City Council hopefuls weigh-in on preliminary Brooklyn Hospital rezoning plan

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City Council District 35 hopefuls, running for term-limited Majority Leader and Councilmember Laurie A. Cumbo’s (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Downtown Brooklyn) seat, weighed in on the potentially controversial $1 billion modernization plan of the Brooklyn Hospital Center after it was announced, on September 24, that it has filed a preliminary application with the city.

The Brooklyn Hospital Center was founded in 1845 and has a 464 licensed bed capacity. The main part of the renovation plan uses approximately “800,000 square-feet for hospital uses in two buildings, which would include a new cancer center, ambulatory surgery center and outpatient diagnostic center, as well as an expanded emergency room, maternity ward, cardiac center and breast cancer center facilities.”

It will also be funded by “additional parcels on its current campus to private developers for the construction of residential facilities.”

Candidates generally told KCP that the project sounds like it would benefit the neighborhood’s only and oldest hospital, but they had some reservations when it came to the stated affordable and mixed-income housing units and proposed rezoning of parts of Dekalb Avenue, Fort Greene Park and Ashland Street.

Candidate and business owner Curtis Harris said he thinks it’s a “wonderful idea” and, as someone who’s survived a heart attack five years ago, he’s speaking from the heart. “They had an area where they could examine you, but as far as procedures, they had to transfer me to another hospital,” said Harris about necessary upgrades for the hospital’s facilities. “Time is of the essence when you’re dealing with cardiac arrest.” 

Candidate Alejandra Caraballo, who is a local civil rights attorney, said that she tentatively believes in the project but advocates for “community input” and housing units for members of that community.

“Brooklyn Hospital is one of the boroughs oldest healthcare facilities. It’s a staple in the district and although it’s an independent Hospital it services the majority of the residents in the community. I think it’s time for the much needed overhaul. Our community can use a state of the art facility that offers quality health care, specifically in the area of cancer, diabetes and asthma,” said candidate Regina Kinsey, Vice Chair of Community Board 8’s Seniors Committee. 

Kinsey said that she and others have long complained about the healthcare disparities in the district and see the “implementation of modernized medical equipment” as a much needed benefit. 

“The project is currently under review, my hope is that everyone is taken into account in the process and that the affordable housing component be inclusive of the low to moderate income residents. Furthermore, it’s important that all the necessary racial and environmental impact studies are performed before moving forward. NYCHA residents and those who live closest to the project quality of life must be taken into account and their voice should be included in the process,” said Kinsey.

A few also pointed out the trend of gentrification and rapid development in proximity to NYCHA housing in Fort Greene. 

“While we have a billion dollar mega tower going up, we have our NYCHA tenants living in dilapidated housing without any real support for decades while they’re housing crumbles. I think we need to fundamentally reevaluate our priorities,” said Carballo.

Caraballo referencing the Industry City debacle, said land use should prioritize the community instead of the needs of developers and tax credits that subsidize housing for the wealthy would be better spent fixing New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA).

Activist Candidate Renee Collymore said that the only way the hospital renovation and rezoning will benefit the community is if it’s “50/50.”

“Real estate is something that’s a fast moving train in this community and we must take the time to review every part of this process. If any rezoning takes place I am adamant that everything has to be 50/50. Black people are being pushed out, we have been the majority in the district historically,” said Collymore. “ As far as I can remember that area was a bit dangerous and now it’s a high commodity because of the people who have laid the groundwork. We have to make sure those people are taken care of in their old age.”

Collymore suggested that bringing in primarily Black-owned development companies to consult with the communities they are building in would be low-impact and beneficial.  

Harris said that he’d still need to see the “fine print” on the rezoning and housing side of the issue, and slammed Cumbo, and by proximity Hudson, for allowing developers into the community during her term. 

“It’s nice to know they’ve incorporated low-income wage earners,” said Harris, “In lieu of saying ‘affordable’ housing, I like to use the term low-income because you know exactly what I’m talking about. There’s no misinterpretation because people play games with that term.”

Harris said the housing developments nearby, like Whitman, Farragut, and Ingersoll, “should be protected at all costs” because it’s given low-income people a leg up to survive and obtain housing. “My family didn’t have a lot of resources but we had a lot of love and that’s something you still see,” said Harris, “Right now that sense of community is being threatened by developers.”

Candidate Crystal Hudson, Co-Director of Outreach for the City Council, emphasized a need to fight displacement in the neighborhood.

“Brooklyn Hospital needs to ensure that any proposed redevelopment plans start with community input in a way that honors their long history of serving this community. I’m immediately concerned by any proposal that includes private developers because our experience with private developers is that they place profits ahead of community interests; they are drivers of gentrification and displacement, and the damage they have done to our community in recent years can’t be overstated,” said Hudson. 

Hudson said that the community couldn’t afford to lose another hospital, especially in communities of color that face ongoing health inequities and have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Cumbo or her office couldn’t be reached on the issue. 

-Amanda Salazar contributed to this reporting.