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  • 03/26/15--07:24: Just Concisely Venting
  • I'm hoping the whole City Planning study mess is over soon and either I can focus on sitting down at meetings with them or clearing my schedule for next couple years, focusing on housing and public safety or some such. It's been exhausting and emotionally draining. I hardly know why I care anymore. But I'm not a quitter and I'll see it through to the end.

    One last time, I'll write down the reason I cared in the first place. Basically to psych myself up for the next round.

    1. The neighborhood has not EVER created a proper plan for growth with the City. It's time. 197a is not going to happen with CB9 as currently configured. This is the best way to learn, listen and develop responsibly.
    2. Developers are taking advantage of gentrification to build more and more market rate apartments on every parcel of land they can buy up.
    3. The City has placed an emphasis on getting developers to build affordable housing that is ACTUALLY affordable. Maybe not to the very poor, but to working families making less than $50,000. In 20 years, we'll be glad we helped protect diversity in our community, because right now, there are precious few protections for that.
    4. Blocks inside the major corridors can be protected from outsized and out of context development. That is a FACT and it has worked elsewhere. Check with other Community Boards...when they ask DCP to come in they get much better results than when developers and elected officials initiate the process.
    5. Empire Boulevard needs a serious look before it becomes tall hotels and/or more storage facilities (hey combine the two! now that's a million dollar idea). It's zoned "junk" commercial, when it could be a grand boulevard where people can live and businesses can thrive. Do nothing, and you don't get a chance to shape it, regardless how high.
    6. A private study has zero chance of breezing through the ULURP process. Unless a private group can come up with tens of thousands, maybe well over six figures, to do an analysis AND environmental review, you won't even have it LOOKED at by DCP with anything but a cursory glance. Then, they're the ones who prepare it, or not, for ULURP. If anyone doesn't like the way it looks - Eric, Laurie, Mathieu, Bill etc. - it will be altered to fit their concerns. So why not START with the City? I don't need a degree in Planning to argue for less density and height and more contextual zoning. No one does. You argue for what you want and give a common sense defense. Don't try to tell DCP what they already know. But if you do a study, then I suppose you come armed with some extra degree of clarity. So do the study. Be part of the process, don't derail it.
    7. MTOPP and others have completely upset the existing equilibrium in the neighborhood and should not be allowed to run the process. To date, they have. Their tactics of trash and burn have infuriated well-meaning community leaders and volunteers. They've tarnished the reputations of people, and divided the neighborhood along racial and class lines. They've infuriated the Jewish community by singling them out as getting special protections. I would love to see their efforts go down in flames, though at this point it's hard to see them going anywhere. Including their members who don't even live in their neighborhood.
    Yeah, it's frustrating. It's particularly frustrating to have smart, talented members of the community argue against the Study. But they're all good people at heart, and I don't begrudge any of the angry homeowner crowd. There's really only one full-on race-baiting jerk, and I hope her Air BnB business gets a slew negative reviews, and that her non-profit get busted for raising money that has nothing to do with its mission. New Directions in Healing indeed. But in the great human spirit, may she not get hurt, unless it's emotionally, as she's done to many others. Lie for a lie, truth for the truth. Or lie for the truth, truth for the lie?

    I'm still working on it.

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  • 03/26/15--10:18: GEM Closing
  • How on earth did rents rise to the point my beloved GEM Discount Store would need to close? My kids will be crushed. And my wallet emptied. Wah.

    Over at (c'mon man, send me a note, I wanna know who you are!) is this photo, which if the text of Mr. Flatbushed's post is to be correlated is, in fact, the very corner of today's Duane Reade/GEM:

    Methinks, rather mesuspects, that something fishy's in Flatbush. Perhaps a new plan for that VERY large corner space just a block from the park?

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  • 03/26/15--16:23: The New Flatbush
  • Holy cow, this thing from Hello Living is quite the stunner, soon to grow from 1580 Nostrand below Church Avenue:

    Reminds me of something I can't put my finger on, or rather shouldn't in public.

    More pics show how you get that swoopy effect in the rendering:

    Loyal readers will complain I've gone too much off course with this one. Not given the current rumblings in our neighborhood about rezoning. It is, in lurid detail, a wonderful example of creative use of the R6 zoning without contextual anything. Steve Smith of YIMBY explains how they did it.

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    Say what you will about the Flatbush Monster. It's one of the only buildings around here being built that offers affordable units. The application is available, but the last page has the numbers most folks aren't wondering about:

    At least now we have an answer to the question "affordable to whom." Just referenc the above, since it will be the benchmark in our neighborhood for the foreseeable future.

    If you want a copy of the full application go here. Also, you can get an application by mail or phone - 646-388-8230

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    Geoffrey Davis is running for Assembly at the special election May 5. He's running against two other Democrats who are also not running on the Democratic line because the Democrats messed up and couldn't get a candidate by deadline. So, Davis is running under his own Love Yourself party. And he's holding a march against gun violence starting at Parkside and Bedford, tomorrow.

    I'll write more about the campaign in the coming weeks, and yeah it would be easy to call the above know. See you there.

