A recent spike in crime has residents of Clinton Hill worried about a return to the bad old days, when there were more bullets and fewer Bugaboo strollers on the streets.
Two trends have emerged this year in the tree-lined brownstone neighborhood just east of Fort Greene: record-high property values and an upward curve in drug-related felonies and arrests.
But while the hike in prices is just another sign of Brooklyn’s exploding housing market, the climb in crime contradicts more than a decade of steady improvements in safety that has left total crime in the area down 71 percent since 1993.
“It was getting better, but for some reason now, it seems to be getting worse,” said James Perry, who bought a home in the area about 10 years ago.
Between January and July, the 88th Precinct, which includes Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, logged five murders — compared to zero in all of 2005.
And there have been jumps in the number of rapes, felony assaults and robberies over $1,000.
Many believe the uptick in crime is centered around the slow decline of the Prince Lefferts Hotel on Lefferts Place near Classon Avenue.
In 2001, the decades-old hotel got a new owner — and some unwelcome guests: prostitutes and drug-dealers, police said.
The NYPD finally shut down the hotel, but this week, the hotel’s 76-year-old owner came to an agreement with police that allowed him to retain ownership of the crumbling mansion if he renovated, eliminated his hourly rates and adhered to new rules about security.
“It was ridiculous because you saw women walking up and down the block with short skirts early in the morning and meanwhile, the house across the street just went for $2.5 million,” Perry said.
But Perry and others fear that the upward trend in crime could deter new middle-class residents, who have been credited with getting the city to improve local schools and services.
“They won’t want to pay so much [to live in Clinton Hill] if they don’t feel safe,” said resident Vanisia Taylor.
At Grand and Putnam avenues, not far from the Clinton-Washington C train station, police and residents say an open-air drug market has cropped up, with problems escalating this year.
Ninety arrests were made there over the past seven months and on May 29, one man was shot to death. That was the last straw that encouraged cops to begin policing the area more thoroughly. The street has been closed off with police barricades ever since.
“We had a homicide,” explained precinct spokeswoman Lisa Conner. “We had complaints about drug activity. We decided to give it to the kids to play in.”
While the kids played on a recent afternoon, a cop sat in an unmarked patrol van. Since such patrols began on July 5, there has been no violent crime on the block. The precinct is considering keeping the cop there permanently.
City Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Prospect Heights) and her constituents are pushing for even more officers on the streets, but remain convinced that the spike in crime won’t have a lasting effect on the neighborhood’s hot status.
“This is New York. It’s part of living here,” said Cynthia Walker, the owner of the Brown Betty Café, a WiFi-ready coffee bar that opened on Fulton Street and Grand Avenue last week. “If you notice shady stuff, you just get going.
“I’ve seen this neighborhood go though a lot of changes,” she added. “If I felt threatened, I wouldn’t have opened here.”
Others clearly agree with Walker, because the wealthy are still moving in. Just this week, the Meltzer/Mandl architecture firm heralded two new six-story luxury condo buildings on Vanderbilt Avenue, near Myrtle Avenue.
A press release touted how the buildings would “transform fringe blocks with modern twin curved glass buildings.”
“On a broader level, Vanderbilt Apartments will serve as a benchmark for future new construction in Clinton Hill,” said Marvin Meltzer, a principal in the Manhattan-based firm, “which will help upgrade and diversify the neighborhood.”
Has someone told the dealers that?