Cancer in the Village

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To the Editor:
I posted the link for this article today to a group of whites who refuse to believe or admit about the takeover(gentrification). All they have been doing is calling me a “poor me victim conspiracy minded individual”.
I posted the link to back up my statements and show and prove. However, it was not enough. They said there was no evidence stated in the article that showed it was racially motivated.
What I am saying to you is perhaps since this is such a huge problem with hundreds of similar cases, perhaps you should consider making it a regular feature like “gentrification nightmares” or something. I cannot stand to see them be able to deny it anymore. The voice must be heard.
Marti Rogers
Ft. Greene, Brooklyn
A reply:
It’s happening in a lot of places and for a lot of different reasons.  Seven years ago when I purchased my home, it was valued for tax purposes at $70,000.  This year, it’s taxed at $120,000.  That’s a $50,000 increase in seven years.  And no, my income has not increased  proportionately.
 My issue with the article is that the woman in the midst of this terrible ordeal is convinced it’s happening because she’s and her neighbors are black and that there’s a conspiracy involved.  There was nothing in this story that was evidence were being singled out because of racism.  The culprits seem to be a combination of the sleazy property owner who sold her the building and stringent city code.  This woman was wronged by the man who sold her the property and her inspector, so she’s right in seeking compensation from them.  But settling on racism as the cause of this ordeal is just not supported by the facts as they are laid out in the article.
If the situation isn’t bad enough, she’s feeling the pressure of familial history and feeling the need to further the advancement of her race.  I feel for her.  That’s an amazing amount of pressure to put on one woman even if she wasn’t going through the ordeal with code enforcement.  But my perception of this situation is one of imaginary wrongs piled on top of real problems.  Understandable and perhaps expected in such a stressful situation, but very unhealthy for the person involved and, in this case, society in general.
We seem to have a generation of men and women, black and white, young and old, etc. who feel they are being denied something or put upon because of who or what they are.  A generation of victims where an “ism” or two is responsible for the problems that are all too common in life.
Some people go around looking for someone to blame where the real blame lies in the hands of life itself.  While we’re busy running around fighting imaginary demons, there are real issues, real instances of racism that we could be facing…and therein lies the tragedy.
Kasey Thompson
Letter to the Editor:
Response to Kasey Thompson;
I read Kasey Thompson’s narrow-minded response to my letter to the editor, HPD and Me, with an annoyed interest.  My mind started to pulsate as though it were an out-of-control speeding locomotive belching out clouds of historical facts to substantiate the “Cancer In the Village” claims that real estate developers are trying to displace the current residents in Clinton Hill.  One thing that I have learned in life-never discuss race or racism with white people.  Basically the response is always the same-racism is some imaginary creature, and like a bogeyman, only exists in one’s mind. 
Mr. Thompson is right that gentrification is occurring all over the country.  No one can deny that a real estate developer’s favorite color has always been green.  But, what I have learned from my ordeal, however, is that developers know it is easier to target and displace people in predominantly minority communities.  First of all, people, and I am including myself, lack the political connections of a more affluent neighborhood and people may not be aware of alternative avenues to resolve these housing issues.  There is another shocking reality I learned from my ordeal with the Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).  Simply supporting and for a politician does not translate into the politician’s concern for his or her constituents.  When I sent letters to Borough President Marty Markowitz, Major Michael Bloomberg and the Public Advocate’s office, I was so confident that these officials would rally behind me like reinforcements from the U.S. Calvary.  How could I have been so naVve!! I never received the courtesy of even a form letter that I always interpreted from anyone as saying, “go to hell you insignificant person.”

Kasey probably already knows that wealthy real estate developers have as much disdain for poor white people as they do for poor and working class people of color.  Kasey must belong in the poor disenfranchised white people category.  If this were not the case, he would not be so upset about the increase in the tax assessment on his property.  Higher taxes are another avenue to displace senior citizens and poor people who do not have the ability to pay.  So, Kasey, be diligent and pay those increased taxes.  If you fall behind, the HPD could sell your tax lien and you could find yourself joining the ranks of the homeless.
