From the NY Observer:
How the ultra-Orthodox have succeeded in building thousands of units and keeping the neighborhood affordable for families—on private land, and without public money—is a testament to their strongly pro-development attitudes and a bloc voting strategy reminiscent of the ethnic politics patterns of the Tammany Hall era. In a city slow to accommodate new development, they have managed to keep on building in a way that the city’s storied real estate interests can only dream of.
In a city slow to accomodate new development, the Satmars have managed to keep building.
So during the 1990s, private Hasidic developers, seeking to house their multiplying masses, began asking for—and receiving—variances to build apartment buildings, without subsidies, on land around the edges of South Williamsburg that was otherwise zoned exclusively for industrial and commercial use.
At the time, the city was freely granting these one-off exemptions, but was not willing to rezone entirely, said Sheldon Lobel, a land use attorney whose name shows up on many of the applications. “But about 10 years ago,” Mr. Lobel told The Observer, “getting variances became more difficult.”
So it was in the late 1990s that the current building boom kicked into high gear. Hasidic leaders lobbied for—and won—the right to build housing on industrial land around South Williamsburg, including a large swath in northern Bed-Stuy, around Bedford and Flushing Avenues, in 2001. No longer did the Hasids need to beg the Board of Standards and Appeals for permission on each individual project—new six- and seven-story residential buildings were now allowed as a matter of right.
A solid wall of buildings rose in northern Bed-Stuy, in an area some in the community now call “New Williamsburg.” The development was not the piecemeal building that takes place in the rest of the borough, but an entirely new neighborhood, anchored by beige apartment blocks, embellished with faux classical touches and served by new synagogues, schools, grocery stores and shops.
And it didn’t stop there. In the early 2000s, outgrowing their new territory in northern Bed-Stuy, the Hasidic community began to apply pressure to the Bloomberg administration to rezone the Broadway Triangle, an industrial enclave wedged between Bed-Stuy and South and East Williamsburg. It took the better part of the decade, but the Satmar eventually got their wish: the right to strike out to the east.
The rezoning had both a public and private component, and it’s the public portion of the project—an affordable housing complex that was to be built in part by the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, the secular wing of the largest Satmar faction—that attracted the most controversy. Black and Latino leaders claimed that the affordable housing complex—to be built on city-owned land, some of which would be seized by eminent domain—would give a disproportionate number of units to the ultra-Orthodox, as traditional public housing projects nearby had in the past.
A judge halted the mixed-income housing development in 2009, but resentments linger. While nothing has happened on the city-owned land, the stay on private development has been lifted, and Hasidic developers are closing in fast.