    It's a fascinating bunch of candidates. Diana Richards on the Green and Working Families line. The BP and State Senator want septuagenarian Shirley Patterson on the Independent line. And there's an Orthodox candidate, Menachem Raitport, on the Republican line, who's sure to be competitive, meaning it's altogether possible that we might get a Republican Assemblyman, at least for one term.

    So weird, it's not. Democracy ain't pretty.

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    Had to look at the calendar. Kendall C just sent me this article from the Commercial Observer - thought it by April Fool's. Interestingly, Hudson's plans pretty much perfectly match the likely strategy that the Q and others have predicted the industry to take. Build on transit hubs, buy up land that currently has little or no units, max out your FAR. And keep looking at the numbers, numbers, numbers. Hudson, as you recall, is building 626 Flatbush.

    The best quote to walk away with..."Nostrand is the new Franklin Ave, after all"

    “Hudson is very happy with the purchase and thrilled to continue developing in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, a neighborhood we love,” said Joseph Kohl-Riggs, the director of acquisitions at Hudson, in prepared remarks. “Transit access is excellent, with the 2 and 5 trains two blocks away and the new Select Bus on Nostrand Avenue. We’re also excited about the corner retail here—Nostrand Avenue is the new Franklin Avenue, after all.”

    Phase 1 of the new residential development will include 170 apartments and Phase 2 will have 250, according to CPEX.

    “We have been advising the family for more than 10 years and the timing for this transaction worked out perfectly,” said Mr. Leary in a statement. “Our clients were able to capitalize on the demand for new housing in Brooklyn. Prospect Lefferts Gardens has some of the best housing stock in terms of pre-war buildings in all of Brooklyn, but there has been little new stock added to the market. We have watched values and demand in this neighborhood consistently rise year over year.”
    310 Clarkson rendering

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    In a lot of ways, the proposed Planning Study is hard to find consensus about because there's so much conjecture around it. But it's important to note that the most speculation revolves around areas that already have tons of potential to build new units "as of right." A commenter suggested that the parts of the Lefferts neighborhood experiencing a boom are already contextually rezoned. However, this is not correct, as the map of current zoning (above) shows.

    The above includes areas of CB9, but everything from the south side of Clarkson down is CB17. Just below and to the east of Clarkson FlatBed is a lot of R7-1, though R6 allows for all manner of nutty stuff, as the planned 23 story tower down Nostrand past Church shows. It's zoned R6, so clearly you don't need R7-1 to go high - if that's your primary concern, which as Q readers will note, is not the only thing I take into consideration.

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  • 03/28/15--14:42: Pels Pie Company

  • Not their logo. Just random pic from the internets.

    We've been warning you long it's time to get your pie and drink it too. Pels Pie Company, open tonight, with live music to boot.

    446 Rogers
    Tween Lincoln and Lefferts
    Booze and Baked Goods

    In other words, say goodbye to that carb-free weekday routine. Binge and Purge never felt so right.

    thx to mr. plg for the tip!

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    Hey I nearly forgot. With all the insane chaos last week at the CB9 meeting, and with yours truly being "served" with a petition to be removed for attacking "black leaders" in the neighborhood (that's right - Mathieu Eugene and Alicia Boyd are now considered leaders by some. That's some sick joke, right?) there was some great news reported on the Flatbush Trees project and The Parkside Plaza. More on the latter in a bit, but for the Flatbush Trees Cate from Brownstoner ran a nice piece with the following picture. Thanks again for community support! As Eppley pointed out, this has been an awesome experience for the young students at Jackie Robinson who've been involved in making the elements of the soon to bloom trees.

    I believe the Q owes apologies to his mostly decent neighbors for getting a little, um, hot under the collar at the meeting when these numbnuts from CHTU called me out for being a racist pro-development blogger. No offense, cuz Crown Heights Tenants Union does great work (I'm about to post about a protest this Thursday), but these young knuckleheads should take a look in the mirror. Being a self-loathing gentrifier does not give you license to call out longer-term residents like myself racist just because I don't think we're being well-represented or led. That's the ultimate insult, in my book, to equal rights. If you claim to lead, black or white, you need to do so with dignity, decency and diligence. Sorry Alicia and Mathieu. You fail miserably, and my saying so is no more racist than wanting slightly taller buildings so for all this insane development in the 'hood we can get a bit of affordable housing. Only someone grasping at cats would think otherwise. Plus they're humorless - they seemed to have missed the joke in every culled statement from the blog. When they said the word "assaholic" into the mic at the meeting as a quote attributed to the Q I had to smile through gritted teeth. Hey it's my coinage; so I'll tell you right now you mispronounced it. It's ass-ah-hawl-ic. Rhymes with alcoholic.

    How's that for language unbecoming of a Community Board member? Keep it up and there's lots more to follow. If telling it like it is is a crime, lock me up and throw away the key.

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  • 03/31/15--10:04: Nacho Mother's Tacos
  • If the above pun is painful, I do not apologize.

    thx to Mindy for the pic!

