It might be too late for Williamsburg, Bushwick and Bed-Stuy but in Crown Heights, tenants have learned a few tricks to prevent the social cleansing of their neighbourhood. Can they succeed where the rest of Brooklyn failed?
Esteban Girn, an organiser with the Crown Heights Tenant Union, is sitting in a Dunkin Donuts on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn just before closing time. Employees mop the floors, look at the clock and try not to glare.
At this time of day, there are two nearby bars he could have been hanging out at instead shabby-chic fascimiles of industrial-town dives, except for the $8 beers but he and his husband wont go in them. In fact, he has already told one of the bar owners that hes planning a protest with his neighbours against them.
Like the rest of the tenant union organisers, Girn volunteers his time to help this three-year-old group fight to keep long-time tenants in their homes. Its a deceptively simple assignment but here, in Crown Heights, it might just be the key to stopping yet another episode in New Yorks ongoing history of social cleansing.
All the other organising strategies have been tried in Bushwick, Girn says. They basically pit the landlord against the tenant against the quote-unquote gentrifiers. And when you do that, youre not going to win anything.
Indeed, in the great war against gentrification throughout New York City, most of the battles have been losses. The formerly low-income and heavily minority neighbourhoods of Williamsburg, Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant have already, for all intents and purposes, heavily gentrified.
Next in the crosshairs is Crown Heights, which used to be almost exclusively peopled by African Americans and Hasidic Jews. It is now the last line of defence for affordable Brooklyn, where, according to a new report, the average resident must now spend 124% of their wages to meet the monthly payments on a median-priced home the highest figure in the the country.
A quarter of a century ago in 1991, this neighbourhood was the the site of riots after a Jewish man killed a black seven-year-old in a grisly car accident. But today, both communities face the same problems: rising rents.