On Wednesday, June 9th at 517 Lafayette Avenue, a crowd of forty or so press and PR execs, Absolut reps, and several Brooklyn celebrities, including Brooklyn’s own Spike Lee, gathered to award Habitat for Humanity a check for fifty thousand dollars in front of a new Habitat for Humanity housing development located just over the Clinton Hill border. The event took place in conjunction with the launch of Absolut's new "Absolut Brooklyn" flavored vodka.
Among the notables in attendance were Melvin Dick, senior vice president of Southern Wine and Spirits of America, Harvey R. Chaplin, owner of Southern Wine and Spirits, Josh Lockwood, Executive Director of Habitat-NYC, Al Vann, councilman for district 36 which represents Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
The new Habitat development itself is not scheduled to be ready for occupants until next year. New owners in the building must earn between 50% - 80% of the city’s area median ($38,757 to $61,440 for a family of four), and must be first-time home owners. While I've heard of Habitat's famous houses before, this was the first time I saw one going up so close to home. It's inspiring to see more housing being built that will allow folks not making six figures a year the chance at that elusive NYC dream: home ownership.
Mr. Lockwood told the assembled crowd stories of Habitat-NYC’s recent successes, including the development of the site at 514 Lafayette Avenue. The current building will have four units of spacious, green-engineered, affordable housing. I asked a Habitat volunteer to describe the procedure for getting one of the units. She said you have to be under the maximum income requirement, but other than that they are first come, first served. The Habitat website states that the units will be condos and not rentals. This will be a great opportunity for first time homeowners, who will be required to work 300 hours on the building. The requirement to actually work hands-on in the building of one's own home is a great way for occupants to be directly involved in the history of their home.
Looking across the street at 505 Lafayette Avenue, where I lived for three years (with rats, roaches, and bed bugs), I could hardly believe so many important (and incredibly wealthy) people would be gathered on this stretch of sidewalk.
The best result of Wednesday’s media extravaganza is $50,000 for community building on a block that desperately needs it. Lafayette Plaza, where I lived, is a money mill for its landlords, who bought the place for a song in 2004 and did not bring it up to code before renting it at higher than market rates to the new wave of young people who are colonizing Brooklyn along the G line. My sense of disconnect from the media-event-in-a-bubble versus my lived reality of the block crystallized when, walking down the street after the event, a woman asked me what the fuss was all about. I said, “Spike Lee is down there promoting Absolute Vodka.” She said with a big smile, “Imagine that! Spike Lee on our block!”