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Brooklyn Orthodox Jews Being Pushed Out of Homes Due to New Designation that Would Prevent Expansions for Large Families

A religious war is erupting in Brownstone Brooklyn.

An historic enclave in Bedford-Stuyvesant is being considered for landmarking — and some Orthodox Jews living there say it’s part of a hateful scheme led by antisemites and Councilman Chi Osse to push them out.

On May 21, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to add two blocks, Willoughby Avenue and Hart Street between Nostrand and Marcy avenues, to the calendar for consideration as a new historic district.

Landmark status severely limits owners’ abilities to renovate or expand their homes.

Large Orthodox families often need to expand their houses, Jewish homeowners explained, so limiting their ability to alter them will essentially force them to move or be unable to sell to other Orthodox families.

“We need big houses,” Rabbi Shaya Saks, who owns a house on Hart Street, said recently while surrounded by a group of observant Jews on Willoughby Avenue. “We don’t have one or two children.”

“We feel that this is antisemitism because they are trying to stop us from moving in here,” said Hart Street homeowner Herman Bodek, an Orthodox Jew. “This will have us moving out.”

The roughly 50 Jewish owners on the leafy brownstone-lined blocks are speaking out after the commission’s decision to potentially create the so-called Willoughby-Hart Historic District.

The 100-plus homes in the enclave were built around 150 years ago and the area is unique for “the quality of its architecture, strong historic character and sense of place of its streetscapes,” as well as “its community history,” the commission said.

The commission said it received a letter of support for the designation from Osse, a far-left politician whose district includes Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, as well as pro-Israel Democrat state Assemblywoman Stefani Zinerman (D-Brooklyn) and state Sen. Jabari Brisport, a member of Democratic Socialists of America. Osse is a former member of DSA.

Osse and Brisport are perceived as anti-Israel. Brisport was one of the hosts of a rally last month for an Assembly bill cutting off funding to pro-Israel charities, according to Politico.

“Of course they won’t say, ‘No we don’t want Jews here,” Saks said. “They won’t say that, but they will use government agencies like LPC against us and that’s why we are extremely hurt.”

The Orthodox group’s attorney, Adam Leitman Bailey, said: “This is de facto discrimination against Jews. By landmarking this district these Orthodox Jews with extremely large families requiring multiple and extensive alterations will be forced to move.

“By introducing this and being a leader of this, Chi Osse is committing the worst antisemitic act since Oct. 7,” Bailey added.

Osse, who declined to comment, has posted pro-Palestine messages on his X account, like this one two days after Hamas’ horrific attack on innocent Israelis:

“Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and its dominion over the Gaza Strip, now 56 years old, are the primary root of the violence . . . The Palestinian movement for national liberation is legitimate. It is a movement I support and endorse.” He has also denounced acts of antisemitism on X.

Orthodox resident Peter Kohn, who lives on Hart Street, said some non-Jewish neighbors have been harassing them for the last few years by calling the Department of Buildings about legal construction, tearing down their meeting signs, dumping garbage on doorsteps, and shouting antisemitic remarks.

“They became good friends with the councilman who helped them push the LPC to expedite the process,” Kohn said. 

Michael Williams, 67, is a lifetime resident of Willoughby Street who favors landmark status for “one of the best blocks” in Bed-Stuy. He added, “If you look at all the tree lines and all the brownstones, it’s beautiful.”

Williams said if his neighbors need to expand their homes they should just “buy a bigger house.”

A few years ago landmark advocates lost a battle to preserve historic 441 Willoughby Ave., a 19th-century mansion that ended up being razed in 2022. The advocates seek to prevent further demolition in the area.

In a petition to the commission, which garnered 1,129 signatures, the Willoughby Nostrand Marcy Block Association said the two blocks are the only “remaining blocks of exclusively brownstones” and deserve protection.

The Orthodox group amassed 1,755 signatures in a rival petition, arguing “the landmarking of these blocks would significantly impede the community’s growth and compromise the integrity of the buildings.”

The commission will hold a public hearing on the matter June 11. If it goes through, Bailey said, “we will be in court the next day.”