to college and get access to jobs that have been able to help them move outside of their circumstances,” she says. “This is the same thing that we’re asking for to be repeated across our neighborhoods.”

To make sure that the homes stay affordable for future members of the community, the lawmakers are also pushing for community land trust legislation that will ensure that homeowners who sell their property have to sell it back to the communities helping to make them available. 

“It’s community land,” says Walker. “It belongs to the community, let’s keep it in the community and make sure that people have access to it so that we can all believe in and achieve the American dream.”