When it comes to affordable housing, the question remains: affordable for who? 

Two units available through the city’s Affordable Housing Lottery in the Bushwick area at 65 Woodbine St. and 65 Graham Ave. are asking for 130 percent of the city’s Average Median Income: $107,400 for a three-person family. Eligible income for these units falls between $66,000 and $167,570. 

Earlier this month, City Council Member nominee Jennifer Gutierrez condemned the labeling of the unit on Graham Avenue as “affordable.”

Recent research gathered by the NYU Furman Center shows the median household income for Bushwick in 2019 was $67,410, with the largest number of households, 24.2 percent, making less than $20,000. In the same year, 31.9 percent of renter households in Bushwick spent more than 50 percent of their household income on rent.

According to an assessment of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing legacy by Samuel Stein, housing policy analyst for the Community Service Society, the vacancy rate for higher-income housing units is rising while that of lower-income units is falling.

Meanwhile, the number of higher-income housing units renting for more than $1,500 grew by 17 percent between 2014 and 2017. The number of lower-income apartments renting for less than that declined 14 percent during the same time period. 

In a June op-ed for Bushwick Daily, Gutierrez wrote, “affordability is more aligned with market rate rather than the income of the people who live there.”

She continued, “$2,000 a month is not affordable: the average income of a working family of four in Bushwick was between $35,000 and $45,000 two years ago, our salaries for public school teachers start at $45,000-$57,000 and hospitality workers making minimum wage could be pulling in less than $30,000 a year.”

In the piece, Gutierrez attributes rising rents and displacement to rezoning and the lack of a community planning process. 

Two plans were proposed in 2019, in part, to address the need for affordable housing in Bushwick: the Bushwick Community Plan and the city’s Bushwick Neighborhood Plan.

The Bushwick Community Plan was initiated in 2014 by Community Board 4 and City Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal, with a steering committee of community-based organizations and local residents.

The plan’s stated objectives included creating new affordable housing, preventing displacement, protecting tenants and increasing housing quality. According to its website, these goals would be accomplished by working “closely with City agencies to direct resources to the community for open space, infrastructure, transportation, and other neighborhood needs.”

Other areas of focus were limiting manufacturing to residential rezoning, restrictions on development height and increasing 100 percent affordable housing units (as opposed to mixed units).

The Bushwick Neighborhood Plan was, according to a letter from Deputy Mayor Vicki Been, informed by the Bushwick Community Plan and had “shared goals of keeping Bushwick affordable, diverse and equitable.”

The proposed rezoning would have spanned over 300 blocks or 1,300 acres, covering the majority of the Bushwick neighborhood. According to the draft scope of the plan, the development would have brought approximately 18,000 new residents and 6,200 new workers to the area in the course of ten years.  

The city’s plan would have resulted in an estimated “net increase of approximately 5,600 dwelling units, over 1.6 million square feet of commercial space, almost 300,000 square feet of industrial space, and nearly 250,000 square feet of community facility space.” 

Neither the Bushwick Neighborhood Plan nor the Bushwick Community Plan were implemented. This was after the de Blasio administration rejected requests from local officials to study the Bushwick Community Plan within the environmental review of the city’s rezoning proposal in December 2019. 

In a letter explaining the decision, Been cited concerns that the Community Plan’s approach would reduce housing density and development, among other things, though its backers deny that claim. 

The review process has not moved forward for either plan. 

Editor’s note: The headline of this article was edited on August 23 to correct redundancy.

Top image courtesy of Allie Herrera.

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