Neighborhood Spotlight: East New York

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A street in East New York. Photo courtesy of amNY

The wave that has swept through Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, and Park Slope, is poised to reach the final frontier in potential Brooklyn development: East New York. While price growth has slowed throughout most of Manhattan and Brooklyn, The median sale price in East Brooklyn (East New York, Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, Bushwick, and Crown Heights) grew 25% to approximately $500K from January 2015 to January 2016.

East New York is a residential community of roughly one square mile and as its name implies, is the easternmost point in Brooklyn. It is bounded on the north by the Queens Borough Line, Highland Park, Ridgewood, and several of the area’s historic cemeteries. The Queens neighborhoods of Woodhaven and Ozone Park lie to the east. Jamaica Bay is on the southern border, and Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, Brownsville, and Canarsie bound the neighborhood on the west. Like much of Brooklyn, the region now known as East New York has a tangled history.

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A map of East New York from 1874. Photo courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection

Originally settled by the Jameco people, Dutch colonists arrived in the early 1600s and founded the towns of Flatbush, Bushwick, and New Lots (now a subsection of East New York). These lands fell into British hands for a while before the Revolutionary War, and even saw some action in the Battle of Brooklyn.

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The Battle of Brooklyn, Alonzo Chappel, 1858

In 1835, a businessman from Atlanta named John Pitkin purchased the town of New Lots with visions of building a city there to rival New York. That didn’t quite pan out, and after the financial Panic of 1837, Pitkin was forced to sell much of his land. New Lots soon grew into a thriving community  of mostly German immigrants, with a functional rail system which connected the area to Jamaica Bay, Williamsburg, and Flatbush, and a major transit hub in Broadway Junction. The area was eventually annexed by the City of Brooklyn. By the early 1900s, the neighborhood had become a manufacturing center, employing predominantly Italian and Jewish laborers who had moved to the area in search of work.

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East New York, 1857. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library

After the end of WWII, manufacturing decreased, and by the 1960s, many of the manufacturing jobs had evaporated. “Blockbusting” was rampant, and as Jewish and Italian families left the neighborhood, many black and Latino first-time homeowners were duped by brokers into taking on inflated mortgages that they couldn’t handle. Before long, homes fell into disrepair or were left abandoned, until there were nearly as many vacant lots as occupied ones. In a poor attempt at providing affordable housing for the area’s residents, a dozen different badly designed and ill-conceived public housing projects sprung up in the neighborhood.

Long viewed as too run-down, low-income, crime-ridden and far flung geographically to be a viable choice for developers, East New York and neighboring Brownsville are suddenly looking a lot more palatable to developers, investors, and potential homebuyers, as well as renters who have been priced out of other areas in Brooklyn. The recent rush can partially be attributed to the fact that Mayor Di Blasio has stated his intention to build affordable housing in the area. With the prospect of affordable housing and rezoning comes the inevitable stream of developers looking to land lucrative contracts with the city, for the price of including affordable units in each new development. Speculators banking on the possibility of East New York becoming the next Bushwick have swooped in en masse to grab up foreclosures and buildings on their last legs. In a community as economically depressed as East New York, there are quite a few. According to housing market analyst Jonathan Miller, there have been approximately 700 flips in the last two years, with property values doubling on average. Rising property values have also meant rising rents for many residents.

Perhaps the main reason that interest in East New York has picked up, is that it is nearly the last low-income area left where landlords and developers can make a profit. The wave that has swept the neighborhoods of Kings County has been extremely profitable for the developers and investors who have ridden it. For many, East New York just seems like the next logical step.

For potential homebuyers and renters on a relatively tight budget, particularly those who have been priced out of other areas, the situation becomes one of vision and practicality. The median sales price for homes in the area over the last 6 months is just over 336K, with an average price per square foot of $300, which ranks among the lowest in the borough, and the area is replete with spacious single and multi-family homes, ideal for potential buyers who plan to use rental income to cover a mortgage.

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Gateway National Park. Photo courtesy of National Parks Service

East New York is an area well-served by public transportation (including the LIRR), and hotspots like Bushwick and Bed-Stuy are a short train ride away. East New York is also close to Gateway National Park, and the recently developed Gateway Center Mall.

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East New York Farms. Photo courtesy of Wagner Food Policy Alliance

Several community initiatives have taken hold, with residents taking matters into their own hands to improve and beautify the neighborhood, and crime has gone down in the last decade to levels that are consistent with the rest of the borough. In short, East New York is a place ripe with opportunity for the homeowner who’s looking to find a diamond in the rough and make it her/his own. Despite its fraught history, East New York is growing, and it has all of the makings of a community soon to be revitalized. Please contact me at 917- 854-5069 if you would like to explore some of the housing options in East New York.

New Rental Listing: 207 East 57th Street, #8B

Gorgeous 2 bedroom/ 2.5 bath home plus breakfast nook/ home office located at Place 57, a luxury boutique condominium in the heart of midtown designed by acclaimed architect Ismael Levy.

This grand home features a generous living/ dining room, abundant closet space, gourmet kitchen with Viking appliances, Waterworks bathrooms, spacious master bedroom, washer/dryer, and Brazilian walnut floors throughout.

