Under cloud cover and despite the threat of rain, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries stood on the corner of Bergen Street and Flatbush Avenue on Wednesday evening, outside the 2/3 Bergen Street station, greeting passersby and listening to their complaints — or compliments. Jeffries’ Summer at the Subway Office Hours, which he has held outside subway stations in his Brooklyn district since being elected to the State Assembly six years ago, offer the public and the assemblyman a chance to talk face to face.
By planting himself outdoors in the path of commuters or those walking the main street of their neighborhood, the Crown Heights-born assemblyman, also the Democratic nominee for Congress in New York’s 8th Congressional District, can see how concerns in the area have changed, or shifted.
A half-block from the 78th Precinct and practically in the shadow of the controversial Atlantic Yards development, residents stopped and talked with Jeffries about the hot topics that residents of Prospect Heights and Park Slope are most likely affected by: affordable housing, development in the area and of course, the soon-to-open Barclays Center — the heart of Atlantic Yards.
Many of the area’s residents have come to terms with the fact that the Barclays Center is happening, said Jeffries. While a group of residents fought a long legal battle to stop the arena and the entire project from coming to the area, most people have shifted their focus.
“Before construction began, concerns were about whether it [Atlantic Yards] could be halted. Then it shifted moving on to concerns about how to deal with quality of life issues,” said Jeffries. “There’s still an active group of residents in Prospect Heights who are committed to mitigating the adverse impacts of the project.”
And over time, Jeffries added, there has been an acceptance of the reality of the development.
Kathryn, a resident of nearby Park Slope for 16 years who did not want to give her last name, agreed with Jeffries’ assessment of the state of the protest against Atlantic Yard.
“It’s a done deal, unfortunately,” she said. “But as residents it’s important for us… to continue to be proactive.”
Housing is another issue on people’s minds.
“There’s a consistent stream of issues related to affordable housing and landlord harassment,” said Jeffries. “The first two summers we saw a significant number of tenant/landlord cases. That stream slowed during the recession, but it’s resumed with tremendous force.”
Indeed, Prospect Heights and nearby Downtown Brooklyn have seen an explosion of housing develop in the past five years, and the greater Downtown Brooklyn area has seen tremendous economic growth. As landlords realize they can charge more for their properties, residents get pushed out.
“The real estate market has returned with a vengeance,” said Jeffries. “Landlords realize they can double, triple and sometimes even quadruple their rents.”
Ralph Vernon has been living in Prospect Heights for more than 40 years. He says while he’s happy about the jobs the Barclays Center is bringing to the community, he knows he’s one of the lucky ones, because he owns his house.
“Times are tough and a lot of families are struggling,” he said. “This is affecting people who live here. People will have to move out.”
For the public, showing up at the Subway Office Hours has proven to be an efficient way to have their concerns addressed. Jeffries’ office said 50 percent of the issues his office investigates began with a conversation on the street.
If elected to Congress in November, Jeffries said he will try as hard as he can to continue the Subway Office Hours. Constituents hope he does.
“More politicians need to get down to their roots,” said Vernon. “This is ground zero.”
Jeffries’ remaining Summer Subway Office Hours through August 15: August 7 at Franklin Avenue and Fulton Street (C train); August 8 at Clinton and Lafayette Avenues (G train); August 14 at Classon and Lafayette Avenues (G train) and August 15 at Hanson and Ft. Greene Places (2, 3, 4, 5, B, Q trains to Atlantic Ave. – Barclays Center.)