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Brooklyn’s Bedford-Union Armory was built more than a century ago to train our National Guard. These days, it’s on the front lines of a very different kind of battle. In recent months, the armory has become the latest symbol of the growing homelessness...

How to solve the latest armory controversy—and prevent others

Brooklyn’s Bedford-Union Armory was built more than a century ago to train our National Guard. These days, it’s on the front lines of a very different kind of battle. In recent months, the armory has become the latest symbol of the growing homelessness...

How to solve the latest armory controversy—and prevent others

Brooklyn’s Bedford-Union Armory was built more than a century ago to train our National Guard. These days, it’s on the front lines of a very different kind of battle.

In recent months, the armory has become the latest symbol of the growing homelessness and housing crises, and of the city’s inability to address them.

The city has proposed converting the historic structure into mixed-use residential, community and commercial space with luxury condominiums and only a fraction of the units set aside for affordable housing for Crown Heights residents. As with countless other proposals across the five boroughs, a private developer would build both public and private amenities at the site.

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The problem is that this does little to help communities of color in an area struggling with rising rents and costs of living. Some Crown Heights families see this plan as another sweet deal for real estate that ignores the community’s critical affordable housing needs.

The armory is one of thousands of city-owned parcels throughout the city. In an ideal world, the city would manage these lands like a community land trust, developing and utilizing them only for purposes that support the public. But that hasn’t been the case.

What we’ve seen is a willingness to hand public property over to private developers in exchange for affordable housing requirements that are modest at best. This has not helped address the housing crisis, while further altering the character of neighborhoods with scant input from the community. Now, the armory is poised to become yet another example of this failed policy.

A community-led land trust could be the solution. By transferring properties like the armory into community-controlled trusts, we can ensure permanent affordable housing and space for businesses that local communities need. The current real estate market is pushing out not just renters but also important grocery stores, health clinics, small businesses and community-based organizations. Community land trusts could help turn that tide with affordable commercial rents that could still subsidize affordable housing.

This would give increasingly marginalized long-term residents in gentrifying communities a greater stake in their neighborhood. Because these trusts are community-led, Crown Heights families would decide what, if any, kind of housing should be created at the armory.

More importantly, it would offer an alternative style of development in this city that is geared more towards low-income and “workforce affordable” housing than the kind of luxury development that has radically changed the character of countless neighborhoods. Whether these land trusts are developed for housing or mixed use, the benefit should be primarily provided to the community and its residents.

To get this program off the ground, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development could use the Bedford-Union Armory as a test case. The de Blasio administration's private development proposal is too controversial to move forward, with so many in Crown Heights and surrounding neighborhoods vocally opposed.

That’s why City Hall should immediately start working with local community activists and elected officials to propose a Bedford-Union Armory community land trust. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s $5 billion settlement with Goldman Sachs sets aside $30 million for land banks and land trusts; this money could be used to start the armory's trust and others like it. We can identify additional state and federal funds to assist these trusts in rehabilitating housing and building other necessary services.

I have experience with community land trusts and know they can work. In part because of my work with the council, the city decided earlier this year to put out a request for expressions of interest to seriously consider them as a useful model for the future.

The controversy in Crown Heights has shown that the desire for a solution is there. It’s time we take advantage of this and work towards a plan for the entire community.

Ede Fox is the co-founder of Prospect Heights Democrats for Reform.

Brooklyn’s Bedford-Union Armory was built more than a century ago to train our National Guard. These days, it’s on the front lines of a very different kind of battle.

In recent months, the armory has become the latest symbol of the growing homelessness and housing crises, and of the city’s inability to address them.

The city has proposed converting the historic structure into mixed-use residential, community and commercial space with luxury condominiums and only a fraction of the units set aside for affordable housing for Crown Heights residents. As with countless other proposals across the five boroughs, a private developer would build both public and private amenities at the site.

The problem is that this does little to help communities of color in an area struggling with rising rents and costs of living. Some Crown Heights families see this plan as another sweet deal for real estate that ignores the community’s critical affordable housing needs.

The armory is one of thousands of city-owned parcels throughout the city. In an ideal world, the city would manage these lands like a community land trust, developing and utilizing them only for purposes that support the public. But that hasn’t been the case.

What we’ve seen is a willingness to hand public property over to private developers in exchange for affordable housing requirements that are modest at best. This has not helped address the housing crisis, while further altering the character of neighborhoods with scant input from the community. Now, the armory is poised to become yet another example of this failed policy.

A community-led land trust could be the solution. By transferring properties like the armory into community-controlled trusts, we can ensure permanent affordable housing and space for businesses that local communities need. The current real estate market is pushing out not just renters but also important grocery stores, health clinics, small businesses and community-based organizations. Community land trusts could help turn that tide with affordable commercial rents that could still subsidize affordable housing.

This would give increasingly marginalized long-term residents in gentrifying communities a greater stake in their neighborhood. Because these trusts are community-led, Crown Heights families would decide what, if any, kind of housing should be created at the armory.

More importantly, it would offer an alternative style of development in this city that is geared more towards low-income and “workforce affordable” housing than the kind of luxury development that has radically changed the character of countless neighborhoods. Whether these land trusts are developed for housing or mixed use, the benefit should be primarily provided to the community and its residents.

To get this program off the ground, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development could use the Bedford-Union Armory as a test case. The de Blasio administration's private development proposal is too controversial to move forward, with so many in Crown Heights and surrounding neighborhoods vocally opposed.

That’s why City Hall should immediately start working with local community activists and elected officials to propose a Bedford-Union Armory community land trust. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s $5 billion settlement with Goldman Sachs sets aside $30 million for land banks and land trusts; this money could be used to start the armory's trust and others like it. We can identify additional state and federal funds to assist these trusts in rehabilitating housing and building other necessary services.

I have experience with community land trusts and know they can work. In part because of my work with the council, the city decided earlier this year to put out a request for expressions of interest to seriously consider them as a useful model for the future.

The controversy in Crown Heights has shown that the desire for a solution is there. It’s time we take advantage of this and work towards a plan for the entire community.

Ede Fox is the co-founder of Prospect Heights Democrats for Reform.

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