Is The Tornado Of Gentrification About To Touch Down In East New York?
Like a match to dry tinder (no, not the app), gentrification is setting fire to New York. No area appears immune, particularly Brooklyn. Previously low-income, crime-afflicted neighborhoods like Bushwick are being caught up in the inferno. Rough and tumble city blocks are being razed and gleaming glass-walled condos with pristine landscaping and imported bathroom tiles are taking their place. The latest neighborhood to be caught up in the maelstrom is East New York. Excuse me, what? Once-murder-capital-of-the-city East New York? Well, yeah.
For months there’s been a lot of talk about exactly how this might happen. East New York is one of the few neighborhoods that has staunchly resisted the patterns of gentrification. But ironically (see, the hipsters are already creeping in) it may well be Mayor Bill de Blasio, under the guise of “affordable housing”, that welcomes fair trade coffee, yoga studios and artisanal cheese shops to the gritty, don’t go out after dark, neighborhood. Let’s face it people, East New York is one of the only places left where the housing is affordable in Brooklyn, and yet… Enter the magic of public service.
Mayor de Blasio’s plan rezones 190 blocks, allowing taller residential buildings, stacking 6,500 new apartments in the neighborhood. The plan also includes a new school. But the main complaint by locals is that too few of these housing units will be dedicated to affordable housing— around half. In East New York the goal for the city is break ground in the next two years on 1,200 “deeply affordable” apartments. Forty percent of them will be rented to families earning $38,850 or less. Ten percent will be rented by families making $23,350 or less. The city’s response to the complaints of those currently living in East New York appears to be less than sympathetic.
Mayor de Blasio and other city planning officials contend that, like an inevitable tornado on the horizon, gentrification is coming. His position seems to be, whether the residents of East New York like it or not, the best thing they can do is try to get ahead of it and instill a zoning plan and programs to protect tenants from being forced out by landlords.
“If you did nothing, gentrification would actually accelerate in East New York,” said Meredith Marshall, co-founder of the development firm, BRP Companies at a council meeting in March. Legal Services NYC Deputy Housing Director Luis Henriquez who overseas tenant lawyers concurred. “We have spoken about gentrification in East New York as a future thing, but it’s something we are seeing now as housing lawyers,” he said.
Theodore Hamilton, a school teacher, purchased his East New York duplex through Neighborhood Housing Services affordable housing program, ten years ago. He is seeing the neighborhood change at a remarkable rate.
“There aren’t so many abandoned lots anymore,” he says. “There is so much construction going on Rockaway Avenue, Bushwick Avenue, the entirety of Broadway Junction and the surrounding areas. Also, the police have cleaned up the prostitution and you don’t see homeless people around here anymore.”
Does he fear gentrification?
“Honestly, homeowners are happy about it,” he says, “but the renters aren’t. Even at my job in Flatbush, teachers don’t look in Brooklyn anymore to rent. It’s too expensive. They’re looking out in Queens. There are far less, if any Section 8 tenants on my block. Everyone is converting to market rents.”
Even the most notorious neighborhoods are being targeted by developers and speculators. The changes about to take place in East New York show how polarizing gentrification can be. To some, it is the savior of crumbling and neglected neighborhoods. To others, it is an example of how hard it can be for some to live in a rich man’s world.
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