Instead of using the issue of race to expand Kasey’s understanding how gentrification has historically displaced predominately African American and Hispanic neighborhoods, I would use the analogy of the United States government imposing economic sanctions on third world and developing countries, particularly Iraqi and Cuba.  Because sanctions would create such physical and economic decay in a community, it would be easy to displace people without anyone putting up a fight.  In predominately African American and Hispanic communities the economic sanctions could be compared to red-lining by the banks, lack of job opportunities and the infiltration of drugs.  It happened to African American farmers in the south who could not get loans to save thousands of acres of prime farmland.  Harlem can be used as another historical example of red-lining by banks destroying a neighborhood.  Homeowners could not get loans to renovate their properties or get out of tax trouble.  When I came to New York more than 15 years ago, and received my first exposure to historic Harlem, I thought U.S. allied forces had bombed the place but had forgotten to rebuild the area as the U.S. government is doing in Iraqi-nation building.  There were many abandoned and burned out buildings, it appeared as though the Harlem homeowners had surrendered and ran off. The economically distressed condition in Harlem has made it easier for developers to gentrify.  I do remember the residence complaining but not putting up much of a fight.  And, do not forget about the Native American Grab Their Land and Kick Them Off The Land Act of the 1800s.  I say a special prayer for them every Thanksgiving, their national day of mourning.
In historical landmark neighborhoods like Clinton Hill agencies like HPD, Landmarks and the Buildings Department use violations, as in my case, to smack heavy liens on a property.  Before gentrification in Clinton Hill, homeowners told me with a laugh, one could hang naked out of the window for days and a code violation forthcoming for changing the façade of your building.  These agencies would not have cared enough to take any action.  Things have certainly changed!!  Sometimes I sit and wonder what does the U.S. government really mean about exporting democracy to other countries.  Does it mean making them understand how great having freedom of speech and religion?  Or, will people be exposed to the other reality of darker side of democracy that can not be ignored.  That darker side are the politically connected and wealthy individuals who use the courts, make up laws and rules but change them at their discretion.  These rules are later used to seize another individual’s personal property or possessions.  The argument can be used, in my case, that your house was in violation of city codes.  I always shot back that Alfred Basal, the original owner, paid off a city inspector.  Basal is happily making money and is still renovating houses in Queens.
I have received numerous supportive telephone calls and positive feedback from neighbors since my letter appeared.  They have reassured me that racism is alive and well and festering like a boil on the buttocks.  One morning, a real estate broker called and would only give her name as Ms. Edwards.  According to Ms. Edwards, the situation I have experienced is much larger than the HPD and the Buildings Department.  Numerous neighbors and Ms. Edwards have told me that real estate developers want Clinton Hill and the area has been “ear-marked” to receive hundreds to thousands of dollars to change it into the next Manhattan.  People also informed me that a developer wants to spend $350 million building a sports stadium in the Clinton Hill area that would displace thousands of residents of color and the demolition of hundreds of brownstones.  Because the article appeared in a New Jersey paper, according people I spoke to, many people in Clinton Hill are not aware that there are enormous development plans in the works for the community that does not include them.
Why has it taken gentrification to bring quality restaurants and other services to the community?  Many African American residents say that the Pathmark and many other services are not for them but whoever is coming into the neighborhood.  Why can’t the developers built the sports stadium in Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens or Boreum Hill?  When I moved into Clinton Hill seven years ago, the police would take forever to come after being called for a disturbance or not at all. Now, when I call, the police cruiser seems to pull up in front of my house before I put down the receiver. 
In newspaper articles I have read, Clinton Hill is now referred to as “an exclusive enclave” of magnificent brownstones.  The phrase could be translated to me the neighborhood is now safe and crime-free for a certain population.  How else can one explain the gawking tourist hanging out of a tour bus as it speeds down Flatbush or Atlantic Avenues.
The cancer is growing but I will never let it consume me.  If I must go down in defeat and lose my house because of this unjust $86,000 lien on my property, like a craze soldier in battle, I will fight until my last breath.