Think you might be a gentrifier? Here's how not to be a jerk about it

By Virginia K. Smith  | August 28, 2015 - 10:30AM

If you've ever moved to a so-called "emerging" neighborhood in search of cheaper rent, chances are, you could be considered a gentrifier. And while most New Yorkers are plenty comfortable talking about gentrification, we don't know too many people who are especially psyched to self-identify as a gentrifier.

But in truth, there's a right way and a wrong way to behave if you're the newcomer in a changing neighborhood, as the Village Voice pointed out this week. "The first thing is don't be an asshole," as Hunter College professor and My Brooklyn director Kelly Anderson told the paper. "Treat the people in your neighborhood as your neighbors." Seems obvious, yes, but it's repeated so often in part because many newcomers do neglect becoming acquainted with residents who've long loved, and live in, their newly adopted corner of the city.

Specifically, this means getting to know your neighbors, participating in neighborhood events and community board meetings, and throwing yourself into local issues and politics without assuming you know better than people who've lived there for decades. (Sometimes, the best thing to do is listen.)  Keep tabs on city policy decisions that can affect your neighborhood—zoning, affordable housing, minimum wage—to help ensure that imminent changes are for the positive (e.g. the difference between "gentrification" and "revitalization").

Other not-being-an-asshole tips: Patronize local businesses (and don't act like there was "nothing good" in a neighborhood before you moved in), and do your research on a building to make sure you're not being used by the landlord as a tool to jack up rents. Google your building (this is a good idea any time you move) and check your legal rent history on the New York State Homes and Community Renewal website, and plug your potential address into to get a sense of whether there have been any suspicious rent hikes in your building of late.

This information serves multiple purposes: It can help you determine if your apartment has been illegally de-stabilized (and if your landlord is potentially trying to drive out long-term, low-income tenants) and give you an idea of whether you're receiving "preferential rent." The latter sounds appealing—it means you're being charged less than the legal maximum—but also allows landlords to later jack up the rents significantly  and with little notice, driving out tenants whose rents had previously been affordable. (Don't forget that they can turn around and do the same thing to you when it comes time to re-sign.) 

In the churn of New York's real estate market, it's easy to feel like a powerless bystander, but the Voice has some really good, concrete tips on how to best behave in what's admittedly a tricky civic situation (you can read the rest here).


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