Brooklyn Boro

What Brooklyn’s coldest neighborhoods have in common

December 16, 2019 Alex Williamson
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As temperatures continue to drop ahead of winter’s coldest months, some Brooklyn residents have had to call 311 to get their landlords to turn on the heat — despite the city’s heat law, which requires building owners to provide heat for tenants from Oct. 1 through May 31.

According to the law, indoor temperatures must be at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., and at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Unfortunately, some landlords ignore these requirements, leaving tenants with few options outside of dialing 311 and making a heat complaint.

But those complaints aren’t spread evenly throughout the borough. Apartment listings company RentHop has crunched the 311 data from the beginning of this year’s heat season, from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30, and created a map of the New York City neighborhoods where residents were most often left in the cold.

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Here are a few things Brooklyn’s “coldest” neighborhoods have in common:

They’re mostly clustered in Central and East Brooklyn.

The neighborhoods with the highest number of heat complaints per 10,000 occupied rental units are Ocean Hill (258), Crown Heights (314), Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and Wingate (376), Erasmus (450), Flatbush (308), Rugby-Remsen Village (317) and the Pennsylvania Avenue section of East New York (324).

Neighborhoods in southern Brooklyn and along the waterfront saw fewer heat complaints.

Alex Fennell, network director at community group Churches United for Fair Housing, says she’s not surprised that Central and East Brooklyn had the borough’s most complaints.

Map of 311 heating complaints in Brooklyn. Map: RentHop

These are areas with a large quantity of rent-stabilized housing stock, Fennell said, and tenants in such buildings are the most likely to face harassment from landlords — which can include a lack of heat. In parts of Brooklyn that have already started to gentrify, like Williamsburg and Bushwick, landlords are less likely to withhold heat to buildings, which are often a mix of rent-stabilized and market-rate units, she explained.

“You have to cut heat for the whole building, you can’t punish a particular unit, and they want to keep higher paying tenants happy,” she said. “Whether the landlord is trying to get them out or literally doesn’t want to pay the cost of heating the building, once the building gets gentrified, the heat starts to work a lot better.”

All of these neighborhoods are predominantly black.

According to census data, Ocean Hill is 76 percent black; Crown Heights is 66 percent black; Prospect Lefferts Gardens-Wingate is 67 black; Erasmus and Rugby-Remsen Village are grouped together in the census data as East Flatbush, which is 91 percent black; and East New York is 60 percent black.

Of the 10 whitest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, none had more than 150 heat complaints per 10,000 rental units.

According to RentHop Data Analyst Shane Lee, who helped conduct the study, that pattern also shows up in Manhattan, Staten Island and Queens.

“Neighborhoods seeing more heat complaints are often the more underserved neighborhoods, and this winter in New York City, these neighborhoods are indeed predominantly black or African American,” Lee told the Brooklyn Eagle in an email.

Fennell said that finding reflects what CUFFH hears from tenants dealing with harassment.

“These problems are concentrated in some of the few predominantly black areas remaining in Brooklyn,” she said. “It can only be a coincidence for so long, and that’s why we keep advocating to have race centered in these conversations.”

All of these neighborhoods have median household incomes below Brooklyn’s median, which is $50.6K.

Ocean Hill’s median household income is $36,589; Crown Heights’ is $46,899; Prospect-Lefferts Gardens-Wingate’s is $47,648; and East Flatbush, which contains Erasmus and Rugby-Remsen Village, has a median household income of $50,245, as does East New York.

However, some of Brooklyn’s lowest-income neighborhoods did not see a particularly high number of heat complaints. Brighton Beach and Borough Park, where the median incomes are $34,900 and $39,100, putting them near the bottom of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods in terms of earnings, were two notable exceptions to the trend, fielding 75 and 147 heat complaints per 10,000 rental units, respectively. Both neighborhoods are roughly 70 percent white.

Lee said, based on the data, there is a correlation between demographics and number of heat complaints. Generally in New York City, the whiter a neighborhood, the fewer heat complaints recorded, she said.

Correlation does not equal causation, however.

“Many other things do contribute to such issues, such as outdated heating systems, rental rates, etc.,” Lee said. “But of course, this might all be related to how our society is structured.”

Trends

The city’s coldest borough was the Bronx, which tracks with the past four heat complaint studies conducted by RentHop since 2015. Mount Hope in the Bronx replaced Brooklyn’s Erasmus neighborhood as the coldest in the city this year, with 468 unique heat complaints per 10,000 rental units. Erasmus continues to have the most heat complaints in Brooklyn and ranks eighth citywide.

Generally, RentHop found that the higher the median rent, the fewer heat complaints a neighborhood saw. While the study did find some neighborhoods with lower rents and fewer complaints, it did not find neighborhoods with high median rents and a high number of complaints.

The building in Brooklyn with the highest number of complaints so far this heat season is 1711 Fulton St. in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where residents made 298 calls to 311 to report heat or hot water outages between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30.


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