The Price of Gentrification: Who Pays?

As I sit on the three train riding to Brooklyn, I always reminisce on the days when my neighborhood was a familiar place to me. I know you may be thinking “How does a neighborhood that you have lived in for 24 years become unfamiliar to you?” My answer would be that my neighborhood started to change when moving to Brooklyn became the “new, hip and popular” thing to do. Over the past five years, as a result of gentrification, the people who live in my neighborhood have started to disappear into a sea of new and unfamiliar white faces. As the invasive nature of gentrification began to impact people and businesses in my neighborhood, the world that I knew as a child began to change. If you aren’t familiar with the term Gentrification, you should know that the word “gentry” is a homage to white civility and respectability. Gentry can be defined as “people of good social position, specifically (in the UK) the class of people next below the nobility in position and birth.” Stacey Sutton defines the term gentrification in her 2014 Tedx New York Talk “What we don’t understand about gentrification” “ as a process in which higher income or higher status people relocate to or invest in low income urban neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have historically been disinvested by both the public and private sector and as higher income people move to these areas, it’s typically to capitalize on the low property value. In doing so they inflate property values, displace low income people and fundamentally alter the culture and the character of the neighborhood.” I choose this definition because it addresses the real impact of gentrification, and how it can alter the culture of a community rather than the economic standpoints that people mostly focus on.

The real issue with Gentrification is that if it continues at its current pace it shows a strong resemblance to negative housing practices in the past. For example in the early 1900s practices such as Redlining, were adopted in order to place limitations on the housing that people of African descent could attain, and to specifically keep all-white neighborhoods segregated. According to Blackpast.org, redlining, which was “institutionalized by the 1937 U.S. Housing Act ” can be defined as “a discriminatory pattern of disinvestment and obstructive lending practices that act as an impediment to home ownership among African Americans and other people of color. Banks used the concept to deny loans to homeowners and would-be homeowners who lived in these neighborhoods. This in turn resulted in neighborhood economic decline and the withholding of services or their provision, at an exceptionally high cost.” What this means is that people of African descent weren’t permitted, or were prevented, from taking out loans from banks so that they could move into decent neighborhoods, regardless of their income. The practice of Redlining was ultimately used to keep races separate at the expense of people of African descent who could afford to live in prominent neighborhoods. Now, the current process of gentrification is increasing property taxes as well as the prices of rent, and as a result of this, once again people of African descent who cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars for rent every month are being displaced.

My neighborhood has always been filled with people of African descent. However, as the people changed, so did the culture of the neighborhood. Local restaurants and businesses where I used to eat and support regularly began to shut down. My neighborhood was no longer full of kids playing outside until the street lights came on. Block parties stopped happening, the food in the bodegas started to change, but most of all, the brightly colored neighborhood I once live in became pale, and gloomy to me. No one was sitting out on the front steps during the summer, the ice cream trucks seemed to stop coming around, and as gentrification increased, all of the original residents began paying for the change they were unable to prevent.

The familiar friendly faces that I once waved to in the morning as I went to school began to drift away as the new faces forcefully, but smoothly took their place. Building by building, apartment by apartment, person by person, the block that was once filled with owners of African descent whose kids I played with as a child, became foreign to me. As new residents moved in, the older residents who couldn’t sustain living in an area where the rent began steadily increasing had to move. My home of Crown Heights, Brooklyn went from being a safe haven where I could be around people who I had grew up with, to a neighborhood where people only converse with each other solely to request parking spots.  Over the years I have watched the neighborhood around me change from having bodegas and Caribbean restaurants with my favorite foods to organic supermarkets, Parisian-themed food trucks, and then a Starbucks appeared. My neighborhood has become so gentrified that on the corner of Franklin Avenue and Eastern Parkway, directly next to the train station, there is now a Citi bike stand. This bike stand has become an inconvenience for tenants who have been living in this neighborhood for years because the bike stand takes up almost half a block of parking spaces. Now for people who do not own vehicles, this isn’t a major issue, but for those whom street parking is necessary, this along with the other changes in the neighborhood have become major inconveniences.

