Roommates + Landlords

Reminder: this is exactly why people are so angry about gentrification

By Virginia K. Smith  | December 1, 2015 - 9:59AM

Even as gentrification rips through the city, pricing out hopeful transplants and longtime residents alike, it's easy to let your eyes glaze over a bit seeing yet another headline about it, and how nobody knows what to do about it. Call it the result of a short attention span, or simply a form of self-preservation. But the New York Times ran a wrenching piece about Crown Heights over the weekend that serves as a reminder of exactly what's at stake here. (As Gothamist points out, they also ran an oddly glowing piece about Airbnb in the city that serves as an unintentionally uncomfortable counterpoint.)

Though there's startlingly little data keeping track of people getting priced out of their neighborhoods in NYC, the Times reports that between 2000 and 2010, Crown Heights, Flatbush, and Prospect-Lefferts gardens each lost between 10 and 14 percent of their black populations, and anecdotally, longtime neighborhood residents keep getting priced out and heading for East New York, cheaper cities in the south, or even all the way back to their home countries like Trinidad. One recent resident talked to the paper about her new life in Virginia Beach, an existence she described as pleasant and more affordable, but "extremely boring," thus echoing the sentiments of every single person who's ever decided living in New York was worth the hassle.

It's not just the mysterious "invisible hand" of market forces at work here, but rather, greedy landlords trying every trick in the book to force people out, either through standard-issue harassment tactics, low-ball buyouts—reminder: if you do decide to take one, it should be for a whole lot of money—or simply withholding services until low-income tenants give up and move out, then fixing the place up and hiking the rent. (As always, there's a pretty long, difficult road between what you're legally entitled to expect from your landlord, and actually getting it.)

Take, for example, one renter who actually won in housing court after his landlord withheld heat and hot water, but found the process of fighting back and working a full-time job so taxing that "his marriage broke apart" from the strain; he eventually moved to the Bronx, not being able to afford anything closer to home. 

Currently, all this activity in Crown Heights is forcing renters out to East New York, which in turn has put pressure on rents in the area, all but guaranteeing the cycle will keep churning along.

So what's a renter to do? For one thing, even if you're not the one being specifically harassed, starting a tenants' association is never a bad idea, and for another, make sure you're brushed up on your rights as a renter, and how to go about enforcing them (organizations like the Crown Heights Tenant Union exist to help with this exact thing). Unfortunately, it takes a village to keep bad landlords accountable, and affordable apartments safe.


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