    The patron. El Patron. More like "the Boss" in Spanish. Not like The Boss in Jersey. More like the Colombian Drug Lord El Patron, a guy named Pablo Escobar, who supposedly put together a $30 Billion cocaine empire. Think about that. $30 billion in drug money. At one point he was earning $30 MILLION a DAY. He explained the business thusly: "It's simple—you bribe someone here, you bribe someone there, and you pay a friendly banker to help you bring the money back." Well, that might work in backward Colombia, but it'd NEVER work in a modern democracy like the United States of America. We keep a tight lid on any such shenanigans. That's why we've got such an egalitarian society.

    Anywho, I guess Mr. Cocaine is coming to Lincoln Road. Or rather, the latest in a local franchise of Mexican eateries called "El Patron." It would appear they already have outlets in Queens and
    Clinton Hill. And now, they get to try their hands at managing the notoriously fickle landlady Rong Ge.

    Here's a picture I nicked off the internets of some El Patron food.
    I'm sure it's perfectly delicious, but sometimes I'll look at a plate of food and I don't see the food, I see it chewed up and lodged in the stomach, then the small then large intestines, and I just think what an odd ritual we've attached to the shoving of dead plant and animal energy into our mouth-holes. I mean, the delicacy with which we sometimes adorn the dinner experience is really just ornate window dressing designed to hide the bestial nature of our crammings. What if such artifice accompanied the other end of the process? Then maybe you can see where I'm going with this.

    But all that's for another post. Or maybe not. In the meantime, we can look forward to slightly better Latin offerings with the same relaxed family-friendly booze, chow and TV vibe. Here's to a happy ending, better than our Colombian friend enjoyed. And what exactly happened to all that money? I'm sure it was dispersed fairly to the populace, drug treatment centers and compensation for his victims, don't you think?

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  • 03/31/15--19:26: Q Gardens Comes To Life
  • from Anna and DPC
    All I gots to say is wow. Those crafty volunteers to our south and west have managed to take control of and make over that little chunk of garbage and weeds that was a triangle next to the Church Ave Q/B station. Next stop - community garden.

    Thx Anna from Ditmas Park Corner for the great photolog. Y'all can see the transformation before your very peepers via her great coverage of the cleanup. The krafty krew even managed to rouse Councilmember Eugene from his annual hibernation from issues and concerns of his electorate.

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    The Q's been keeping this one under his hat for the last couple weeks thinking surely it would fall through. The GEM Discount Store on Flatbush between Parkside and Woodruff is about to go from 99 cent bottles of perfume to 99 dollar bottles of hand pressed ultra virgin olive oil. Mario Batali, the corpulent serial entrepreneur, is about to open five (5!) Eataly Outposts in Brooklyn, one each in the trendiest nabes of Williamsburg, Bushwick, Carrol Gardens, Gowanus and, you guessed it, Lefferts Gardens. We're first up because, well, it was cheapest and easiest to move in on the lease at 724 Flatbush, right next to the Duanegreens.

    So what is it exactly, this Eataly Outpost?
    Apparently Batali has seen the enormous potential in franchising his super-successful Manhattan shrine to all things Italian and Culinary (from Italy and Culin respectively), but according to his press release
    he has investors lined up to open one of these small groceries a month for the next two years in major U.S. cities. And we get the very first one! That undoubtedly means a Batali sighting on the Flabenue is not far behind, and Batali's behind is not too far behind that.
    Need capers? Boy, do we got capers!
    Much like recent neighborhood favorites like Larder and Provisions and Union Market, one can expect high-end specialty items and fresh to-go foods. And what tastes better than a tiny $30 pizza? Not much says Q, unless it's a $5 bottle of flavored seltzer. Batali's counting on the trend to smaller boutique shoppes to continue, and he certainly has the name to beat when it comes to drawing in the ravenously frothy gourmet crowds. Remember folks, food is the new rock 'n' roll.

    Benvenuto, Mario!! Check out Pepa's while you're hanging drywall!

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    The massive makeover of Lefferts keeps chugging along. A few more old wood houses, each with multiple apartments, will be demolished after changing hands. If you spend anytime walking or biking around the neighborhood, you'll recognize them instantly.

    1930 and 1934 Bedford near Fenimore
    194 Hawthorne too
    Expect market rate apartments that max out their zoned potential. (Thx to Mike F of Brooklynian for his remarkable eagle-eyes)

    Now, don't get me wrong. Some of you will suggest that the allowable height on these lots is no reason for alarm, and I won't disagree, though there's always the chance of unflattering Fedders buildings with curbcuts. No, I'm pissed off because it is highly unlikely that even a single unit will go for less than market rate, which as of today, the average price of an apartment is becoming so absurd as to beggar belief. Fight density all you want; the real bogeyman is unaffordability for the hard-working lower and middle classes. The fight continues by small bands of brave , which I'll try to document in future posts, is absolutely 100% where we're heading, with help from a surprising few large investors.

    Put another way, each one of the multiple units in these old houses has no protection, and the renters will be out on their ass. The new buildings will included no means-tested housing. The onward march towards class extinction in Lefferts leaps forward unabated. We'll probably get a couple nice restaurants out of it though, maybe along that cute strip on Bedford down between Parkside and Clarkson?

    The Q apologizes for sounding so cynical, but it's really quite remarkable how fast this stuff happens when the industry decides it's time.