Amenities include concierge service, resident’s lounge, fitness center, children’s playroom and private storage.

For more information about this listing, please click here and call me at (917) 854-5069.

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Microapartments

In the past few years, the “tiny house movement” has become increasingly popular across the US. Americans are choosing to downsize the square footage of their homes, opting to live in 100 to 400 square foot dwellings in the name of “simpler living.” New Yorkers, like many urban dwellers, do not always have the ability to choose their desired square footage – in fact, many renters in the New York-Newark-Jersey City metro area spend more than thirty percent of their incomes on housing due to high housing costs. As a means of providing centrally-located housing stock to young professionals, cities like Boston, Providence, Austin, and Washington have experimented with “micro-luxury” developments, essentially the city version of tiny houses. New York City has joined the movement for microapartments with its adAPT NYC design competition, launched in 2012, but with a slightly different spin: in this case, the emphasis is on creating affordable housing stock in addition to attracting the luxury housing market.
adAPT NYC was a pilot program which called for proposals for “innovative micro-unit layout and building design.” The initiative was part of former Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative to finance affordable housing units for half a million New Yorkers, called the New Housing Marketplace Plan. A development team made up of Monadnock Development LLC, Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation, and nARCHITECTS won the competition with a proposal which would later be named Carmel Place. Located at 335 East 27th Street in Kips Bay, Carmel Place contains 55 apartments ranging from 250 to 350 square feet, with an average of 300 square feet. Though New Yorkers have been making the most of small spaces for quite some time now, these units are unique because they are designed with features like tall ceilings, modular furniture, and ample storage space in order to make them feel more livable.
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Photo courtesy of fastcodesign.com
Hardwood floors, large windows, and Juliet balconies create the illusion of a larger space, while storage lofts, expanding tables, and Murphy beds maximize the amount of usable space. Notably, all apartments adhere to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility codes, and 22 of the 55 units were reserved for formerly homeless veterans and affordable housing candidates. Market-rate apartments rent for $2,500 to $3,000 per month, while tenants in the affordable units pay anywhere from $950 – $1,490 depending on their salary. A concierge service called Ollie is included with the market-rate rent, and is available at an additional charge for those living in the affordable units.  A public garden, ground-floor porch, den areas, laundry facilities, and a fitness space create communal space to make up for decreased space within the units.
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Image courtesy of nARCHITECTS
The building itself sits on a remarkably small footprint of 45 by 108 feet, and Bloomberg issued a mayoral override on local laws requiring apartments to be a minimum of 400 square feet for Carmel Place. Carmel Place was constructed from prefabricated modules made in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, making it the first multi-unit building in Manhattan to be built using modular construction. Once the modules were created, it took about 3.5 weeks to construct the tower last year. The expected completion date is April 1, with residents set to move in on this day. More than 60,000 people applied to live in the apartment’s 14 affordable units, clearly not deterred by the small square footage. Some of the market rate apartments are still available.
The apartments at Carmel Place, along with microapartments as a whole, have been met with criticism from psychologists and public housing advocates. Health risks associated with living in cramped spaces include increased rates of domestic violence and substance abuse, and the need to choose between fitting physical belongings and loved ones within a living space can lead to feeling simultaneously claustrophobic and isolated. When couples and parents squeeze into a tiny living space, it can put strain on the relationship and impact children’s abilities to study and concentrate. In short, adults who face stress from their jobs need to see home as a safe haven, and adolescents require a certain amount of privacy for healthy social and academic development. And, though Murphy beds and extendable tables ostensibly make small living spaces “modular” and accommodating of daily activities, people are wired to avoid adding extra steps to everyday tasks, so after a while it’s likely that residents of microapartments will simply stop folding up their furniture and will feel even more claustrophobic. While the microapartment lifestyle might be doable for a young person in their 20s or 30s trying to save some money in the short term, public housing advocates worry about making microapartments a standard in affordable housing, since low-income families wouldn’t be able to “opt out” of the lifestyle.
Proponents of microapartment living point out that square footage alone should not be the only factor considered by critics. In the case of Carmel Place, design choices like Juliet balconies, tall ceilings, and large windows can make units feel just as spacious as “traditional” apartments. Even if microapartments are not adopted as a wide-scale solution to affordable housing, they can at least provide inspiration for increased living standards in low-income homes. For example, a smaller square footage combined with tall ceilings and lofted storage space can make a unit feel much more liveable. It’s also worth noting that increased density would allow low-income individuals to live closer to the center of the city, potentially negating the impacts a long commute can have on one’s health.
In the meantime, the city is pushing for changes in zoning laws that would allow for smaller apartments and increased building density. The city believes that creating more small apartments will benefit young, single professionals as well as the elderly, and increased building density will allow for more low-income housing closer to the heart of Manhattan. Since residents have yet to move into Carmel Place, we’re still waiting to hear how people are liking their modular living spaces. If you’re interested in downsizing your square footage in exchange for a more thoughtfully designed living space, you might be a great candidate for the microapartment lifestyle and I would be happy to help you find one.