When Flatbush Gardens was Vanderveer estates

Plus: A look at the housing complex today

August 15, 2023 Raanan Geberer
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FLATFLATBUSH — A recent article in Gothamist tells of the travails of the four-block Flatbush Gardens housing complex, saying that the owners of the development have filed to evict more than a third of the households living there since the beginning of last year. 

Tenants in Flatbush Gardens, the article says, have suffered from problems including COVID, unemployment, and more that are emblematic of the squeeze that is affecting working-class New Yorkers. 

However, the problems affecting the complex, which has about 2,500, largely rent-stabilized units, are anything but new. I should know — as a “housing assistant” (management assistant) for the Section 8 program in the early 1980s, I made several trips to inspect apartments in Flatbush Gardens, which at that time was known as Vanderveer Estates. 

When people think of “housing inspections,” they think of detailed procedures. But the cursory inspections we did were merely to verify that the same people who filed the Section 8 application were actually living in the apartment. Two or three days out of the week, driving a Housing Authority car, a fellow housing assistant, who I’ll call Heraldo, and I went out to do these inspections.

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As members of the “Brooklyn Team,” we went to several assigned neighborhoods, however Vanderveer was one of the places we didn’t exactly look forward to visiting.

I can remember tenants complaining about mice, trash, the lobby bell system not working, etc. One told me that, fed up with drug-dealing gangs, the tenant leaders had a meeting with local police in which the police told them the codes they would use over the police radio system to alert them that the cops were coming. The effort was foiled, however, because the drug dealers sent their representatives to the meeting as well. Graffiti next to one of the elevators read, “If you’re not from Veer, you don’t belong here!”

During one visit, we noticed two guys staying under a ground-floor stairwell. After we went up the elevator, Heraldo, who was more street-smart than I, having grown up in East New York, said, “They were probably waiting to rob somebody.” 

Another time, we returned from our inspection to find one of our tires slashed, and we had to call AAA.

Vanderveer Estates was built in the late 1940s on the site of the old Flatbush Water Works as a lower-middle-class development, Barbra Streisand lived in Vanderveer as an adolescent. I’m not sure when it began to deteriorate, but by the 1980s it was a done deal.

The 59-building complex has gone through at least half-a-dozen owners, some of which have made efforts to improve the place. In 2004, the New York Times reported that then-owner, the Emmes Group, planned $15 million in repairs, “from overhauling the elevators to replacing all 14,472 windows.” However, the Times quoted S. Lawrence Davis, a principal of Emmes, as saying that renovating Vanderveer was “akin to turning around a battleship.”

By 2005, according to the Daily News, it was sold for $140 million to Clipper Equity, a group led by David Bistricer. Clipper also promised repairs, and by all accounts, some improvements were made. On a YouTube video called “Inside Vanderveer Projects,” narrator “Treez da Stoner,” walking through the well-kept outdoor grounds, says, “They fixed this s—t up. It didn’t look like this back in the day!”

Clipper also changed the name to Flatbush Gardens and started an ad campaign. The description of Flatbush Gardens on Clipper Realty’s website reads, in part, “Flatbush Gardens is home to a friendly community, where we take pride in providing all residents with the highest standards of living possible. Explore our many onsite amenities such as our children’s playgrounds, handball courts, daycare center, onside parking garages and laundry room.”

But problems persisted, by many accounts. In October 2022, Bklyner reported that Flatbush Gardens had more than 4,000 open housing-code violations, 1,200 of which were classified as being “immediately hazardous.” 

On Yelp, Flatbush Gardens, as a place to live, rated two out of five stars. “S.T.” on Sept. 22, 2021, wrote, “When I moved into the apartment, there were holes all over the apartment. I see where critters would try to enter in from radiator, sinks, kitchen under the cabinets. … Inspect your home before move in.” 

Malcolm B., writing on June 23, 2020, wrote that although some of the maintenance staff were dedicated to their jobs, others were indifferent. “Tenants also have less than desired behaviors,” he said, mentioning “individuals hanging out on the steps doing all sorts of behavior.” 

On the other hand, Techna A., writing in 2017, said, “The apartment is great, although a bit pricey for the neighborhood. It needs lots of work such as the garbage issue … construction of the entrance is taking longer than expected … but for all bad reviews I’ve seen, they getting better for sure.”

Last fall, Flatbush Gardens was again listed for sale, for $425 million, according to Bklyner. Then, in July 2023, Flatbush Gardens and the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development reached a 40-year regulatory agreement by which the project will receive a full abatement of real estate taxes, commit to maintain current rents and make capital improvements over a three-year period, a press release from Clipper Realty said. A call to Clipper from the Eagle for further comment was not answered by presstime for the print edition. 

The development may have improved since the days I did apartment inspections there, but it seems to me that it’s not out of the woods yet.

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