The Greenpoint−Williamsburg Tenant Anti−Displacement Collaborative, a coalition of local community organizations, hosted a tenant aid workshop last Saturday at Boricua College (9 Graham Ave.) for residents of a neighborhood all too familiar with gentrification pressures and displacement.
The day−long event, attended by about 200 people, was highlighted by a heartfelt and detailed speech by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez on the local affordable housing crisis.
Its mission was to provide helpful information for area tenants in English, Spanish and Polish. Tenants were instructed in the basics of rent regulation, and were walked through the housing court process. They received tips on how to get repairs in their apartments, how to form a tenant association, and how to protest unfair conditions.
The event also featured a screening of the critically acclaimed 1986 documentary film “Metropolitan Avenue,” Christine Noschese’s affectionate portrayal of the area’s diverse tapestry before much of the gentrification took hold.
But it was Velazquez’s keynote speech in the morning that set the tone for the day.
“This community is no longer a walk to work industrial community with affordable housing,” she said. “The economic and cultural change of this community has been aggressive, and has continued to displace longtime residents and businesses.”
Velazquez pilloried the 2005 waterfront rezoning, which is widely criticized for having promised far more units of inland affordable housing than it delivered. The city originally promised to build 1,000 units, but so far, only 400 units are either in construction or complete, according to Department of City Planning officials.
“If there’s someone here who can tell me how many units of affordable housing have been developed as part of the Williamsburg−Greenpoint waterfront rezoning, I want to hear,” she said to applause, expressing the frustrations of many in the community who feel shortchanged by the rezoning that enabled luxury high−rises that have exacerbated gentrification pressures.
She pointed out the devastating effects that federal policy has wrought on low−income residents in her district and the city as a whole.
“Between 1990 and 2007, New York City lost 30 percent of its subsidized housing, and 19 percent remains threatened,” she said. This number amounts to the loss of 75,000 affordable units citywide and 5,400 in Brooklyn.
She took aim at the Bush administration, which, she said, “didn’t believe there was any role to government to play to provide a safety net to working families and the elderly.”
But she looked forward to brighter days in the Obama administration, the current economic morass notwithstanding.
“President Obama has given a new meaning to community activism. And if there’s a time in our nation’s history to be active, it’s today,” she said.
After the hour−long speech, Alison Cordero of St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corporation and one of the event’s organizers, said to the congresswoman, “That was an amazingly comprehensive speech. I think you covered pretty much everything.”
The Greenpoint−Williamsburg Tenant Anti−Displacement Collaborative is comprised of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, the People’s Firehouse, Los Sures, St. Nicholas NPC, Churches United, Brooklyn Legal Services, and North Brooklyn Development Corporation.
It was created in response to the 2005 rezoning, which enabled high−rises along the waterfront and thereby created gentrification pressures in the neighborhood.
©2009 Community News Group
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