Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Affordability, for one.
Brooklyn’s polluted Gowanus Canal elicits some strong reactions. The federal Superfund site has been described as fetid, poop-filled, black mayonnaise. If you drink its water, you could maybe even get dysentery, cancer, or arsenic poisoning. And swimming through it feels “just like swimming through a dirty diaper,” Christopher Swain, a man who took a dip in the canal on Earth Day in 2015, told reporters right after. It’s prone to flooding during heavy rainfall, and in 2014, people who lived around it observed a smelly brown goo frothing from their drains.
And yet, upwards of 56,000 people are hoping to live right next to the stinky cesspool, DNAinfo’s Leslie Albrecht reports. That’s the number of applicants who participated in an online lottery for affordable units in the super-fancy apartment building set to open on the banks of the canal. There are only 86 such units, including 20 studios that are going for as cheap as $833 per month for “individuals or households who meet the income and household size requirements,” according to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
The features of the building itself might also be drawing some of them in. Here are the developers mentioning some of the amenities in a press release:
Highlights of 365 Bond include a 24-hour concierge doorman, indoor valet parking, a world class fitness center with yoga and spin room, a garden courtyard, and a game room with a variety of recreational activities. Other premium amenities include a library, residence lounge, private dining with gourmet chef’s kitchen and a children’s playroom. The building will also feature multiple exterior rooftop terraces with 360 degree panoramic views, cabanas, barbecues and dining areas. Lightstone is also creating a publicly accessible waterfront esplanade park that will include a boat launch and water access point. The waterfront park will include outdoor learning centers highlighting the history of the Gowanus Canal.
Personally, I wouldn’t call the opportunity for a stroll along some putrid slime a perk. But perhaps that doesn’t sound so bad to a resident trying to live in a city fumbling to fix its affordable housing crisis. In Brooklyn, especially, rents are rising higher than they were ever before—especially in neighborhoods around Gowanus which are “right in the thick of everything,” Jonathan J. Miller, the president of a real estate appraisal firm that has tracked the evolving housing market in the region, told The New York Times.
To be fair, the developer has finished an environmental cleanup of the site where the high-rise stands, and canal clean-up projects—such as the neighboring “sponge park”—are underway. The Environmental Protection Agency also pledged millions for a decade-long plan to purify the water, which is expected to take off in 2017. Big plus: the affordable units are interspersed with market-rate ones; no “poor doors” or anything! Still, some Brooklyn residents have concerns.
"The number [of applications] hardly seems surprising given the need for more affordable rental units in this city,” says Katia Kelly, a Brooklyn-based blogger, via email. Kelly has been writing about the flooding around the canal and the development of the Lightstone highrise on her blog, Pardon Me For Asking. “However, I am doubtful that this need overrides the danger of building on a floodplain and next to a toxic waterway."