Asides from the practice of Redlining that was implemented to prevent much needed improvements in the housing available to African descent, there was also quite a resistance to integrating neighborhoods that were already well established.  This resistance to integrate certain neighborhoods in the early 1900s came from white home owners who stood firmly together in their decision to keep their neighborhoods all-white. I know you may be reading this and saying “What? I don’t believe you, this can’t be true.” On the contrary, According to Mary Sacks’ book Before Harlem: The Black Experience in New York Before World War I, in 1889 “white New Yorkers became more strident in their refusal to live in proximity with black people. They pressured landlords to rent exclusively to white tenants, leaving only the dregs of the housing market available to the black population.” The white residents of Harlem were so enraged about the integration of their neighborhoods, Mary Sacks writes, that in 1913 “angry white residents demonstrated less restraint in their opposition to the black “invasion” of Harlem as they desperately sought to defend their neighborhood from the black “enemy.” She went on to say that “they argued that 130th Street ought to be the dividing line between colored and white people.” This resistance continued to increase, and at times, became violent. People of African descent who were actually able to obtain housing in upscale neighborhoods faced constant harassment from their white neighbors. The book also says, “Police officers’ refusal to protect black people from violence left blacks constantly vulnerable to assault, especially from the ethnic white enclaves living in the vicinity.” People of African descent faced many obstacles when trying to integrate fully white neighborhoods, and they were often brutally assaulted or harassed so much that they retreated back to the steadily declining neighborhoods that they originally worked hard to flee from.

A man, woman and child standing in front of a broken window

Retrieved from Ket.org

Now can you imagine the difficulties people of African descent faced to find quality, and affordable neighborhoods to live in? Neighborhoods where they could live in without being forced out based on the color of their skin. These neighborhoods where people of African descent found solace in were areas where they built their lives so that they could feel comfortable around other people who for the most part accepted them, and could identify with them. Now that gentrification has begun, the same race of people who fought so hard to keep people of African descent out of their neighborhoods in the past are now moving to the “hood”. Not only are they moving to the “hood”, they are taking over the community and making it their own. It’s amazing to me how in only a few decades, people who wouldn’t dare to live in my neighborhood have started moving in and walk the streets as though their presence in a non-factor. I’ve noticed the tension between the tenants who originally lived in this community  and the new white tenants, and as you can imagine one day the question was asked.

An older woman in my neighborhood asked a new white tenant in her building “What are you doing here, living with us?” Her response was “We need cheaper rent, and this neighborhood is affordable.” The conversation ended there, but then I don’t think the question was understood. Personally, I don’t think the older woman was literally asking “did you move here because rent is affordable?”; I interpreted her question to be that she was asking “Why after all this time have you decided to move into our neighborhood after we were never allowed into yours?” I’m only speculating here because of course I don’t know exactly what the older lady meant, but I understood the implications of the question that was posed.

Of course there is a lot of resistance from tenants who lived in this neighborhood before gentrification, because the neighborhood that they knew for years is steadily changing. Yes, on one hand, the produce and food choices are improving and the chain businesses in the area are remodeling their stores to accommodate the new tenants. However, according to the article Gentrification in a Brooklyn Neighborhood Forces Residents to Move On by Vivian Yee, the prices of apartments and the property taxes are increasing, and people who live on a fixed income are getting evicted and displaced from the neighborhood they lived in for decades. Can you imagine how devastating it could be to finally find an area to live in where you don’t face discrimination, racial profiling and constant mistreatment by your neighbors for significant amount of time in your lives, to then be pushed out of your apartment for new tenants?   

It’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening to the people living in my neighborhood, and I only hope that some improvements can be made where longtime residents can keep their homes. However, the process has already begun; bike lanes have been implemented onto the side streets and we now have muni meters for hourly parking. These new tenants moving in are populating this area because it’s affordable for them, without considering who’s paying the real cost for them to live here. As the process of mass gentrification seems to be inevitable I do hope that as new people move in, they start to appreciate the culture of the neighborhood their moving into and are respectful of the people who have called the neighborhood home for many years before their arrival. The original tenants are the patriarchs of the community, and it is unethical for newcomers to enter into a community and change it so that conforms to their specific taste.