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    A fascinating map provided by neighbor Jacob Garchik shows just how quickly we've become awash in new building development. It sure makes me feel popular, given the number of these developments right near my home. Actually, PS92 might be the epicenter. Note the extraordinary power of landmarking. If you zoom in you'll see just how protected is the Lefferts Manor and it's slightly bigger Prospect Lefferts Gardens Historic District. Not to put to fine a point on it, but just imagine what this could be like if each and every project was required to build means-tested housing?

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  • 04/04/15--12:17: The Q's Quityerbitchin' Post
  • So you think you got it rough on your morning commute, and that all those newcomers are gonna destroy your quality of life? Nah. You got it EASY partner. Check this out:

    Look, I ride my bike whenever I can, and it ain't always to save the fare. But I ride the trains too, and at certain key moments during the rush it's pretty awful. Though often if I wait for the next one it's fine. The annoyance - having to let a train go by when I'm late - is usually worse than the actual affect on my trip. However, were I one of those poor sods on the much-maligned L, I might not be so sanguine. The fact is, I ride the Q at all different times, and my experience is much like the numbers suggest. The Q is not actually that crowded, either historically or currently. When automated controls eventually come on line, we can expect a smarter, swifter commute, and more trains per hour. Oddly enough, we're not even at capacity now. I also find the claims people make of "having to let three or four trains go by" to not fit my experience at all. Once in a great while, when there's some problem on the line, maybe. But it's certainly a very rare occurrence, unless you suffer from a condition whereby the mere touching of another human being makes you break out in a rash, which in turn, might make others less inclined to want to touch YOU.

    Did you know that system-wide we only recently came BACK to the level of ridership in 1950? One can only hope the 2nd Ave line will help things a bit, maybe bring us back to the level of 1960.

    Oh, and if you REALLY want to get in a huff about this stuff, go over to our pro-development folks at NY YIMBY and read their piece called "Quit Whining, Brooklyn," for more stats on the sitch.

    Lastly, you can't help but wonder if at least part of the crowding problem has to do with our, how do I put this delicately, weight problem? If New Yorkers are actually 50% bigger/heavier than the LAST time we reached this number of riders, maybe that's part of the problem.

    Stand clear the closing doors! Or we'll take a plunger to you, laddie!

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    Took awhile, but now they get it. The Old Gray Lady works in mysterious ways. The Q tried to pitch them nearly three years back on the story that most concerned me on my own block - how a slumlord like Barry Hers could be making a killing housing more than 50 homeless families in a much-neglected six story apartment building - 60 Clarkson. The City was paying $3,000 a month all told, but the families - and their many small children - lived in squalor. We've done what we can to help those kids feel at home here. Block parties, books and toys at Christmas, hand-me-downs, you know, just neighborly stuff. Some of the families have been there much longer than the stated goal of self-sufficiency. They're brought to the building by "intake" in the middle of the night, scared and tired. Their social service providers are lacking. There was absolutely no security guard til we made a big fuss about the drug dealers and prostitution. The super is a crackhead. The new security guard is sleeping half the time, and has no system for stopping the wrong people from entering. The cops are there all the time. A shooting here, a stabbing there. This is no way for a child to grow up, no matter how indigent.

    Basically all of the concerns the Q cited are damningly laid out in the report by the Department of Investigation. If you have interest in the issue of how the City handles its most vulnerable families, I encourage you to make your way through at least some of it here

    At the bottom of this post is the Times editorial, but I encourage you to check out the WNYC segment that my neighbor Melvina, one of the few leased tenants at 60 Clarkson, appears in. This after we first starting squawking to everyone we could when we first learned of the absurdity inherent in making the City's worst landlords into partners. The extent of the "affordable housing" shortage in this City has created this perverse economic warp in the laws of decency.

    I actually arranged a meeting with the provider of social service - CAMBA - and got stonewalled on every question. FYI, they wouldn't let any of the 60 Clarkson tenants attend that meeting, by some sort of "rule" against that sort of thing. What they were afraid of I'll never know - these are the people they're supposedly helping. Then I scheduled a phone meeting with the Department of Homeless Services last year, essentially by threatening more and more negative publicity for their inattention to even the findings of the City Comptroller's report on waste and abuse in the DHS system. What I encountered were decent people clearly weary of a Sisyphean task, and fully aware of the moral hazards involved in dealing with Barry Hers. One major hurdle, I learned, has been the phasing out of Section 8, then the abolishment of the program designed to replace it - Advantage NY. And while the homeless rolls push 60,000, there's yet to be a program that will move displaced people into truly subsidized housing or voucher programs. Maybe more to the point, who's going to take the vouchers anymore, now that middle class New Yorkers are venturing into once off-limits neighborhoods for housing of their own? Who but jerks like Barry Hers of course. And so the off-the-record advice to most of these families - move.

    That's right. Move out of NYC. Move to places where you might find a squalid place to live, but you'll be lucky to find work, and the schools are even worse than Jackie Robinson where your kids currently attend. Does a mecca for poor people exist somewhere in the U.S. of A.? If so, I'd love to know where that is so I can coach my neighbors to move there. (And before the knuckleheads and their petitions quote me on that in their next petition to remove me from CB9 - yes, I'm being sarcastic.)

