Reported by Greg Hanlon, St. Nicks Alliance
Unfortunately, no building owner is unaffected by the lure of maximizing their investment in the current housing market gripped by gentrification—even 211 Ainslie Street, the longtime home of the Swinging Sixties Senior Center and Small World Daycare, two long-running, popular centers for Williamsburg’s low and moderate-income population.
It is also where Community Board #1 meetings have been held for the last 30 years.
Some building owners take an aggressive approach to oust their tenants. That is the case with the most recent landlord Victor Einhorn who bought the property on November 27. According to St. Nicks Alliance, housing advocates, Einhorn is hiking the rent without negotiating, and has threatened to lock out seniors and toddlers from the community facility they have used since the early 1970s, unless his exorbitant rent hike can be met.
Advocates for the senior and daycare centers say they are willing to give the owner a fair rent, and have tried negotiating with him. But the landlord has shown no interest in working cooperatively to preserve these longtime community staples. Local advocates believe he wants to force out those programs so he can build luxury condos on the site and cash in on Williamsburg’s white-hot real estate market.
(In addition to imposing a huge rent hike, he also wants the local advocates to pay for building expenses. In total, the package he’s asking for represents a huge change from the status quo.)
Phil Caponegro, Chair of the Conselyea Street Block Association, the community non-profit body that operates the facility, said, “We’re perfectly willing to give him a fair rent, but that’s not really what he wants. What he wants is to have these programs out, so that he can make money by building luxury condos or by selling to someone who will.”
The case of 211 Ainslie has the ring of “Deja vu all over again” for Williamsburg residents of modest means, where gentrification pressures have rapidly changed the complexion of the neighborhood.
The building was constructed in the early 1970s with public monies, and intended as a community center. Back then, Williamsburg’s real estate market was virtually non-existent, and landlords benefitted from the fact that the city paid the rent, real estate taxes, and building upkeep costs. But circumstances have changed.
Jan Peterson, a local community activist, said, “This center was developed and maintained with public money for the public good. Now, they’re trying to force programs out and make money off of something they did absolutely nothing to create.”
Contrary to its image as a hipster haven, Williamsburg and Greenpoint still is home to extreme poverty. Of the city’s 59 community districts, Community Board 1, comprising Williamsburg/Greenpoint, has the highest poverty rate in the city: 55 percent of area children live in poverty, compared to 30 percent citywide.
Said Caponegro, “There’s more to this neighborhood than the new luxury condos. And frankly, there’s more to being a responsible landlord than making as much money as possible without any regard for those who use the building now and those the building was built to serve.”