The Observer dives deep into a hot-button issue: how the community of religious Jews in southern Williamsburg have leveraged political power, lobbied for, and successfully expanded the amount of affordable housing for their growing (and endlessly fertile) number into other parts of the 'Burg as well as neighboring areas of Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, and Greenpoint. Apartments constructed for large families of Hasidic Jews (a group also called Satmar), with required touches like little balconies specifically meant for the installation of sukkahs during the holiday of Sukkot, can go for as little as $400 per square foot, while mere blocks away, in trendier parts of the neighborhood, they're almost double the price.
The reasons for the disparity are manifold and involve a series of rezonings: 1) there was a period of time in the 1990s when the city granted permission (in exemptions called variances) for apartment buildings to be built in an area zoned for industrial and commercial use; 2) these exceptions became the rule due to the efforts of a powerful lobby in the late 90s and early 2000s; 3) another area, called the Broadway Triangle, was rezoned later in the Bloomberg administration; 4) developers of these projects typically use cheaper materials than in other, more expensive residences; and 5) the Satmar have proven effective at keeping other communities, who might also be seeking affordable housing, at bay. This big, cohesive group also makes for a powerful voting bloc; their support is something elected officials vie for.
Extensive rezoning of other parts of Brooklyn will be harder to come by, meaning that prices will likely continue to be high as supply stays low. The particular history of how this community came to construct waves of affordable housing, then, is unlikely to repeat itself for other groups. Bummer.
· Weapons of Mass Construction: Satmars' Secret to Keeping Housing Prices Low [NYO]
· More Williamsburg coverage [Curbed]