Guess What? Brooklyn is gentrifying!

This might come as a shock to you but Brooklyn is gentrifying. There. I said it. Can I bring you a glass of water, or maybe a local organic lemonade-ice tea from the corner “petit gourmand?”   Cool your face with one of Brooklyn’s top 10 frozen desserts? Relax with a copy of Brooklyn Magazine, filled with beautiful white hipsters.  Where are all the people of color you ask?  Not in Brooklyn, apparently.

A recent study based on race by zip code revealed that Brooklyn has the largest increase of white people in the country.  Neighborhoods in Brooklyn that have seen the greatest influx have been (in order) Clinton Hill, E. Williamsburg, Prospect Heights, and Bushwick.  Surprised? Didn’t think so.  This study determined 25 zip codes nationwide with the greatest influx of white people, and no other place has more than one zip code in the same state.  Four zip codes are in in the city of Brooklyn, NY.

Gentrification is about access to affordable housing, how resources are distributed in a neighborhood, and levels of safety and comfort for all residents. Our work at UHAB around predatory equity directly plays into gentrification– when a neighborhood is seen as lucrative on the real-estate market, predatory equity (and consequently gentrification) occurs with greater frequency, displacing residents. This process is gentrification at its worse.

For many young, white transplants (like myself), there is a lot of guilt associated with living in Brooklyn.  As I prepare to leave my current housing situation and embark on that dreaded journey apartment hunting, I have a lot of questions.  How can I be committed to housing justice while simultaneously needing to live somewhere with cheap rents?  What determines gentrification– Is it simply racial?  Is it measured by income level?  How can it be avoided, and how can we move beyond guilt and anger?

An exciting new documentary called “My Brooklyn” addresses these complex questions through interviews of residents, city government, development companies, and community activists.  The documentary is told through the eyes of a white gentrifier, Kelly Anderson, who follows the the politics behind  luxury condo development in her neighborhood and the controversial redevelopment of Downton Brooklyn, particularly Fulton Mall.

Filmmakers Kelly Anderson and Allison Lirish Dean wrote about My Brooklyn for the NYTimes’ Fort Greene/ Clinton Hill Local.  Here is an insightful exert:

Our interviews with locals from Fort Greene to Bedford-Stuyvesant brought out similarly polarized responses, but we also found that many newcomers felt bad about being gentrifiers and felt powerless to do anything about it. Could people stop gentrification just by not moving somewhere? The conversation seemed stuck, unable to get at real solutions.

Missing from these debates was a larger sense of how gentrification really happens, and what’s truly behind it. We made “My Brooklyn” to move beyond the tired focus on individual choice and blame that we kept running into, and to help steer the conversation in a more productive direction. We also wanted to offer people a concrete sense of what they can do to make development more equitable…

All of this new development might have been okay if the rezoning had also, for example, fulfilled the public need for truly affordable housing. A more sensitive approach would have also preserved the mall’s thriving small business community and its unique, homegrown culture. Instead, it is being slowly killed off.

Interested in learning more about gentrification in Brooklyn? Connect with the great work of Families United for Racial and Economic Justice (FUREE).  FUREE is a women of color led organization fighting gentrification and for racial justice in Brooklyn!  Stay informed and continue the conversation!

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The Daily Beast: “Occupy Our Homes: Wall Street Protests’ New Frontier”

Yesterday, UHAB organizers took the 3 train all the way down the line to East New York to support Occupy Wall Street’s new initiative, Occupy Our Homes.  NY Communities for Change along with community groups like FUREE teamed up with the Occupy protesters to move a family into an abandoned, foreclosed home in East New York.  “Occupy Your Homes” signs read. “Foreclosure on Banks, Not on People.”   From Brooklyn to Atlanta to Detroit to San Francisco, “Occupy Our Homes” has sparked new energy on the OWS movement, bringing to light real issues of housing foreclosures, bank profits over people, and current economic policy.

At UHAB, we focus campaigns on Predatory Equity in buildings in foreclosure as a result of irresponsible lending practices and greedy landlords.   As the OWS movement narrows in on the housing crisis, we hope to continue drawing attention to multi-family foreclosures and the ways that banks and landlords should be held accountable. To read more about yesterday’s exciting, see below for an excerpt from “The Daily Beast.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Tasha Glasgow, an intermittently homeless 30-year-old mother of two, walked out the front door of the foreclosed Brooklyn house thatOccupy Wall Street activists had seized for her and marveled at the hundreds of people outside, cheering in the rain. Clusters of balloons and “Welcome Home” signs adorned the tiny front yard. Zuccotti Park veterans in hardhats decorated with anarchist symbols trooped in with cleaning supplies, beginning a multi-day renovation. Someone hooked up a generator, lighting up Glasgow’s new Christmas tree. Several city councilmen stood on the porch with housewarming gifts.

Glasgow climbed up a stepladder so the throngs on Vermont Avenue in East New York, the Brooklyn neighborhood with the city’s highest foreclosure rate, could see her. “I love everybody,” she said quickly. “I’m kind of shy. Thank you.”

This punk-rock version of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition marked the start of a new phase of Occupy Wall Street, as activists nationwide merged civil disobedience with practical action addressing the foreclosure crisis. Occupy Our Homes, as the new wave of demonstrations was called, brought people to the streets in more than 20 states. In California, the Los Angeles Times reported that 75 people gathered at the South Gate home of a woman who suffers from cerebral palsy and recently underwent a double mastectomy, and whose home went into foreclosure after she defaulted by $17,998. Then they took a bus to Riverside, where they helped a factory manager move back into a home that JPMorgan Chase took last month. In Chicago, The Atlantic Wire reported that activists moved into a house whose owner had walked away from her mortgage, leaving it to be ransacked. In Atlanta, demonstrators disrupted foreclosure auctions.

To continue reading, click here.