Low-Income Brooklynites Search for Missing Jobs

Outraged Residents Slam Dismal Job Creation and Demand Good Jobs from Subsidized Developments in Downtown Brooklyn

 Brooklyn, NY:  Unemployed and underemployed area residents and youth searched for missing jobs in Downtown Brooklyn. The event targeted development sites that received over $3.4B in private investments and $300M in public subsidies and claimed to create local jobs and other community benefits. Organized by Families United for Racial & Economic Equality (FUREE), the "Where the Jobs At?" job hunt stopped at sites of shuttered small-businesses, the CityPoint development, MetroTech Center and others.  Following the hunt, residents held a press conference and hand-delivered demands directly to the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), a quasi-public local organization responsible for development in Downtown Brooklyn.

 In 2004, the city passed the Downtown Brooklyn Rezoning Plan that, according to the City, was designed to encourage new office development within the existing commercial area. The plan also projected the creation of 18,500 jobs. Contrary to the expectations of city officials, luxury housing has been the predominate type of development, steadily erasing the permanent job prospects of community residents that is further impacted by the recession and rising unemployment rates in the area. The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, under the leadership of Joe Chan, formerly of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, touts bringing in 7,000 new jobs to the area but members of FUREE pointed out that over 11,000 are still missing.

One stop on the hunt included properties of United American Land on Bridge and Willoughby Streets and the small businesses that were evicted over three years ago. Today, the businesses remain closed and diminish foot traffic to other area businesses. Washington Square Partners and Acadia Reality of CityPoint were also targeted, as members of FUREE highlighted the loss of 731 jobs when the former Albee Square Mall was demolished to build mixed-used business and luxury housing development on the site. CityPoint received over $20M in economic stimulus funding where only a handful of the 108 constructions jobs have gone to locals.

Three additional developers were “hunted” at MetroTech Center: JPMorgan Chase, Forest City Ratner Companies and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Chase received tens of millions of dollars in subsidies for its MetroTech offices that were to bring 5,000 office jobs to the area.  Ratner, who despite having received over $675M in government aid, currently employs only 430 workers, a far gap from the 17,000 jobs cited, and has broken a host of other community benefit pledges.

The job search stop that residents really had their eyes on is that of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Joe Chan, known as the main cheerleader of the area’s “redevelopment.” FUREE members hand-delivered a letter to the Partnership requesting that they hold developers accountable, including those that sit on their board, commit to transparency and develop better ways to ensure community-involvement in decision-making in area developments.

The letter also demanded that Chan co-create a jobs plan with community residents and make public the number of actual jobs created in the community, including how many of the jobs provide living wages, are permanent and are full-time much like how they promote luxury condominium developments on their website. It also demanded the preservation of small businesses, the creation of small-business protection fund and help small businesses find affordable space in the area.

“We deserve to be a part of this community, not just as shoppers but as workers who can help support how this community works,” said, Anastasia Griffith, a FUREE youth member who is concerned about the lack of job opportunities for teenagers in the area.

In just one day following recent Census Bureau reports of the widening income gap, FUREE, a local organization led by low income and working women of color, points out that this practice of aggressive development is not isolated to Brooklyn or to New York City. Other low-income communities, nationally, have fallen victim to development deals between real estate and their cities that resulted in the relaxing of community development policies designed to protect the economic, social and cultural fabrics of such communities.

FUREE calls for fair and accountable development practices. The enacting of enforceable community benefits agreements would allow existing community stakeholders to shape the future of their communities rather than leaving it to the hands of Bloomberg-appointed, market-driven principals, such as Chan. The community has recently made head-way with Red Apple Group, a food-grocer company headed by John Castimatidis of Gristedes. In a community agreement between the supermarket, FUREE, the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project with City Council Member Letitia James and District Leader Lincoln Restler, community residents were able to push the supermarket on Myrtle Avenue to be affordable and accessible to low-income families in Fort Greene.  “We know that a dialogue with the existing community works. Some developers are willing to do that, but many others don’t feel that they’re obligated to work with the community they’ve come to ‘take over,’” said Diana Smith, FUREE Board Secretary and Fort Greene Resident.

“The consequences of the rezoning and the actions of Joe Chan and other developers robbed many area residents of the chance to provide for their families. What happened here happens all over the nation: tax money from the backs of hard-workers like me go to fund rich developers and corporations while working families choose between paying rent or putting food on the table. We know that the recession is hurting everyone, and today we’re here to hold the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership accountable to the economic security of all community residents, especially those they impacted the most,” said Celina Lynch, FUREE Board Treasurer and Fort Greene Resident.

Families United for Racial & Economic Equality is an area group made up of low-income and working-class community residents fighting for fair development in Downtown Brooklyn and Fort Greene since 2004.

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Contact: Valery Jean (718) 852-2960 x. 301 or valery[at]furee[dot]org

Contact: Lucas Shapiro (718) 852-2960 x. 306 or lucas[at]furee[dot]org

Click here for a flier of policy demands for the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and for stops on our "Where the Jobs At?" hunt with information on developers who reneged on their job creation claims.

For additional background information about this campaign, check out FUREE's Out of Business report and our Downtown Detour report from 2008.

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Jobs action 7-27-11.pdf726.41 KB