Brooklyn, N.Y.: Ground zero for gentrification

Brooklyn is definitely ground zero for gentrification in New York City. Specific to Brooklyn is that rents have gone up by outrageous degrees in neighborhoods where the average median income is under $35,000 a year. Over 25 percent of the people of this city make under $25,000 a year.

Imani Henry assulted at Mayor's hearing.

Imani Henry assulted at Mayor’s hearing.

People in migrant communities of color neighborhoods, where households have banded together in order to have multiple breadwinners just to pay rent, are being priced and pushed out. The New York Times reported a 400 percent increase in foreclosures in Brooklyn in 2015.

The conditions are such that they devastate the racial, cultural, linguistic and economic diversity of the city.

Landlords, police harass tenants

We see increased tenant harassment in Brooklyn — everything from landlords turning off and denying access to gas for three to 18 months, to hoarding people’s rent checks and money orders and then taking people to court for nonpayment, to using people’s immigration, racial or gender status against them under the threat of eviction.

We’re currently fighting a landlord who refuses to make repairs for long-term tenants in order to force them out — and then overcharges new tenants. What we have observed is if you just moved to Brooklyn in the last five years and you’re in a rent-stabilized apartment, chances are you’re being overcharged by $300 to $400.

Tenant harassment is coupled with police harassment. We’ve been able to prove that since 2012, rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods have had high rates of “stop and frisk” profiling. “Broken window” policing has meant summonses for everything from riding bikes on the sidewalk to walking between subway cars, spitting on a subway platform and being in a park after dusk.

We do so much work trying to stop the level of tickets and summonses written to drivers of color for “driving while Black or Brown.” Traffic checkpoints are a regular occurrence and ticketing drivers is part of a monthly quota system for the New York Police Department to make income.

We and other groups are also documenting that this is specifically racially motivated and that there is a completely different set of rules and systems, particularly for white people moving into neighborhoods in Brooklyn. We have heard that police presence decreases in neighborhoods once more white people have moved in. We’ve also begun taking video — and we encourage others to do so, too — documenting new, white residents drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes on the subway without getting any tickets.

There is clearly a double standard for people of color and migrants moving in or trying to live or stay in Brooklyn. Landlords refuse to rent or sell to people of color, and at the same time, the police are doing everything in their power to push people out of Brooklyn. We’re back to Jim Crow segregation in New York City.

On March 23, the mayor’s housing plan was approved by the City Council. This plan leaves out a large percentage of the people of New York. Some 25 percent of the people here make $25,000 and under a year. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan is pro-gentrification. It relies solely on developers building largely luxury housing and allowing for a few units to go to people of mostly middle income.

The mayor’s plan is geared towards people who can afford market-rate apartments and allows them to become the majority in a building. That is ridiculous. The vast majority of the people who live in New York City are low to middle income. We should have the majority of the housing. We want to see affordable permanent housing.

We are in a housing crisis. Eighty percent of the people of this city spend most of their money and resources on paying rent. It is time to have rent regulation and rent stabilization universally in New York. The vast majority of people live in unregulated housing, and we should turn that around. We don’t need new condos and luxury developments. What we need is real affordable housing for everyone.

We’re seeing people new to New York City who don’t know their rights and don’t know they’re in a rent-stabilized apartment. They’ve been told lies like, “You’re getting preferential rent,” so they think they’re getting a deal. But the landlord is ready to jack up the rent on them at any time to market price. Part of rent stabilization is having the right to a lease renewal, succession rights to have family members on the lease, and repairs that are covered by the landlord. When you’re an unregulated tenant, you’re at the mercy of your landlord.

This is why elders, especially women of color who have had their apartments for over 30 years, are being unjustly taken to landlord-tenant court. We have cases where families who are dealing with elders in hospice care are suddenly being dragged into housing court so that the landlord can throw their entire family out when the loved one on the lease dies.

Developers and the de Blasio administration

At the end of the day, the de Blasio administration is beholden to the developers. Capitalism is about profit. Progressive journalist Aaron Cantu has written about the developers behind de Blasio’s pro-gentrification housing plan.

Our community boards must be elected and have veto power because the borough president, who is in many cases tied to real estate money, appoints a community board that then is beholden to him and not to the community. The developers then come to our neighborhoods and get licenses to build. The mayor has made it easier for them to rezone our neighborhoods.

Equality for Flatbush is partnered with large, affordable-housing tenant groups and small grassroots groups. More protests are being planned. We will be launching a campaign demanding elected community boards. Groups are bringing lawsuits against community boards and the city administration for their role in tenant harassment and discrimination.

We must turn the tide around and make sure that tenants, homeowners, small businesses, people of color, migrants, LGBTQ people, elders, people living with AIDS, people with disabilities and victims of domestic abuse — all can stay in their homes.