Now that I have described my personal experience with Gentrification in my neighborhood, tell me your story. What are your thoughts on gentrification? How are you or your family or your friends directly affected? Leave me a comment and let me know how you a currently feeling about this topic.

13 thoughts on “The Price of Gentrification: Who Pays?

  1. Hey Cherishe,
    Informative article, before I read this article I was not familiar with Redlining and the meaning of gentry. It is an interesting topic gentrification, and my experience of gentrification occurred as being a new member in the part of Brooklyn, known as Georgetown – I overheard a white older male say with disgust, “They’re all moving in!” – automatically I finished my last transaction (my third visit) at the library and never returned and was shocked, as a black teen, at his hate toward myself and people who looked like me. The funny thing is, recently I viewed a clip from an old show – and the aliens viewed human beings (the human race) with disgust, as large sacks of water and a species who from their point of view needed a few hundred years to evolve into a specifies worth interacting with. I thought wow, if people could overcome the race, color line, gender, sexual-orientation, religious issues, etc…maybe the future generations could focus more of their advancements on upholding drinkable water supplies around the world, healthy food supplies – there are so many issues that we could be focusing on, beside race…but until we figure this man made divisive issue out, among social-economic and social justice issues, I see the ability of the human race to advance as…futile.
    “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
    -Albert Einstein
    Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/albert_einstein_130982

    • Hi Dhana,

      Thank you for sharing your testimony with me. I’m glad that I could introduce you to the term redlining. I am also glad that you shared your story because it shines light on how unacceptable the integration of neighborhoods by people of African descent was seen to be. Your experience also goes along with my statement that “the same people who once refused to allow us into their neighborhood are now entering/ taking over ours”. Now I love the anecdote that you shared about how aliens view humans as inferior and I realized that you are right . The divisiveness that we face as people is a major issue that needs to be changed , but this issue is a core value in the world we live in . Division promotes separation/segregation which then allows racism and other social issues to prevail . We are facing serious problems and the only way for things to change is for people to identify their priveleges , speak out against injustice and work to change the world we live in where some lives and livelihoods are more important than others.

  2. There was this one statement in this article that i found very factual because i see it unfold right in front of my eyes everyday living in New York City seeing the different neighborhoods change throughout time. “Now that gentrification has begun, the same race of people who fought so hard to keep people of African descent out of their neighborhoods in the past are now moving to the “hood”. Not only are they moving to the “hood”, they are taking over the community and making it their own. It’s amazing to me how in only a few decades, people who wouldn’t dare to live in my neighborhood have started moving in and walk the streets as though their presence in a non-factor. I’ve noticed the tension between the tenants who originally lived in this community and the new white tenants, and as you can imagine one day the question was asked”. I remember a time when the “hood” was viewed as some place people were terrified to visit because it was considered dangerous or not safe or proper to live but nowadays cities are changing, becoming more developed and more expensive. i like the fact that neighborhoods are becoming nicer and cleaner but the fact that you have to make it more expensive and kick the people out that cant afford it is ridiculous. Forcing people out like that with nowhere to go is completely unfair and not something they asked for especially if they left an imprint in those neighborhoods. The neighborhoods we were raised in is what makes us who we are and it is unfair that “gentrification” forces people out of their own neighborhoods simply based off their financial status. i do agree that it is a situation that is inevitable but i really do hope these people that move into these neighborhoods appreciate the culture and history behind these neighborhoods.

    • Hello Sha,

      Thank you so much for your comment , and for sharing your experience with me . I am so sorry that you are currently dealing with this issue of gentrification. I personally have been dealing with this issue for years now and I think the most painful part is seeing people get forced out of their homes, displaced and or become homeless . At one time my neighborhood was full of kids I knew and their family had a bond with my family . In retrospect we were all one big family . Now things have changed , people can’t afford rent because property taxes are rising and the community is changing . It’s a tough revelation to accept that gentrification has become an inevitable issue. However , I truly do hope these new tenants appreciate the culture and history within the neighborhoods they are moving into rather than altering the community to better suit them. I also hope that people who lived in neighborhoods for years can find a way to prevent themselves from being displaced. Where do these people go after being forced out their homes ?

