An 80% rent increase at a historic affordable housing complex in South Williamsburg has tenants fuming. 

Bedford Gardens, a 650-unit apartment complex off Bedford Avenue and Ross Street, first opened in the 1970s as part of the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program. It now houses hundreds of families in the working class neighborhood, many of a part of its longstanding Jewish and Latino communities. 

Inconsistent heating, roaches and rodents in common areas and negligent maintenance in the building have become more frequent over the years, several residents testified at the Housing Preservation and Development hearing that Thursday. 

But residents say they draw the line at a potential rent increase, which has been proposed by the building’s property manager, Kraus Management, a firm that has managed over 5,000 properties in the New York City metro area for decades.  

Kraus Management’s proposal includes a 25% increase in rent this year, followed by an additional 25% next year and then another 15% the year after – a total of 80% over the course of three years. 

A group of children (above) tune into the rally outside of Bedford Gardens, located between Bedford Avenue and Ross Street in South Williamsburg.

Dozens of residents, many who have been living in the building for decades and several who are disabled, cried for the agency to deny the proposal. The hike would leave them displaced, or even homeless, they said. Even though Section 8 vouchers will save some tenants from facing the brunt of the rent hike, it would likely cause anxiety around displacement the many who do not.

An hour before the hearing, tenants and elected officials gathered for a rally at the apartment complex, amid a heavy rain. 

Elected officials had come out to argue against what they saw as the predatory real estate industry Given that most of the residents at Bedford Gardens are on fixed incomes, the proposed increase would throw working class families into a chaotic housing market. 

“This proposal is unacceptable,” Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez told them. “We have to show up, because when we show up in force, people will listen to us.” 

“This has been a bastion of deep affordable housing for almost 50 years,” said city council member Lincoln Restler. “If Kraus gets its way, it will be unaffordable in just three years.”

Adam Meyers, an attorney for a group called Communities Resist, showed up to argue that, amidst a housing crisis, record levels of homelessness and rent prices, pricing out affordable housing with drastic rent hikes force generations of families out of their communities. 

“No place has seen this more than Williamsburg,” said Meyers. “For all the new housing that we’re building, we continue to see long-term residents, people of color, low-income folks, forced out of their homes and communities. To the extent that the old Williamsburg remains, it is in places like this, like in Bedford Gardens.”

Zoraida Olivo, who’s lived in a two-bedroom unit with her family at Bedford Gardens for over 34 years, later took to the podium.  

“We’ve fought a rent increase many times but it’s never been this bad,” said Olivo. 

But even with three incomes, she said she was worried that the rent increase will only make things harder for her family of four. They pay a surcharge, on top of paying $1,982 a month for rent – an 80% increase would mean having to scramble for additional monthly income, or taking money out of their savings. 

“At this point, we’ll have to choose between my daughter’s college tuition or moving out,” said Olivo. 

“The Mitchell-Lama program was not created to be a cash-cow, it was created to build permanently affordable housing for New Yorkers,” said state assembly member Emily Gallagher, who had also showed up. “Allowing such a massive rent increase only legitimizes the self-dealing and profiteering that Kraus Management is engaging in.” 

All images taken by Hilal Bahcetepe for Bushwick Daily.

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