Brownsville is dominated by public housing developments of various types. There is also a significant concentration of semi-detached multi-unit row houses similar to those found in East New York and Soundview
surrounding the public housing developments. Many, however, have been
torn down and replaced by vacant lots or newly constructed subsidized
attached multi-unit rowhouses. There is also a small number of tenements
in the area. The neighborhood contains the highest concentration of NYCHA developments in New York City.
There are 18 NYCHA developments located in Brownsville.
104–14 Tapscott Street; one 4-story building.
Brownsville Houses; 27 buildings, 6 and 7-stories tall
Glenmore Plaza; four buildings, 10, 18 and 24-stories tall.
Howard Avenue; five buildings, 3-stories tall.
Howard Avenue-Park Place; eight buildings, 3-stories tall.
Howard Houses; ten buildings, 7 and 13-stories tall.
Hughes Apartments; three, 22-story buildings.
Marcus Garvey (Group A); three buildings, 6 and 14-stories tall.
Prospect Plaza Houses; three vacant 12-story buildings in the
process of being rehabilitated. (really in the Ocean Hill section of
Brooklyn Community Board 16)
Ralph Avenue Rehab; five, 4-story buildings.
Reverend Randolph Brown; two, 6-story buildings.
Sethlow Houses; four buildings, 17 and 18-stories tall.
Sutter Avenue-Union Street; three rehabilitated tenement buildings, 4 and 6-stories tall.
Tapscott Street Rehab; eight, 4-story rehabilitated tenement buildings.
Tilden Houses; eight, 16-story buildings.
Van Dyke I; 22 buildings, 3 and 14-stories tall.
Van Dyke II; one 14-story building.
Woodson Houses; two buildings, 10 and 25-stories tall.
Brownsville was Jewish and politically radical from the 1880s to the 1950s; throughout the 1920s and 1930s, it elected Socialist and American Labor Party candidates to the state assembly .
As early as the 1910s, the area had acquired a reputation as a vicious slum
and breeding ground for crime. It has been known throughout the years
for its criminal gangs and in the 30s and 40s achieved notoriety as the
birthplace of Murder, Inc. It was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood until the 1960s, when its population had become largely black and Brownsville's unemployment rate was 17 percent. Half of all families in the district lived on less than $5,000 a year.
Journalist Jimmy Breslin wrote in 1968 that Brownsville reminded him of Berlin after World War II;
block after block of burned-out shells of houses, streets littered with
decaying automobile hulks. The stores on the avenues are empty and the
streets are lined with deserted apartment houses or buildings that have
empty apartments on every floor.
In September 1967, a riot
occurred following the death of an 11-year-old black male who was killed
by a detective at the corner of St. Johns Place and Ralph Avenue two
days earlier. The child had just exited a candy store with a brown paper
bag full of candy. As this 11 year old black male ran down Ralph Avenue
in the middle of the day past children playing, Brooklynites shopping
and/or waiting for the bus, he was shot dead by a detective who assumed
that the child was running because he had robbed a 73-year-old Jewish
man. The community fumed over the loss of a black boy at the hands of
law enforcement. The community quickly became incensed at the
realization that a black child run (a) could automatically be considered
suspicious of having committed a crime; and (b) could not run down the
street, as children often do, without being murdered by law enforcement.
The riot was additionally fueled by Brooklyn militant Sonny Carson
who spread false rumors that a white policeman killed the youth for no
reason and was only quelled after Brooklyn North Borough Commander Lloyd Sealy
deployed a squad of 150 black police officers to the riot to prevent
further looting. The officer responsible was later cleared after a grand
jury refused to indict him.
In 1968 Brownsville was the setting of a protracted and highly contentious teachers' strike. The Board of Education had experimented with giving the people of the neighborhood control over the school. The new administration
laid off several teachers in violation of union contract rules. The
teachers were all white and mostly Jewish, and the resulting strike
served to badly divide the whole city. The resulting strike dragged on
for half a year, becoming known as one of John Lindsay's "Ten Plagues".
Many social problems associated with poverty from crime to drug addiction have plagued the area for decades. Despite the decline of crime compared to their peaks during the crack and heroin epidemics, violent crime continues to be a serious problem in the community. Brownsville has significantly higher dropout rates and incidents of violence in its schools.
Students must pass through metal detectors and swipe ID cards to enter
the buildings, however most public NYC high schools have adopted this
approach regardless of their location. Other problems in local schools
include low test scores and high truancy rates.
Due to the lucrative drug trade in the area, many addicts reside in
the community. Peer pressure among children who come from broken homes
contributes to the high rate of usage. Many households in the area are
headed by single mothers, also contributing to truancy and the high
poverty rate. Many of these single mothers had their first child at a very young age and cannot adequately provide for their children. The incarceration rate in the area is also very high. Many if not most men in the community have been arrested at some point in their lives.
This has a direct correlation to aggressive policing tactics including
"sweeps" due to the area's high crime rate: Brownsville is home to a
significant number of inmates currently held in New York state prison
and jail facilities.
In 2003, the United States Army Medical Corps established a training program in an emergency room that has received 600 cases per year of gunshot and stabbing victims. "The program, called the Academy of Advanced Combat Medicine, started at Kings County the Eighth Medical Brigade, based at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, decided to train their reservists in a busy civilian emergency room.
a wave of arson throughout the 1970s ravaged the low-income communities
of New York City, many if not most of the residential structures in
Brownsville were left seriously damaged or destroyed. The city began to
rehabilitate many formally abandoned tenement-
style apartment buildings and designate them low-income housing
beginning in the late 1970s. Also many subsidized multi-unit townhouses
and newly constructed apartment buildings have been or are being built
on vacant lots across the neighborhood.
Until recently Brownsville was the only Brooklyn school district
without a high school. There are now three; two are housed in the same
building at 226 Bristol St. Teachers Preparatory opened in September
2001, and FDA VII opened in September 2004. Teachers Preparatory School
serves 6th through 12th graders, and received a grade of "A" on both its
middle school and high school report cards for the year 2008. There also is a transfer school Brownsville Academy, which is a Diploma Plus transfer school. It received a Well Developed score for its 2008–2009 quality review. It also received a grade of B on its 2007–2008 report card
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