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. Gentrification has affected the African community. Neighborhoods that whites could never consider moving in, has changed at this point. In Brooklyn, numerous families have been brought out of their homes for condos and luxury buildings to be assembled, which isn’t for moderate to low families and centered towards families that fall in a high salary bracket. If by chance, you get in one of these luxury buildings, it is through a lottery that is hard to get into. Many areas in Brooklyn have been gentrified, these neighborhoods have a new facelift. The resources that are currently being put into these areas, were never given to the people who once live there before. It’s very disappointing to watch the neighborhoods you once knew, disappear. These neighborhoods had culture significance that we valued, that is now gone.

    • Hi Dionne,

      Thank you so much for your comment . I appreaciate your willingness to tell the truth about this matter. I have noticed the change in my neighborhood begin after the only neighborhood car wash was torn down and is currently being constructed into a sky scrapper with new apartments in it . A lot of the mom and pop businesses that I use to frequent have been shut down and are currently on the market. It’s sad that investors are more inclined to invest in communities when white people start to move in rather than developing communities with people of African descent living there.

      I agree with you wholeheartedly when you say the new resources and innovations placed in our communities aren’t for us . These new stores , apartment buildings , muni meters , bike lanes and othe accommodations just arrived when new people started to move in . It’s just so unfortunate to see how the development of communities that were once predominantly black are now becoming to expensive for the original tenants. Now the question is where are the people who are currently being forced out of their homes supposed to live ?

  4. It is heart breaking after reading the story you shared. The environment you live and grew up had change gradually. Thing have changed by the time go on, people and place you once knew and familiar with are not there anymore. In the story you mention the new white tenant moved in a black building because of the rent is cheap and the black tenant are not allowed to move in theirs. It is heartbreak to see this happened around your neighborhood. After all this is NYC, this is United States everyone so be treated equally regardless our races and ethic

    • Hi Daming,

      Thank you so much for your comment . I really appreciate that you took the time out to read this blog because it’s shows that you are open to reading about this experience . I’m glad that my words have resonated so deeply with you, and that you could feel my pain after reading this blog . You are very right when you say all people should be treated equally no matter their race . I feel the same way and I hope one day we can all truly be treated fairly , instead of being handled accordingly based on the color of our skin. You are amazing .

  5. This is an excellent piece by my little sister @ Cherishe. You have a brilliant mind, well written article, as always informative and full of facts. You are destined to greatness. I am proud of you.
    Love always.
    Big bro.

  6. For starters Cherishe, this essay was well written and very interesting. I knew certain areas in Brooklyn were dealing with gentrification because as you said Brooklyn is the new place where everyone wants to live now. I personally am not dealing with any sort of gentrification because I live in the projects in Far Rockaway where no one really wants to move out to. However, there are certain areas in Far Rockaway (across the street from the beach) where I believe is specifically for people who can afford having a beach house (they are quite expensive). As an Architecture student, I learn a lot when it comes to Site Planning and we always talk about new buildings that are being built in areas where it is very “urbanized”. We discuss how the prices are going up and that there are a ton of changes but we never discuss how it can affect the people in the area so from seeing it from a person living in the area and physically going through it is truly interesting. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Hello Ashley,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience with me . I’m not familiar with navigating Far Rockaway , so I’m glad that you can provide me some insight about your neighborhood. I completely understand what you’re saying when you state there are “certain areas for people who can afford beach houses” because I have visited neighborhoods where houses can be very pricey . I like the way you used the word “urbanized” because this label in my opinion has always been used to describe communities that are predominantly filled with “minorities”. It’s also interesting that the new buildings being developed in these “urbanized” areas are too expensive for current residents / tenants. These new buildings that are being developed for the new wave of incoming tenants not only are extremely expensive , but they also are taking the place of other landmarks that were once beneficial to the community. The changes are difficult to cope with , so I write with hopes that when I express myself others will understand . Thank you for reading my work , and being open to seeing the message I’m trying to convey.

  7. Pingback: Winning an Award at The 2018 Literary Arts Festival | The Buzz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.