Gentrification is an Ever-Increasing Problem in Crown Heights

By Leslie Michaels, TAG Intern

About two years ago, I moved to Crown Heights to go to school. My roommates and I chose the neighborhood because it was welcoming and vibrant… And the four of us could afford to live there.

I remember my first day coming back from class in Manhattan, noticing the changing demography of riders as we left the city for Brooklyn. As we ascended the steps to the street, I saw that I was one in a handful of white people. Most everyone were people of color, the neighborhood being historically and predominately black. It was then that I knew I was part of one of the biggest problems in Brooklyn–gentrification and displacement.

I live due south of Bed-Stuy’s Restoration Plaza where, just a few weeks ago, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, joined by Assemblyman Walter Mosley, presented findings on economic and growth disparities in the neighborhood. DiNapoli revealed the economic disparity between long-term and new residents (residing in the area less than ten years): some $20,000 per annum. The report also found that most new residents are predominately white, young, and immigrants. As a result, affordable housing for long term residents is increasingly harder to come by, leading to the displacement of people who have long called the area home. For developers and landlords in Brooklyn, this is an economic boon that shows no signs of ebbing.

Over the past two years, fancy bodegas have opened along my walk home, my rent has increased 10%, and more and more white faces have followed me off the subway. This past summer, the now infamous bar Summerhill opened on Nostrand Avenue. The press release boasted “refreshingly unpretentious sandwiches” and a “bullet hole-ridden wall.”

When the owner, a 30-something year old white woman from Toronto, posted an Instagram photo of a $12 cocktail in front of that wall, Crown Heights residents made their thoughts known through protest. This marketing ploy attempted to commodify violence and put on full display Summerhill’s insensitivity towards the neighborhood.

The “bullet hole-ridden wall” has since been debunked as wear and tear from equipment that lined the walls of the previous business. Issued via publicists, the owner apologized for causing such offense, although the wall remains as part of the decor.

But Summerhill’s wall does not just disrespect serious issues of the past. The neighborhood has recently experienced public gun violence, prompting Assemblymember Mosley to host an emergency town hall. Summerhill does, however, demonstrate just how out of touch gentrifiers are with the neighborhoods they flood and, in some cases, their refusal to learn and become part of the community.

There’s a building I walk by that’s similar to other buildings on New York Avenue, except for the fact that there are signs in the windows that spell out messages like “Don’t rent here,” and “Need heat.” The tenants in the building are fighting back against a landlord who has employed tactics in an attempt to force people out of their rent stabilized apartments, including neglecting to replace a boiler that provides central heat and hot water. Today, the signs are still in the windows.

While there are Brooklyn residents fighting gentrification, these movements need the help of legislators to protect their neighborhoods from unfettered, greedy developers and landlords. These communities deserve that.