Op-ed: The new affordable housing in Brooklyn is North Carolina and homeless shelters

Curtis M. Harris

Elected officials have failed us time and time again in Brooklyn. My opponent in City Council District 35, Crystal Hudson, served as a staffer for Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) who has been in bed with developers since she was elected in 2013 and who refused to make Bedford Union Armory affordable for every Brooklynite. The Bedford Union Armory was a rare public site where the City and Cumbo had the opportunity to build 100% affordable housing. Cumbo and Hudson failed us by providing a scarce number of units for low income Brooklynites.  

Gentrification is not color but economics. Manhattan residents are moving to Fort Greene, Fort Greene residents are moving to Brownsville, and Brownsville residents are moving to North Carolina. I met many residents moving to other states while door knocking on the campaign trail in all parts of the district from Crown Heights to Clinton Hill. 

Brooklyn is the least affordable housing market in the United States. Rent rose 22% in Crown Heights in just one year. A Brooklynite would need to spend 98% of the median income in the borough to afford a home here. Homeownership opportunities are scarce and not effective for everyone. Those who are able to obtain that income goal for quality housing, are constantly threatened with potential foreclosure.  

The loss of affordable housing has thrown many low income and elderly residents into homelessness, and has left renters sacrificing food and healthcare in order to stay in their homes. I plan to put the people first by focusing on increasing access to affordable housing, requiring developers to provide more affordable units, and protecting renters from being priced out of neighborhoods they helped build. I have been a resident of Brooklyn for most of my life. I plan to work to end the cycle of displacement of residents from their homes and fight to protect the units that everyone can afford.  

Now, affordable housing in Brooklyn faces a new challenge: Airbnb, the website that makes it easier than ever for people to illegally rent out apartments for short periods of time. By helping turn a portion of our scarce housing supply into short-term rentals, Airbnb and other illegal hotel operators are contributing to the affordable housing crisis. Airbnb has thousands of available units in Brooklyn, second only to Manhattan, and their presence is rapidly growing in neighborhoods where affordable housing is scarce and rents have seen double digit increases.

Presently, there are over 2,000 Airbnb listings in Bedford Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Greenpoint, and Fort Greene, where rents have increased by more than 28% from 2006 to 2012. Airbnb’s rapid growth in neighborhoods such as these, neighborhoods that have seen an explosion in rents, is exacerbating the housing crisis and is one of the factors that has unfortunately contributed to Brooklyn being ranked as the third least affordable county in the nation.

Housing affordability is one of the biggest concerns for our neighborhoods. All but the wealthiest residents in Brooklyn feel the sting of high rents, and see the dream of home ownership as an impossibility. I want to help expand the dream of homeownership in our district.

For our tenants in Brooklyn, we must make sure landlords who abuse rent regulated tenants by failing to make repairs or illegally raising their rent see increased punishments. I will fight to ensure that all tenants have free legal representation in our courts.

For those living in our NYCHA developments, I will work with the state and federal officials to provide much-needed funding for critical repairs so those living in our public housing system can live in the dignity they deserve.

I will work with developers to build rental buildings for low and moderate income New Yorkers who make up the majority of our citizenry and support the creation of new community land trusts, which place land in the hands of community nonprofit trusts that then provide opportunities for members of the community to own their own homes and can provide space for new local business. This is why I will continue to fight to ensure that programs such as Mitchell Lama continue. 

The new affordable housing in Brooklyn is North Carolina and homeless shelters. I believe that all of us –– longtime and new residents, communities of color and new residents, low-income and middle-class people –– have a stake in the urgent struggle to save affordable housing in Brooklyn.  

Curtis M. Harris is a candidate in New York City Council District 35

Editor’s Note: It is the policy of PoliticsNY to post all op-eds it receives with the exception of blatantly hateful and derogatory op-eds along with some exceptions during election times. In this case, we will take up to two op-eds per candidate until May 10.  We will not post op-eds from supporters of candidates. The op-eds do not reflect the views of PoliticsNY.

Additional Editor’s Note: The Hudson campaign maintains that this op-ed is factually inaccurate in regards to Hudson’s involvement in the Bedford Union Armory project. They point out Hudson worked in Cumbo’s office from Jan 2018 – Jun 2019. The ULURP process for the Armory began in May 2017 and the Council voted to move forward on the project in November 2017.

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