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East Williamsburg, Brooklyn: An “industrial gritty vibe” with soft edges

In Brooklyn’s East Williamsburg neighborhood, residential blocks seem like an afterthought. Townhouses fill the spaces between industrial corridors. The parks are steps away from the junkyards, where muscle men with maces pulverize devices. You can easily find a place to wash your cargo truck.

It’s heaven for Laura Alfstad, who moved into a new condominium on North Henry Street with her husband, Thomas, in September 2020.

A nurse practitioner, Ms. Alfstad, 35, lived on the Pacific island of Guam and met Mr. Alfstad in South Korea. After their marriage, they moved to his apartment on East 34th Street in Manhattan. Ms Alfstad, troubled by “the high energy and tall buildings”, was eager to leave.

East Williamsburg felt like a sanctuary. Their home, which cost just under $1.4 million, is 1,200 square feet with two real bedrooms and a garden. The walk to McCarren Park, on the border of North Williamsburg and Greenpoint, is 15 minutes. The couple frequent the old-fashioned restaurants, cafes and butchers on Graham Avenue. (“We want to make sure our hitting grounds stay healthy,” Ms. Alfstad said.) Mr. Alfstad, who works at the United Nations, commutes on the L train.

Of course, the Brooklyn-Queens Freeway roars a block and a half away. “I’m originally from Detroit,” Ms. Alfstad said, “and I love the gritty, industrial vibe.”

In New York City, neighborhood boundaries are notoriously elastic, and some geographers may insist that the Alfstads really live in Greenpoint. What’s in a name? Northwest Brooklyn has long been a throbbing mass of development, where generations-old Italian, Hispanic and Slavic communities have eroded, and where young people flock and then flee as soon as housing prices become unsustainable.

Currently, East Williamsburg blends into neighborhoods that share its preponderance of asphalt and street art, such as Bushwick to the south and Ridgewood, Queens, to the east. Residents consider nearby cultural and waterfront attractions in North and South Williamsburg to the west as bonuses.

The most sketchy maps define East Williamsburg as a triangle formed by Flushing Avenue to the south, Bushwick Avenue to the west, and Metropolitan Avenue to the north. Google Maps places the BQE at the northern boundary and extends the district to the easternmost branch of Newtown Creek. About half of the total area of ​​1.4 square miles is occupied by the East Williamsburg Industrial Park. It’s difficult to break down neighborhood demographics given the uncertain boundaries, but the area that the website City data defines as East Williamsburg – which encompasses 2.5 square miles and five zip codes – had a population of 94,473 in 2019, of which 42.3% identified as white, 33.8% as Hispanic or Latino, 10.7% as black , 6.5% as Asian and 3.9% as multiracial.

Even by the narrowest definitions, Roberta’s, the beloved Moore Street pizzeria that’s considered a Bushwick landmark, is technically in East Williamsburg. According to Nick Tukmanian, 39, a commercial building owner at 100 Bogart Street who rents coworking space, once Bushwick got hot a decade ago, businesses near the Morgan train stop Avenue L, including hers, were happy to piggyback on the look.

Last September, East Williamsburg received its own landmark in the form of a 170,000 square foot Netflix production studio with six sound stages, on the site of a former steel mill on Johnson Avenue.

Those nostalgic for 1980s New York will find something to warm their hearts. Lofts and factory walls are covered in graffiti, and parked trucks look like they’ve idled in place one moment too long and have been tagged to match the architecture behind them. As in Bushwick, the streets are filled with stylish young people and tourists.

Mr. Tukmanian recalled that someone had recently entered his apartment building to ask the person at reception for the time of the next round of graffiti. “I don’t know the schedule,” replied the attendant. “Just go left or right.”

For Juan Elias Lopera, real estate agent at Rhome, in East Williamsburg, the neighborhood’s warehouses are a breeding ground for galleries, photo shoots and dance parties. Our Wicked Lady, 3 Dollar Bill and Sovereign are popular performance spaces that flaunt their industrial chic.

The neighborhood becomes more residential as one heads north toward the 6.4-acre Cooper Park. Established in 1895 on the grounds of a glue factory owned by Peter Cooper, it has a skateboard park, handball and tennis courts, a pollinator garden and a playground.

Nearby, the block of Devoe Street between Olive and Catherine features renovated townhouses that are prime residential property. St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church, a red-brick building on the corner of Devoe and Olive, dates from 1886, when its congregation was predominantly German. (It is now largely Latin.)

“I just like being in the raw space,” said Lauren Ball, 42, an artist who moved from her home at Bushwick Avenue and Varet Street three months ago but still works in her studio on Metropolitan, which she rents for less than $1,000. a month. “I think all artists have this affinity for the possibility of space, and for me, that’s what East Williamsburg has offered and continues to offer.”

