Saturday, November 08, 2014

From Curbed's ten-year anniversary look at the anecdotes of gentrification

For its ten-year anniversary, Curbed on 11/5/14 called on neighborhood bloggers for Illuminating New York City's Gentrification, One Story at a Time:
Curbed was founded a decade ago as a site that would chronicle real estate and neighborhood changes, two subjects that are inextricably intertwined. And boy, have we ever, tracking the topic with self-proclaimed obsessiveness and attention to minute detail. It's easy to capture the drastic evolution in areas like the Lower East Side, theEast Village, the Meatpacking District, and Tribeca in photos; comparing historic images and modern-day shots truly does lay bare what's gone and what's replaced it. But as the term "gentrification" turns 50, we figured it was time to sit back and take stock on a more microscopic, anecdotal level. We asked neighborhood bloggers and long-time locals to share with us one moment in which they knew their home had irrevocably changed...
Among the citations:
Is there anything that epitomizes the seismic shift of today's hyper-gentrification like the transformation of CBGB's into a John Varvatos boutique?
—Jeremiah Moss, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York
But probably the greatest moment of Bushwick-gentrification-realization for me was when an organic grocery store Hana Natural opened on Wyckoff Avenue in 2011. As if stunned, I walked between the aisles, admiring beautiful fancy groceries as if it were a museum, not a grocery store. The experience felt surreal.
—Katarina Hybenova, Bushwick Daily 
To me, it was on November 19, 2013 when 5Pointz was whitewashed.
—Wesley Cheng, The Court Square Blog
Being a native New Yorker, many of the changes some would call "gentrification" could be classified as improvements. Anyone familiar with the opening credits of "Welcome Back Kotter" and its graffiti-riddled subway cars would probably agree that things are better today. However, walking past 160 Court Street in Cobble Hilland seeing Rag and Bone where the friendly Downtown Bar & Grill once stood just doesn't feel like an improvement.
—John "Homer Fink" Loscalzo, Brooklyn Heights Blog/Cobble Hill Blog
I have been asked to recount an event which exemplifies gentrification. "The more concrete the better." This leaves me no other alternative than the must-see event of last summer. I write of none other than the demolition of Greenpoint's very own sludge tank. For decades this humble structure had performed its grim task without complaint. Now it was time to make way for progress: a ten-tower community within a community: Greenpoint Landing.
—Heather Letzkus, New York Shitty
When I moved toWilliamsburg in 1996, there was little to do on Bedford Avenue other than eat really good massaman curry at a hole-in-the-wall called Plan-Eat Thai, or dodge the cracked-out prostitutes who haunted the streets south of Metropolitan Avenue.... Bored, I often found myself venturing into the city at night and quickly became a local at the aptly named Meatpacking District dive, The Village Idiot.... On a summer night in 2004, as she stood behind the bar in a tube top pouring me a Stella, one of The Village Idiot's bartenders told me they were closing.
—Robert Lanham, author and editor of FREEwilliamsburg
Some comments:
---What I value most is the local "mom and Pop" stores which have become fewer and fewer ie. the local hardware, locksmith, bodego, shoe repair, pizza, deli, small take out shoppe. These stores of yesteryear all typify the New York I love and know.
What I disdain is the proliferation of large chains, ie Duane Reade, where rows and rows of shelves hold few generic products worth while.

---My first memories of gentrification in NYC is when the rent regulation laws changed in the early '90s and lots of friends of friends in the Village and East Village were being forced out as landlords renovated entire buildings and turned them over -- or were making deals to allow the landlord to renovate their apartment in exchange for higher rent.

Fast forward to Bushwick in 2008 and 2009 when the Spanish speaking family in the apartment below me (longtime tenants who helped maintain the building) was forced to move to New Jersey when the landlord raised the rent by several hundred dollars a month so she could rent to the "college educated" young single professionals then moving into the neighborhood, which she did.

In the last few years flippers started renovating and flipping the short-sale and foreclosed wrecks I saw for sale in Bushwick in 2008 and 2009.

Back then you could pick up a house (with no plumbing or no roof) for $200,00, $300,000 and you'd be the only buyer in the market. Now, renovated, they're asking $900,000 to $1.2 million renovated, even at the Bushwick Aberdeen L stop by the graveyards, the last L stop in Bushwick before you get to East New York. Although I haven't seen a cheap flip actually sell for those prices yet.
Those thinking about the area near Atlantic Yards site/project surely would come up with other examples, such as the conversion of the Newswalk building, or the advance of new restaurants like Franny's on Flatbush Avenue, or even that artisanal mayo spot on Vanderbilt.

The history of the idea

Another Curbed post that day, Tracing the History of an Idea as 'Gentrification' Turns 50, describes how the beneficiaries in London, where the term was coined, were creative professionals with cultural capital, not the rich--and they could buy into once-tony neighborhoods at a big discount. And that ushered in big money and public policy:

Check out this great graphic, which charts the frequency with which "gentrification" appears in New York Times articles (data via NYT Labs), usually associated with "the consumption habits of gentrifiers":

One interesting contrast posited is "the Weeksville Heritage Center, an L-shaped building [in eastern Crown Heights] that stands across from a row of preserved 19th-century homes attributed to one of the first communities of emancipated African Americans."

What's to blame?

In a series of Twitter messages, WNYC's Matthew Schuerman (ex-Observer) noted:
@filmsbyAmy @jodyavirgan Been spending much of my professional life trying to untangle gentrification. IMHO we bear at least 50% of blame.
Responded New York Filmmaker ‏@filmsbyAmy Nov 5:
@mlschuer rezoning bears the rest
Schuerman responded:
@filmsbyAmy And don't forget 1997 vacancy decontrol …
The gentrification of retail is more glaring, but it often stems from the gentrification of housing (though it can also lead it). 

He was pointing to an article from the Metropolitan Council on Housing, a tenants' rights membership organization, Vacancy Decontrol Means The End Of Rent Regulation. The article cites the process that leads formerly rent-regulated apartments--presumably purchased at a price that reflects their revenues--to go to market rent.

After a 1971 move in which the State Legislature enacted full vacancy decontrol, 300,000 rent-controlled units and 88,000 rent-stabilized units were deregulated in less than three years, leading to average rent increases of 52 percent, well above the 7.9 percent increase in landlord costs. (Today, there are very few rent-controlled units, which have the lowest rents.)

In 1974, the Legislature put nearly all the units back under regulation. However--as the linked article doesn't get into--landlords can pass on increases based on major capital improvements to the building or to the individual apartment. And a unit that rents for $2,500 per month, upon vacancy, can be deregulated

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