WHAT CAN I DO?: Activating Against Gentrification

Volunteer and/or donate to community tenant coalitions like the Crown Heights Tenant Union, Families United for Racial and Economic Justice, New York Communities for Change, and other, local groups – all of which are focused on advocating for displaced tenants, watching and holding landlords accountable for their illegal actions, and promoting people and communities of color.

Protest buildings that are attempting to withdraw from being rent-stabilized/rent-controlled, or are being willfully abusive to their tenants (this information can often be found through the sources listed above). Likewise, protest/contact the New York City Department of City Planning. They are the hub of the rezoning efforts in this city, and those efforts can allow neighborhoods be become more quickly gentrified. Their website (located here) lists their prospective rezoning projects; potentially worrying is their plan to rezone East New York.

Contact and express your dissatisfaction with the mayor’s current plan to create “affordable” housing, a plan which predominantly aids the upper and middle class tenants in the city, not the lower income families that need these homes. Information on how to best contact the mayor’s office is listed here.

Listen to your neighbors; advocate for them, support them. The divisive nature of the housing market in the city has made it such that the middle class and the lower classes are in direct competition with themselves and each other, while the wealthy benefit most from the changes in neighborhoods. Unity is key. These are legal rights that are being violated. This racial and socio-economic discrimination that is taking place. Do not look away, and do not ignore what you are being told.

If you or someone you know feel your rights as a tenant may be being violated, consult New York Housing Preservation and Development (found here). This resource lists tenant and landlord responsibilities in different situations, and can help tenants get in contact with Housing Court and lawyers if the need should arise.

Remember the culture that came before. New York City is defined by its strong cultural history, a cultural history that stands to be erased just as much as the lost faces of those tenants forced out. While Brooklyn’s culture is undoubtedly changing, and that much cannot be prevented, one culture (especially a not a predominantly wealthy and predominantly white one) must not be allowed to dominate and wash away another. Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Bushwick, Fort Greene – these neighborhoods, all the neighborhoods of New York City, have a rich history behind them, and so many neighborhoods in Brooklyn carry the history and hardships of generations of people of color. Do not accept the stereotypes society has given you. Do not seek to replace or “redeem” or reinvigorate. Gentrification so often is about demonizing that which came before, making those that remain feel out of place and unwelcome. Smaller businesses that have been in the community for generations are forced to close or move as chains and specialty shops tout higher expenses and appeal to the community’s new residents while pricing-out many of the old residents. Of course, some change and diversity of options is good – desperately needed in some cases – but do not forget the other businesses of the community. Support small restaurants, learn about the cultural celebrations of the neighborhood, do not let the past slip away and the people with it. True change comes from empathy and openness – the willingness to listen, to learn, and to humble one’s self. This is unity in the face of division. This is resistance.

This is the Art of Protest.

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