Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday announced a "soup-to-nuts" plan to invest $1.4 billion in housing, healthcare, safety and jobs in Central Brooklyn—a wide swath of the borough covering East New York, Brownsville, Bed-Stuy and Flatbush, in addition to Crown Heights.
In a slideshow punctuated with photographs of tree-lined brownstone blocks, the governor laid out stark statistics: central Brooklyn residents have fewer primary healthcare physicians per capita than the rest of the city; the homicide rate is higher here; children have less access to healthy food, and fewer parks. Families pay 50 percent of their income on rent in Central Brooklyn on average, compared to 32 percent city-wide (the city's standard for rent burden is 30 percent).
"We want to do it in Central Brooklyn because Central Brooklyn needs it and it has for a long, long, long time," Cuomo said, adding that the disparity "has to end and it has to start to end now."
The 'Vital Brooklyn' plan, more than two-hundred pages deep in the governor's 2017 State of the State report, is part of the proposed $152.3 billion state budget that is supposed to pass the Senate and Assembly by April 1st. Since early January, Cuomo has been traveling the state to tout his 2017 proposals, promoting large-scale infrastructure projects like new airports and bridges, and pushing a middle class agenda.
The wide-ranging 'Vital' proposals include 3,000 units of supportive and affordable housing across six state-owned sites, green space within a ten minute walk of each neighborhood, a dozen new farmers markets, and a new Midnight Basketball program organized by the NYPD and YMCA—part of an anti-violence initiative. The largest proposed investment is in health care—an estimated $700 million for new clinics and health centers.
Cuomo compared the plan to his Buffalo Billion initiative, which brought significant investments to that city, upstate's poorest. He has consistently praised that plan, sharing statistics on decreased unemployment rates. Meanwhile, federal investigators are pursuing allegations that the plan also lined developers' pockets. An indictment dropped last November.
"We went in there four years ago, we invested a billion dollars," Cuomo said Thursday. "The city's done a 180 and it's on its way back. Jobs are coming back, young people are coming back." (The latter statement, about Buffalo attracting millennials, has gotten some press.)
"I commend the State for making this long-awaited investment in the health and wellness of central Brooklyn," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in a statement.
"Anytime someone wants to invest and supplement the work we're doing to make New York City stronger we welcome it with open arms," added Mayoral spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein.
"It's hugely thin," cautioned Doug Turetsky, a spokesman for NYC's Independent Budget Office. "There's nothing there besides a word describing intent and pretty pictures. Overall the idea is great when you integrate all types of needs, but... there's still a lot missing."
According to Cuomo's State of the State plan, the $563 million in proposed Central Brooklyn affordable housing funding is part of a plan he announced at last year's State of the State: $20 billion over ten years to create 100,000 units of affordable housing, 20,000 beds of supportive housing, and 1,000 emergency shelter beds.
By June 2016, Cuomo had released just $150 million of a promised $2 billion within that pool, for the first 6,000 supportive housing beds. The legislative session ended without any contractual agreement between the legislative branches as to when the rest of the funding would be released, or from where.
"There's no granularity to the proposal right now," said Coalition for the Homeless policy director Shelly Nortz. "How many of these units [proposed for Central Brooklyn] are supportive housing out of the first 6,000, and how many would be expected to come from future budgets?"
"We're just looking to know the details," she added.
Cuomo has criticized the Senate and Assembly for the lack of movement on the $2 billion in funding. Affordable housing advocates, meanwhile, have accused Cuomo of taking a back seat on housing.
"This governor has managed to work with the Senate and Assembly on a whole bunch of progressive goals that were seemingly impossible because it was an important goal," Legal Aid Society Attorney Ellen Davidson told Gothamist recently. "If housing were an important goal one would think he could achieve it."
Cuomo made another overture to the legislature on Thursday, stressing that the entire Central Brooklyn plan is contingent on their support.
"Billion with a 'B' is a lot of money even on the state budget," he said. "And the state budget is going to have to pass on April 1st if this is going to happen. I want my colleagues in the Assembly and the Senate to know that... they're going to have to be ready for war."
Judith Goldiner, also of the Legal Aid Society, noted on Friday that many central Brooklyn neighborhoods are experiencing rapid gentrification. Landlords are putting pressure on rent-stabilized tenants to vacate—an issue that might have been stemmed had Albany agreed to increase tenant protections in mid-2015.
"Nothing he's proposing on housing would have as much bang for the buck as closing the loopholes in the rent laws," she said.
Update: This piece has been updated with comments from the Legal Aid Society, and Coalition for the Homeless.