Longtime residents fight to keep the African-American legacy alive in Central Brooklyn

By Stephen Witt

African-American residents, property owners and activists of Bedford-Stuyvesant are pushing back against the long-held collective society belief that little can be done to stop white gentrification.

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This despite the fact that battle lines are being drawn along fronts like Tompkins Avenue, where the proliferation of storefront real estate agencies are suddenly competing for space with the many storefront churches that have long been a part of the strip.

“We’ve been renting this storefront for the past 12 years and I don’t think the guy that owns the building will sell it, but there is a new real estate agency next to us on the right and another across the street,” said Rev. Nerissa Bradshaw, pastor of the New Beginning Pentecostal Church of God.

Further south along Tompkins Avenue, Common Ground Coffee Shop owner, attorney and lifelong Bed-Stuy resident Tremaine Wright said there are alternatives to selling long-held property despite speculators offering vast amounts of money.

“My grandparents came here in the 40s and a part of the conversation is how (longtime property owners) can become educated to make real estate and property work for them versus believing they must liquidate immediately and relinquish rights in order to cash out,” said Wright.

“We don’t need people to remain static, but if we understand how things work we can transfer wealth to future generations so that families can move where they want to move and be empowered in the way that they do it,” she added.

Among the activist organizations examining how to keep neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights predominately black is the Brooklyn Movement Center on Stuyvesant Avenue.

In a landmark article published on their www.BrooklynMovementCenter.org Web site, author Marly Pierre-Louis makes a case for black gentrification, citing the Brickton Neighborhood in Philadelphia as a case study written in 2009 by K. S. Moore and published under the title: Gentrification in blackface?: The return of the black middle class to urban neighborhoods.

Moore argues in her article that there is a distinction between black gentrification and white gentrification.

“Gentrification led by black middle-income residents has a social justice motivation based on the residents’ experiences of racial exclusion and an explicit desire for racial solidarity. Unlike traditional gentrification, the outcome of neighborhood change is not the creation of a wealthy neighborhood to replace a lower-income community,” Moore writes.

Among the strategies Brickton utilized in keeping the community black was the recruitment of more middle- to upper-income black residents who can afford a more expensive neighborhood, make the choice to remain in the community without promoting the displacement of current low-income residents.

Another critical strategy was  encouraging asset accumulation (e.g., homeownership, entrepreneurship) amongst low-income residents.

Pierre-Louis argues that in Brooklyn the gentrification discussion has become stale as more and more black people are being forced out of the borough.

“The work doesn’t have to be anti-change, anti-development or even anti-white. But it can and should be pro-neighborhood improvement, pro-strategizing and organizing, and absolutely pro-black,” she writes.

But strategies aside, the battle to keep Central Brooklyn as a hub of black culture and life remains challenging and relentless.

Antioch Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Dr. Robert Waterman noted in his recently losing City Council race that the real estate industry poured in over a half-million dollars to back another losing candidate.

“Even though their candidate didn’t get in, real estate market prices have skyrocketed and real estate taxes are going up. That affects longtime homeowners on set incomes, and that becomes a burden. There’s also the aftereffects of predatory lending, where homeowners are still struggling with mortgages,” said Waterman.

Meanwhile, the storefront real estate agents along Tompkins Avenue – many of them with sign displays that they specialize in short sales – continue to exploit the forces of urban capitalism.

“I’m not the one changing the market,” said one. “I’m just a player in the market.”

3 COMMENTS

  1. The current cost of real estate in Bedford Stuyvesant makes Brickton model unrealistic for middle income Black folk. Perhaps this model can work in the “yet undiscovered” neighborhoods of Brownsville, East New York, or Jamaica ,Queens.

  2. To BedStuyBred,

    As the writer of the article, I agree there are challenges to encouraging black gentrification in Bed-Stuy, but I do think it is possible. Either way, it’s important to put these kinds of ideas out there for readers. Thanks for your input.

  3. I was born and raised in Flatbush. we had at least 1 to 2 murders a month back then and that was considered a slow month. Plus countless other major crimes. Bushwick/BedSty/East NY and Williamsburg were even worse places to live in the 80’s, and 90’s, so in 1995 my family and I moved to Florida.
    I moved back to Brooklyn 8 years later in 2003 to find some improvement in crime but we still had young Knuckle heads, standing in front of the corner store all day, Many of whom still had no respect for private property, and maintaining a clean attractive safe neighborhood, isn’t even in their thought process. I took ownership of my childhood home in the year 2000 when my parents got divorced, and purchased the neighbors house in 2006. I rented the properties out and in 2007, I moved to lower Manhattan. Now Fast forward 7 years. Their is a developer who is building a 23 story apt building on the corner called Hello Nostrand!, with 20% statutory affordable housing. The same developer has an 11 story condo building going up 1 block in the other direction, Called Hello Albemarle! Not to mention the Gap factory store on Flatbush ave, just 2 blocks away, The rebuilding of the kings theater, The Best Western Hotel, The new Crunch Gym, all available to local residents, and serve as an attraction for new residents. Crime has dropped, the NYPD took the Knuckle heads off the corners, and its a safe neighborhood now.
    My properties are worth 10 times what they were worth in 2003, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I did my best and my part in keeping my old neighborhood clean. But many other people who lived there most of which were renters didn’t. So now that we have renters coming in, who are willing to keep the neighborhood safe and, clean, I’m supposed to somehow have a problem with that?
    Community Boards, and neighborhood organizations should have been this active at saying no back in the 80’s and 90’s when the city flooded our neighborhoods with section 8 housing. Their should have been a limit to how many units a landlord can rent as section 8 in a building, because that gave way to these buildings getting run down and the once landlord, became a slumlord, then the schools and property values fallowed suit.
    As a property owner who has seen where this neighborhood has been, its hard for me to go and stand on the picket line, each time a new development starts to go up. I see gentrification as one of the best things that has ever happened for this area. Lets all stop pretending. Its basic economics here. When a group of abandoned houses serve as a crack house, or Knuckle heads stand in front of the corner store all day, property values go down, and rents are dirt cheap, because no one wants to live there. But when a developer invests money and turns those crack houses into luxury apartment buildings, every bodies property value goes up. So rents inevitably go up as well. Rents can never, ever be dirt cheap in an area with higher property values. Its an economic impossibility. Safe neighborhoods will always attract people who can afford and are willing to pay extra for that safety. Its that simple.
    Property owners in Bedsty or Flatbush never complain about property values going up. Brooklyn now has one of the largest black millionaire populations in the country, because gentrification has increased property values, so therefore increasing property owners net worth. I see the long awaited gentrification of Flatbush as an opportunity for the west indian property owners, if they know what to do with what they have.

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