After making my way through a gilded, marble-floor lobby worthy of Home Alone 2, I found myself at Civic Hall. The techy meetup spot and educational center is where likeminded hackers convene for “labs” and shamelessly use the kind of words (“disrupt”) that have become emblems of that heady cocktail of superiority and entitlement powering controversial profit vacuums like Uber and AirBnB. I was hardly surprised to see that Pierre Omidyar’s foundation is a sponsor of Civic Hall, as is Google. Even if the #HackHousing event had been pitched as an occasion for discussing “creative ways to empower New York renters,” I was more than a little skeptical.
As a work-resident of Greenpoint, the soundtrack to my daytime life is a near constant wash of brutal jackhammer vibrato and diesel-spewing growls emitted from a stream of trucks. As you might have noticed, the neighborhood, from the edge of Williamsburg to the Pulaski Bridge, is getting seriously tore up by mega-developments like Greenpoint Landing and the expansion of the Brooklyn Greenway.
It’s easy to speak about the consequences of all this change in abstract terms, and harder to know exactly who will be impacted, when, and how. But that’s not really the case when it comes to feral cats like Kool-Aid, a mangy little black-and-white dude who lurks around the neighborhood’s abandoned lots and the in-between spaces. Clearly, his way of life is about to change. As new construction threatens the colony where he and about ten other cats live, their caretakers are scrambling for a way to assert something like squatter’s rights.
The Rent Guidelines Board met last Thursday ahead of voting to determine the maximum allowable rent increase for rent regulated apartments throughout New York City. The same review happens annually, but this year there’s a special sense of urgency as rents continue to rise amidst falling incomes and a precipitous drop in rent regulated housing stock, which account for some 1 million homes in the city. Proponents of rent regulation agree that the system is badly in need of reform, but it remains to be seen what exactly that might look like when Albany revisits the rent regulation laws, which expire on June 15. Many affordable housing advocates are worried that powerful real estate interests might prevail. But for now, it’s up to the RGB to decide whether or not to continue on a course of raising rents for rent regulated tenants or take the advice of some lawmakers and freeze rents.
Colony 1209, a rather, um, insensitively named luxury development in Bushwick featuring a doorman, ping pong tables, a “speakeasy,” and a gym, has caused quite a stir since it opened up its 127 units inviting “bohemians” to become “settlers” in “Brooklyn’s vibrant new frontier.” Last summer, Bushwick Daily dubbed Colony 1209 the neighborhood’s “most controversial new building,” which judging by the apartment’s website copy, is something the developers might just have been aiming for. But in a neighborhood where there’s an acute and visible housing crisis happening (see: tenant harassment, demographic shifts, skyrocketing rent, etc.) it was a matter of time before people got really angry.