    From the Times editorial on the enduring problem:

    It isn’t just the dead-rat smell in the hallway, the holes in the walls, the locked exits and other rampant health and safety violations that make a new report on New York City’s homeless shelters so damning.

    What is appalling about the report, released earlier this month by the city’s Department of Investigation, is the systemic collapse it reveals. It takes years to build a mess like this. New York has about 57,000 people in its shelters. The system is so strained for space that millions of dollars are spent to put people up in places known to be dangerous and squalid, because a dangerous, squalid place with a roof is considered better than the street.

    For years — maybe a decade, maybe longer — the city has failed to come to grips with its growing need for safe, clean shelter space for thousands of families. It has failed to create an effective system to investigate, expose, deter and punish landlords who let their buildings rot.
    It has tolerated an essentially meaningless inspection regimen that uncovers only a fraction of violations — which don’t get fixed anyway, because there are no follow-ups and no consequences for ignoring a failed inspection. It has allowed private shelter providers to take millions of taxpayer dollars through per-diem arrangements, operating without contracts and leaving the city unable to demand repairs or impose penalties on negligent landlords.
    This debacle festered in the 12 years of the Bloomberg administration, and now it is Mayor Bill de Blasio’s problem to solve. The city should immediately fix the dangerous code violations exposed by the report, without waiting for action from the landlords.
    The Homeless Services Department needs to work with the Buildings Department, the Fire Department and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to make sure all of its 145 shelters, housing nearly 12,000 families, are up to code. It needs to move more clients into public housing and city-run shelters and end the reliance on “cluster” sites in derelict private apartment buildings where security is lacking and access to social services is negligible. And it needs to sign contracts with all of its outside providers, so it can force them to clean up and make repairs.
    The city has long been under a court-ordered obligation to give emergency shelter to anyone who needs it. But it has clearly been doing so with too little regard for clients’ safety and dignity.
    The de Blasio administration, which requested the investigation, says it generally accepts the recommendations of the report. It has already closed two badly run private shelters in the Bronx and says it may close more in coming months, applying more stringent inspection standards as the city moves forward with a task that should have been begun, in earnest, years ago.

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  • 04/05/15--07:36: The Two Faces Of ZT Realty
  • thank you Esteban Girón for help with this post

    Real Estate is a funny thing, especially in the Big Apple. On the one hand, it's a customer service business. A happy tenant is a paying tenant, the more you take care of your building the happier the tenant, and (the theory goes) the more reliable the income. Charge too much, your "happy" tenants move elsewhere. Charge too little and you can't cover your nut. As in most business ventures, the sweet spot's in the middle. But what about when the gig is rigged from the git-go? What if a sweet spot doesn't exist? And what if the REASON it disappeared is that you payed way too much for the property, and promised outsized returns? Enter our current neighborhood dilemma.

    Robert "ZT" Bremmer - younger than you
    Take the case of ZT Realty. A youngish ambitious guy named Robert Bremmer started the company not so very long ago, 2010, with the expressed purpose of...well, why does ANYone get into the real estate business? You know, to make a living. A very GOOD living. And to do that, you must create decent returns for your investors. Because unless you're exceedingly wealthy yourself and willing to put your own $$ at risk, you need to convince a few moneyed folks to help you buy buildings that cost tens of millions of dollars. Bremmer went to Princeton; that helps. And he's part of a Princeton real estate club that's clearly good for business, connections and access to capital. 

    So before we dig any deeper, we need to dismiss that image of the olde style landlord from the thought bubble. You know, the somewhat grumpy but generally amiable Mr. Hooper type. Looks over his glasses to make sure you're alright, then tells you "the apartment has quirks but you can't beat the price, oh, and don't make noise after 10pm...Mrs. Larson has insomnia, and she'll call 911 before she knocks on your door." My time in NYC is littered with stories like these, and Mr. Hooper & Co. are very much still on the scene, particularly with smaller houses and apartment buildings and units in their own homes. The guy who started PLGNA - Bob Thomason - is like that, and he has the glasses to prove it. I know folks that live in his apartments, and he rents below market and is generally considered a decent landlord. There are crooked ones too, but these smalltime lords aren't significant players in the massive neighborhood change that we're currently witnessing.

