The city is proposing to transform the Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights into a new recreational center, affordable office space and housing. After years of seeing the armory sit vacant and unused, this plan would finally reclaim the site as a crucial resource for the Crown Heights community.
Under the city’s proposal, 50 percent of the mixed-income rental housing in the project would be affordable. In other words, 165 of the building’s 330 apartments would serve low- and middle-income households, including many longtime Crown Heights residents.
Some activists and construction unions want to block the plan, claiming it should offer housing only for the lowest-income New Yorkers and be built using only union labor. They argue that unless these demands are met, the entire plan should be scrapped.
But in this case, mixed-income housing is actually better for Crown Heights than a 100% low-income plan. Here’s why.
First, while there is a great need for low-income housing, the reality is that we need more of both low- and middle-income options in Crown Heights. Believe it or not, there are indeed families of color in our community making $75,000 or $100,000 per year. Families with teachers, police officers or many other professions can be found throughout Crown Heights. The tragedy is that they don’t qualify for low-income housing and in many cases can’t afford the market rate. The armory plan will serve them as well as those making $40,000 per year or less.
Arguing that low-income housing is the only kind of housing that benefits black and brown New Yorkers is short-sighted and it is simply not true. What should Crown Heights tell its young men and women of color after they gain middle-class jobs and want to stay here or come back to raise families? That they are no longer welcome?
Second, we must understand that mixed-income housing will play a crucial role in keeping the armory’s planned recreational center affordable — and sustainable — for generations to come. The recreational center will include new basketball courts, indoor fields and a swimming pool. It will cost millions of dollars each year to maintain this facility and its free and low-cost programming for community members.
Crown Heights residents — particularly low-income families — have lacked access to quality athletic facilities for far too long. We want the new rec center to be open as many hours as possible and for free and low-cost programming available at all times. But without the revenue generated by market-rate apartments under a mixed-income plan, it will be impossible to sustain the rec center and ensure that it truly serves everyone in our community.
Third, the mixed-income housing plan for the Bedford-Union Armory would put low-income, middle-income and market-rate households together under the same roof, all with access to the same amenities. That is the kind of development Crown Heights should have. This is important because many New Yorkers have opposed so-called “poor door buildings,” where developers create one building for wealthier market rate residents and a separate building for low- or middle-income residents. This kind of opposition is a good thing. When New Yorkers of all backgrounds, ethnicities and income levels live in the same building, we all benefit.
Finally, when it comes to the armory opponents’ argument for union construction, it is widely known that building all-union would be too expensive to provide any low or middle-income apartments. More importantly, building with union labor makes it much harder to provide jobs for members of our Crown Heights community.
It is time to revitalize the Bedford-Union Armory and make it work for all of Crown Heights’ families. The city’s plan would accomplish that.
The Rev. Daryl G. Bloodsaw is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Crown Heights.