Fancy eateries and expensive condos are rapidly sprouting up in Bushwick. The Brooklyn neighborhood is being turned into a "hip" and "fashionable" area that is out of the financial reach of its own people.
"Where we used to have bodegas and rice-and-beans restaurants, we’re now seeing wine bars and luxury condos," lamented José López, 21 (a Youth Power organizer at Make the Road by Walking), who has lived in Bushwick since he was 2.
Yesterday, in front of the most recent luxury condo built by Halstead Properties in one of Bushwick’s poorest zones, members of the Youth Power Project at Make the Road by Walking, a Bushwick-based community organization, rallied together with their neighbors and families to protest gentrification.
"This building is totally out of place," said López, a sociology and labor studies major at Hofstra University in Hempstead. "With one-bedroom apartments going for $250,000, it has nothing to do with the community."
Gentrification is not a new problem, nor is it unique to Bushwick. A similar situation is taking place in East Harlem, where residents have organized to keep their community intact and force landlords to treat them with dignity and respect.
It goes without saying that the building owners’ intentions are to bring in a new group of more affluent tenants and charge them much higher rents. A great deal for the landlords, no doubt.
After all, what happens to the families being forced out of their homes is not their problem.
The rally organizers also complain about the fact that, not without irony, many of the new luxury condo developments in the community have been built with government subsidies.
"We need the city to support a plan now that helps current residents of our community be able to continue to live and work here," López said.
What made yesterday’s rally – attended by about 150 people – stand out was that it went beyond protesting the building owners’ heavy-handed tactics.
The rally organizers actually offered possible strategies to avoid the displacement of community residents. These include support for affordable housing development and incentives for small landlords to maintain buildings in good repair, for example.
"We spent months researching the community and the problem of gentrification," López said. "And we know that no matter if these people come and say they want to better the community, they cannot do it because they don’t know anything about it and are not interested in the community input."
But López and the Youth Power Project do know their community and its needs.
"This is a neighborhood of about 105,000 people, 40% of which are under 25 and whose household income averages $25,000," López said. "Also, there are many new immigrants whose first language is not English."
The young people have been working to educate the community about the need for affordable housing and about their rights.
"For example, some landlords tell people that if they fix some of the most hazardous problems, they will have to raise the rent $200 or $300," López said. "But most of the time, that is illegal and people need to know it."
López also said that another major problem is that the city lacks enough housing inspectors.
"Many times people that are enduring very bad conditions have to wait several months for inspectors to show up," he said. "We want to change that."
As Giovanni Matos, 19, also a member of the Youth Power Project, said, "This is our neighborhood, and we deserve to make sure our families have a future here."