    Mr. Brenner himself lives at Union Square, and his stated interest is in developing a deep portfolio of "underappreciated" buildings. Funny word that, given that both senses of the word are appropriate. What he means is he wants to own lots of properties, in neighborhoods that are quickly gentrifying, and that word portfolio means he may or may not ever visit them all on a regular basis. It's a portfolio, not a get-your-hands-dirty career calling. He's looking at the bigger picture, and so are his investors. There's risk involved, sure. Mostly risk for the investors, but his reputation is on the line as well, and that matters to people like Robert Bremmer. Not so much his reputation with tenants, mind you, since he almost never sees any of them in person. His reputation among his peers. As in, his reputation as it relates to returns. This is, after all, how capitalism works. You get to keep playing if you've won a few times. And we are so deeply insinuated into the heart of that economic animal that we hardly realize that we're all actively engaged in a vast, global experiment in capital. It's neither obvious, nor particularly necessary, to conduct human affairs in this way - these layers of ownership and investment. But, as the economists like to say, it's been proven over time to create "wealth," and since we've decided (again, not because of any inherent truth) that we're okay with the idea of wealth for some and not for others, or rather we're just glad that at least SOMEbody gets the wealth, we don't argue over that basic fact much anymore. In many ways, huge swaths of our society are beneficiaries of the largesse, and America has remained strong as a result of our Ayn Randian ideology. Plus, it's enticing to dream about luxury and the freedom from obligation that enormous F.U. wealth could bring, and hey, you never know. (It's a miracle it all holds together! Except of course, when it doesn't, and all is chaos and vengeance and terror. But that's for the evening news and the international pages...the U.S. of A. has been remarkably resilient against revolution and civil war in the past century and a half, even when the rest of the Earth upheaves.) My point with all that rambling is to suggest that it's entirely possible to be young, bright, even idealistic, and imagine that building a real estate portfolio is actually a noble pursuit. Here's how Bremmer's business partner describes it:
    "At the end of the day, we measure our success by the majority of happy tenants we have, the lease renewals we experience month after month, the jobs in construction, maintenance and property management we have created and the continued solid market dynamics that enable our investment partners to want us to continue acquiring properties in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights," said Tessler. "These are the communities and values we are thoroughly committed to for the long-term."NYREJ
    Sounds great, doesn't it? With that kinda mantra, not only could I sleep at night, I'd probably be bounding out of bed each morning knowing that I was making so many people happy. The reality of course is a bit more, um, nuanced, as we'll see. With the above lines spoken out of one side of the mouth, here's Bremmer giving advice to presumably even-younger-than-him potential magnates:

    I would tell them to follow their "gut" and not shy away from taking risks. Five years ago, my first real estate deal was the purchase of a multifamily building in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, when few people thought that was a good idea. That deal, like many others that followed, turned out to be extremely lucrative.

    Quickly, we acquired 300 units in over 20 properties in Brooklyn, achieving great returns for our investors. You have to be patient and have a vision about how a specific neighborhood will evolve to find value in real estate.

    Note that in the parlance of the industry, "extremely lucrative" is much more of an attention grabber than making renters and neighbors happy. I'm not implying that seeking profits is somehow sinister. And yet I wonder which "vision" is expressed in the following piece about a ZT building on the evening news? Please do click the link! I tried to embed it, but for naught. Remember, this is one of ZT's proudest moments, the "deal" referenced in this story:

     News4 Piece on ZT Realty

    I met Marcia, the woman in the News4 segment with the awful living conditions, on Thursday. She's no whiner, as the conditions in that TV story will attest. She's stressed, scared and angry. But she's not giving in to the pressure and leaving. She knows all too well that her chances for a reasonably priced new apartment are slim. But what I want to know is why on Thursday had her issues not been addressed? I mean, it's been nearly 2 months since that piece on the news. Even if you were a slumlord, wouldn't you have run right over and fix it before someone like me repeated the story? It's hard to fathom how this makes any sense business-wise; unless somehow you decide that fixing Marcia's problems sends the "wrong signal" to other tenants, who might want similar treatment. I'm flummoxed. Btw, 1045 Union, the overwhelming "success story" trumpeted by ZT, had no heat or hot water at the beginning of January for several days. Do you recall the temperature right about then? Ask the tenants; they remember.

    There are buildings, and these tenants groups have begun to document it all and protest, that have gone without heat for the entire winter, but tenants can't leave without jeopardizing the one hope of staying where they've lived most their lives. If they leave, they'll never find a place for, say, under $1,000 a month again. ANYwhere in the metropolitan area, at this point. And so it goes. Why is it legal to conduct business this way? Strictly speaking, it isn't. But it's extremely difficult to do anything but fine building owners, and if you've got lots of dough, who cares? This is a numbers game, and sometimes "doing the right thing" is just too costly.

    These are most definitely not isolated situations. As I've documented here previously, this is an industry-wide strategy, time-tested and highly predictable. Just like the drug trade, it's simply too easy to stay ahead of the law, even with the new Tenants Task Force that de Blasio trumpets in the News4 piece. Heck you can even sell buildings when the fuzz catches up with you - there's a rumor that ZT is doing just that with 1045. The list that CHTU maintains of building ownership can hardly keep up with the trades. And "trades" they are. Many of these sales are bouncing back and forth between the same dozen or so companies. A cabal? Well, if the backslapping at NY real estate forums and breakfasts is any indication, of COURSE. You don't need to be a conspiracy theorist to note that smart money is incredibly chummy. After all, once you buy a stock it's absolutely worth promoting it to everyone you know! Your own investment can only benefit from company.

    (Pssst, know what I would do if I were a "player" in the biz? Toss a building back and forth a couple times with buddies, ratcheting up the price each time, until some less-savvy dupe comes in and pays way more than the building is worth. Maybe a foreigner! Ka-ching! Me and my squash partner have just made ten or twenty million without breaking a sweat (at deals, not squash; squash is sweaty by necessity), sharing the profits along the way. Think it doesn't happen? Heck these guys are super-smart, and technically very little of it rises to the level of felony. Fines and liens are the cost of doing business, not deterrents, tenants be damned. The former ghetto is a cash-cow, and you can bet on its direction at the same time you actively encourage the speed of change. What a deal! And you don't even have to stay in long, before heading to (quite literally) the next stop on the train.)

