As housing prices grow higher and more upper- and middle-class city-dwellers move to Bushwick, many of the primarily Hispanic residents are trying save the neighborhood that they built before it is sold off right out from under them by their landlords.
In an effort to slow – and perhaps stop – the rapid gentrification of the neighborhood, activist group Make the Road By Walking worked with local students to launch the Bushwick Research and Action on Gentrification campaign. BRAG held a demonstration in front of one of the neighborhood’s newest luxury high-rises last week.
At the base of the condominium building on Grove Street, citizens gathered to speak to their peers about the issues that threaten to dismantle their neighborhood, as well as to work together to achieve positive solutions.
"I feel emotionally connected to my home," said Rossely Munoz, who described the cruel treatment she and her neighbors say they endured from their landlord, claiming that he refused to make repairs, insulted the tenants, and repeatedly tried to get them to leave the building. Three families have already been kicked out of her building under what she called "dubious circumstances."
The Bushwick area has, in recent years, become known as one of the most up and coming neighborhoods in New York City, with many expecting it to become "the next Williamsburg." The predominately Hispanic community has seen an influx of young, typically white people moving in who can afford to pay more for apartments in the now trendy area, and developers are only too happy to rent to the younger, wealthier crowd, often at the expense of their current, longtime tenants.
"Since the fires in the seventies, Bushwick was totally ignored," said Jose Lopez, community organizer for Make the Road By Walking. "We rebuilt up on our backs, and now it’s being sold to developers. We built this neighborhood, and now we have to fight for it."
Sheila Mirrer was forced to leave Bushwick, where she was born and raised and where her elderly mother still lives.
"I had to move to the far end of the Bronx to find affordable housing," she said, expressing disappointment that she was unable to stay in her home. "Landlords tell you that they are raising the rent just to get us out so that they can rent the apartments for even more money or build new condos. I see a lot of people moving out."
Most of the demonstrators didn’t hold anything against the people moving into Bushwick, acknowledging that they too are subject to housing price increases and exploitative landlords.
"There are so many people moving in from the city, and we will all need to work together to save this neighborhood," said Mirrer.
Another change that will challenge the neighborhood is the loss of inexpensive "mom and pop" stores that service the Hispanic community. As the demographics of Bushwick changes, more upscale coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores are moving in to serve the wealthier residents, often replacing the bodegas and discount grocery stores that have served the community for years.
"A lot of the delis, Spanish restaurants, and panaderias are being replaced by fancy shops, organic shops, and Internet cafes," said Lopez. "A lot of shops are shutting down, and the ones that are opening in their place don’t serve the current community, but the new one."
Working with both the community and the city, Make the Road By Walking and BRAG have developed a strategy to combat the gentrification of Bushwick.
"The first part of our agenda is to punish bad landlords with the proposed Healthy Homes Act," said Janelly La Hoz, one of the youth organizers of the demonstration.
The Healthy Homes Act would require re-inspections by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development of all serious housing violations and introduce fines for landlords who fail to make repairs.
"We also need more 311 inspectors that speak our languages," she added.
The second part of the agenda includes incentives for good landlords.
"We want to get them loans and connect them with grants so that they will not sell their buildings and force us out," explained La Hoz
Speaking at the demonstration, Lopez emphasized the importance of home and co-op ownership as the best way to stabilize a
neighborhood. Most in attendance were hopeful that their efforts to stay in Bushwick would be successful.
"We’re getting a lot of people in the area, especially young people to talk about the issue," said Lopez. "They’re starting to realize that they might not be here in two years."
"I’ve lived here all my life," said Munos. "I’d hate to have to leave just when it’s getting beautiful."