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“Red Hook, Where Fairway Is”

If you do a google news search for ‘Red Hook Brooklyn’ today you’ll find dozens of stories about my little low-lying, mixed income Brooklyn neighborhood. Surrounded on three sides by water, and on the other by an elevated portion of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, Red Hook bore a serious brunt of Sandy’s load.

From The Daily Beast to Bloomberg, you’ll hear about the rush of water that rushed up our main street, Van Brunt St., and spilled into the side streets. You’ll read about the shops along the main drag, and how many of them took in more than four feet of water.

The shops in my neighborhood are all small, independent, privately owned businesses. Many of them lost crucial and expensive supplies like

Imagerefrigerators and freezers, as well as stock like cases of food. Many of these losses won’t be covered by insurance, as many of the businesses did not have flood coverage.

As of twenty minutes ago, there was still no power on Van Brunt Street. Garbage bags and soggy furniture are being dragged out onto the street, filling sidewalks which are humming with the sounds of generators pumping water out of basements. You can read about all of that if you’ll do the search.

Streets that Are Not Van Brunt

What you won’t hear about, however, are the other streets in Red Hook. The streets that are not trendy Van Brunt Street. Streets that are not filled with small businesses owned largely by middle and upper middle class white folks, but rather streets filled with housing projects, and the roughly 25,000 – 30,000 inhabitants thereof who are still without power, too.

I live two blocks south east of Van Brunt Street, just at the top of Coffey Park (see below), and across the street from Red Hook Houses East low rises, where outside my five and a half foot high window, we had a gushing four to five foot river that hurried in around 9pm Monday night, and took its sweet time leaving.

The high rises of Red Hook Houses East and many of the Red Hook Houses West buildings, which altogether are home to 35,000 – 45,000 residents, are still in the dark. Some of the buildings further south – or to the right on the map – still have power. Those residents of RHH East who have friends and family in RHH West buildings are managing to shower, eat, and charge phones and laptops. Through a terrific neighborhood e-mail list, myself and a few others in my building have offered our apartments for the same – we somehow never lost power. Many of the folks, though, are stuck in the dark, without hot water or elevators, and are left with nowhere to go. Cell service is also very limited, we’re guessing due to some local towers that either fell down, or are left without power.

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It’s said that New York City’s public housing authority shut down hot water, heat, and electricity including the elevators, early Sunday evening, in order to encourage project residents to leave. Only about 10% were evacuating, as ordered, and the preemptive measures did not work. People stayed.

Even Democracy Now!, which covered Red Hook specifically on Tuesday morning, didn’t mention the housing projects. The only news outlet I was able to find who did cover anything about the projects, was far right leaning daily rag, the NY Daily News. In their inimitable, low rent, racist and classist way, the Daily News covered the phenomena of project residents all over the city staying put, by making those residents out to be selfish and stupid. While there may be the stupid and the selfish among residents of public housing, and I’m sure there are, there are also the infirm. There are those with pets, who would not be welcome in many shelters. Maybe, just maybe, some of the city’s residents of public housing have family down south. Maybe some know the stories of post Katrina New Orleans, where housing projects that suffered no water damage whatsoever were boarded up, and then later bulldozed entirely, leaving thousands with no home at all to come back to. All because some city planners and bureaucrats decided they wanted to seize an opportune moment to do some spring cleaning, and entirely change the city to suit more profitable interests.

Empty Projects in the Dark

There’s another reason people might decide to stay put: to remain with their stuff. A friend of mine who lives in Red Hook Houses East told me that as he was coming out of his building this morning, he heard some “knuckle heads” sitting outside, plotting their day of breaking and entering. They intended to rob all the empty apartments.

By now everyone has heard reports of the disaster in Breezy Point, Queens – 111 homes burned to the ground there. Hundreds of other homes sat around the devastation, ripe for looters, who did eventually show up. The police rushed in to deal with that, and now residents are slowly returning. While there is a solid police presence in Red Hook, stronger since the storm hit, I don’t see enough to deal with a potential inside-the-projects looting situation. You know…a situation no one cares about except for the selfsame residents who are entirely invisible to the media so concerned with Van Brunt Street.

Not to mention, there’s a bit of a turf war going on between the East Houses and the West Houses at the moment, that on a regular day sends project residents indoors as soon as the sun sets. And that’s when the lights are on.

Fingers crossed that power comes back to Red Hook houses soon, and that everyone stays safe in the meantime.

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