    As long as written history, the landowner/landlord has made the money, and that is perhaps the most central facet of our economic lives to today. Until non-nobility and non-church citizenry began to own real property, the juggernaut of capitalism had little chance of taking off. Trade of goods made many kingdoms rich. But it was the land itself that held the greatest potential wealth. And not just for the commodities under the soil. We made the Louisiana Purchase from the French for $15 million in 1803 (which is roughly $700 million today) and now it is worth nearly $10 trillion today. That sort of wealth has an enormous generational effect as well, and that's worthy of another discussion along the lines of my most current fascination with wealth and race. Check out my post A Race To the Bottom. In a nutshell, most white Americans' biggest asset is their home, and that wealth often passes to the children; but not even half of black Americans own a home, exacerbating the continuing inequality between races. On the biz side too, when you see these real estate conferences and meetings just count the people of color you see. Folks missing a hand can count them just fine. 

    Real estate continues to be one of safest and most reliable assets in the global economy as well. While not always stratospheric in returns, it is tangible and finite. As Will Rogers said "they ain't making any more." The city of Dubai, and Battery Park City, might disagree, but in general the yarn holds true. Though making more land is surely got to be on the mind of somebody besides the Emir of Dubai, no? If we can create brand new islands...actually, it's worth a detour to consider that idea.  This has to be the creepiest video I've seen in a long, long time.

    Yikes. Okay, back home. About five years ago in Crown Heights and more recently Lefferts Gardens, the word was out. If you hadn't already started putting your large bets in these neighborhoods, you were going to miss out big time. Study just a bit of NYC history and you'll recognize the same thing happening over and over to the delight of hundreds of moguls - NYC Real Estate only goes up, with little blips, and the smart money goes where it's up-and-coming. Buy low, sell high. From the Upper East Side, to Greenwich Village, to the Upper West Side, to the Lower East Side, from Hell's Kitchen to Lower Manhattan and Chelsea and Tribeca...over the bridges first to Brooklyn Heights then Park Slope and all the brownstoney neighborhoods. Throw in Williamsburg/Bushwick, Harlem, the reimagined Dumbo, even Clinton Hill and's really not that hard to predict where it goes next. What, it was going to skip over us on the way to Brownsville and East New York? One subway stop at a time please! Real Estate speculation and building follows the train lines. In a city this dense, just makes sense.

    And as the NY Times devotes big time to the drought havoc in California this week, why WOULD we encourage the creation of more pollution and drivers and sprawl? NYC is one of the best poised areas for reasonable growth given its steady natural supply of water and decent public transportation. The metropolitan area has 20 million people and is growing, as is the country, as is the world. Sometimes I forget - maybe you do to - that population growth is STILL the single biggest issue facing humanity, as it exacerbates all the others like global warming and famine. The growth slowed a bit from when it became part of alarmist zeitgeist thinking in the '60s and '70s. But honestly if you're going to "lead" you have to imagine the future and plan for it. And in NYC, the plan involves growth along transit, even north, east, south and west of the City. It also involves NEW transit. Say, a new tunnel for trains. Maybe a bridge JUST for trains. Leadership. Vision. Investment. That's the stuff that adults do, and like I always say, we're the adults now.

    Nothing odd here. Could've seen it coming. Except for one hitch. Did you ever buy into the idea, like I did, that gentrification all happens relatively naturally? If for one minute, instead of accepting the one seller one buyer transaction, you stepped back and saw the true avalanche that occurs every time a neighborhood gets discovered...then you might begin to wonder about the mechanics of it all, and how is it that so many can make so much money while the rest of us just breathe the exhaust and hold on for dear lives, even as the very few lucky ones watch their homes rise in value two, three, even four times, without even renovating your kitchen. The whole system rests on a certain magic trick...while you're focused on your life, that new baby, a promotion, the need for stability...the whole churn is spinning all around you like a twister, but hey, you've got a busted boiler and a leaky roof and do you have any idea how hard I worked for this and how much humble pie must be ingested to borrow a down payment from the parents?

    I'm pointing no finger. If I were, four would be pointing back at me. On Thursday I headed over to the Court Street offices of ZT Realty to see what a good ol' fashioned protest looks like in the rent wars of 2015. I like to note the work of the Crown Heights Tenants Union and Flatbush Tenants Coalition because they're working their asses off to keep people in their homes after years and years of rent-paying in buildings that have supposedly benefited by the influx of capital and refurbishment. It's no secret that folks are scared and being harassed in ways large and small in order to bring rents up to those necessary to justify the prices paid for the building itself. If you're not allowed by law to charge the market rate, due to rent stabilization laws, you gotta get 'em out somehow. The pressure starts at the top and trickles down. More like a downpour.