For the past three years, Engy Adham, 30, a CNN production assistant, has shared a three-bedroom flat on North Henry Street with two housemates; his monthly share is $850 plus utilities. “I’m Egyptian,” she said, “and when I moved to the United States I wanted a diverse place.” The mix of races and ages “attracts me,” she said.

East Williamsburg attracts young creatives due to its relatively affordable price, but prices are skyrocketing there, as in much of Brooklyn. The reason, said Mr. Lopera, the estate agent, is an influx of remote workers and a shortage of available properties. According to Redfin, the median sale price for a home in East Williamsburg in May 2020 was $1.15 million, an 8% year-over-year increase, based on 32 sales. (On the Redfin neighborhood map, the western boundary extends beyond Union Avenue to the BQE)

In terms of rentals, one-bedroom apartments currently cost about $2,600 to $2,800 per month, Lopera said, and two-bedroom apartments typically cost between $3,300 and $3,400 per month. But he expects more inventory to arrive, he said, based on the growing visibility of construction sites and work permits.

Part has already arrived. A new seven-story building at 222 Johnson Avenue, just west of Bushwick Avenue, is described by the developer, Slate Property Group, as East Williamsburg’s first luxury building. It offers 116 rental units, 35 of which are allocated to families with annual incomes between $31,680 and $159,640, depending on household and unit size. Market price rentals start at around $2,850 per month for a studio apartment and rise to over $4,600 per month for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit. At the end of June, the building was fully occupied. Martin Nussbaum, director of Slate Property Group, said his company will soon open a 180,000 square foot tower at 159 Boerum Street.

As of mid-June, 16 properties in East Williamsburg were listed for sale on the Compass website, adopting Google Maps boundaries. They included a one-bedroom condo in a seven-story building on Maspeth Avenue, listed at $695,000 with monthly maintenance of $1,031 and monthly taxes of $27. A two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath condo in a four-story building on Powers Street has been listed for $1.65 million, with monthly maintenance of $675 and monthly taxes of $1,275.

For now, at least, graffiti is the hallmark of East Williamsburg — and subject to its own kind of gentrification. Amid the spontaneous eruptions of brains, fangs and smiley faces – of moons, toons and raccoons – are polished, corporate-sponsored works of art, like the geometric mural transforming the facade of 154 Morgan Avenue , a manufacturing building.

PS 196, Ten Eyck Elementary School, serves approximately 290 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. In 2020-21, the student body was approximately 75% Hispanic or Latino, 18% Black, 2% Asian, and 1% White. The school’s fifth grade alumni pass rate in their sixth grade classes in core subjects (Mathematics, English, Social Studies and Science) was 96%.

PS 147, Isaac Remsen, Brooklyn School for Environmental Engineering, enrolls approximately 300 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. In 2020-21, the student body was 52% Hispanic or Latino, 15% Black, 13% White and 9% Asian. The pass rate of former fifth graders of this school in their sixth grade classes in core subjects was 93%.

MS 582, the Magnet School for Multimedia, Technology, and Urban Planning, has approximately 350 students in grades six through eight. In the 2020-2021 school year, the student pass rate in core courses was 98%.

East Williamsburg Scholars Academy, a secondary school, enrolls approximately 330 students in ninth through 12th grade. In the 2020–21 school year, the student body was 64.8% Hispanic or Latino, 29% Black, 2.4% White, and 1.5% Asian; 26% registered for at least one advanced level class. Of the class of 2021, 78% graduated in four years.

Williamsburg Charter High School enrolls approximately 980 students in grades nine through twelfth. In 2020-21, the student body was 61% Hispanic or Latino, 35% black, and 1% white; 84% have taken approved college or career preparatory courses and exams. Among the class of 2021, 83% graduated in four years.

East Williamsburg is served by the Graham Avenue, Grand Street, and Morgan Avenue stations of the L train, and on the western fringe, via the Metropolitan Avenue/Lorimer Street stop on the G and L trains.

According to a 2012 article in “Based in Brooklyn”, an online publication, the name East Williamsburg is and is not an invention of an opportunistic real estate industry. The community wasn’t even in Brooklyn originally: “The first mention of the neighborhood, then part of the Dutch colony of Newtown, is on maps dating from 1783 in the western part of what is now Ridgewood , Queens.”

In 1982, developers of the East Williamsburg Industrial Park chose the name to clarify its location relative to north and south Williamsburg. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the label took ownership and the boundaries of the neighborhood expanded.

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