    At ZT's offices last Thursday, a few intrepid protesters from the Crown Heights Tenants Union delivered their demands for fair treatment and fair rents right to the corporate offices of ZT. When I got there around 10:15, I figured I'd missed the action, so I took a chance on going into the building and up to ZT's offices, maybe even get a statement from them. Without hesitation I was allowed in and headed up to the 15th floor. And there, much to my surprise, were a half dozen protesters shouting slogans in the hallway next to the door to ZT's offices. A not terribly menacing security guard was trying to get them to leave...I got caught up in the sloganizing, realizing that I wasn't a reporter after all, just a guy with a blog. Seemed silly to just take pictures, and besides a couple of them sounded hoarse from all the protesting.

    Pace yourselves y'all. Looks like it's going to be a long fight.

    Hilarious note: that self-proclaimed communist buddy of Boyd's (Anne Pruden) who always calls out and points at me "KKK" - she was there, confused maybe by my presence, as we both chanted "housing is a right." I guess old racists like me and modern Maoists like her really can see eye to eye on a thing or two. Though I have no intention of executing any intellectuals or sending the urban population to starve out on the Iowa plains. I've lived there; it's no great place to live, let along die of hunger. Actually, I know a lot of Iowans. No worries there. It's a well-fed crowd.

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    A Sad State Of Affairs
    The Oriental Pavilion needs your help!

    The fact that the Q got married under its gorgeous ceiling should not persuade or dissuade you. This is one of the great East Park gems and deserves the funding to fix it up. So what can you do? Don't pick up a hammer and nails...pick up your laptop, or better leave it right there so you don't drop it, and hammer out an email. Local Prospect Park activist Seth Kaplan has made it really easy for us. Here's what he says:
    Dear Friends,

    If you love Prospect Park, please read on. We told the Alliance that the Oriental Pavilion is important to our community and they listened. Now we need your help!

    The Pavilion is both a natural gathering place for our residents and a symbolic gateway to our neighborhood. But in recent years it has deteriorated from water damage, Hurricane Sandy and neglect. Last year it became so structurally unsound it was barricaded from use all together.

    But it's not too late. The park's leadership has made the repair of this 140-year-old edifice its top priority. And it's asking the City Council for $2 million to restore the Pavilion, fix pathways, repair staircases, add new lighting and a host of other improvements to the Concert Grove. 

    Here's what YOU can do. Send a message to the City Council members who will vote on this initiative. Repost this on your Facebook page. Tell your friends. Show that we are committed to bringing this piece of history back to life!

    Send an email with the subject “Save the Pavilion” to:

    Mark Treyger (
    Darlene Mealy (
    Mathieu Eugene (

    If you'd like a sample form letter, see below or message me directly. Thank you for helping protect Prospect Park. Your input can make a difference!

    Sample Letter:
    Dear Council Members,

    My name is [fill in the blank]. 

    I would like to express my support of the Prospect Park Alliance’s capital request to the Brooklyn Delegation of the NYC Council for $2 million to restore Prospect Park’s Oriental Pavilion and surrounding area.

    With these funds, the Alliance and NYC Parks can repair the water damage to the Pavilion’s roof and make additional restorations to the surrounding paths, including the installation of path lighting and the restoration of stairways leading down from Breeze Hill. The Oriental Pavilion is a critical community resource, used by our community to celebrate birthdays, weddings, family gatherings and picnics, but it is currently closed due to the need for repairs. The Pavilion is a piece of Brooklyn’s history and I ask that you support this Delegation request. Thank you for your consideration.

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    Big fire broke out at 70 Martense, with dozens of firefighters on the scene. If anyone has info please share!

    I'm in awe of this guy who rushed in and saved the kids trapped inside, busting windows and running in to find the children. Holy cow, what a crazy story of real life heroism! Read about Clancy Winchester in DNA Info.

    A friend sent this picture of the damage.

    Lives were saved, even the dog. God bless the FDNY and Clancy "the Man" Winchester!

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    Thanks to Rebecca at 40 Clarkson for organizing with crucial law enforcement beYOND the precincts.

    If you've got questions or specific concerns about recent violence in south Lefferts/north Flatbush, I'm sure you'll want to be at this meeting to discuss what Law & Order is doing to prevent the sorts of crime that puts us all at risk, and the problems affecting (mostly) young men in particular that lead to these outbursts.


    Monday, April 20
    40 Clarkson, Basement Community Room

    From Rebecca:

    Hi All ---
    I heard back today from the DAs office, they have confirmed April 20, 7pm for our community meeting. I couldn't get it pushed any later than that (they originally proposed 6pm). With Tim Thomas' help I listed the items below as talking points, which is a working draft. Next step is to spread the word and to extend an invite to our (various) precincts etc. 
    - Date: Monday April 20th
    - Time: 7pm
    - Location: 40 Clarkson Avenue (between Flatbush/Bedford), in the basement community room
    Agenda items (working draft):
    - Neighborhood crime/safety concerns
    - Crime proximity to schools and playgrounds and the safety of our children
    - Precinct communications (both between precincts and between precinct and the community)
    - We'd like to explore the possibility of an Impact Zone
    - We'd like to explore the possibility of a C.O.P.
    - We'd like to explore S.O.S. 'interrupters' as a possible way to help our neighborhood
    - Gun buyback

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