Neighborhood Intel

Playwright, actress and Brooklynite Staceyann Chin on gentrification, rising rents and the importance of balance in NYC

By Lucy Cohen Blatter | January 20, 2016 - 2:59PM

Performer, playwright and poet Staceyann Chin "identifies as Caribbean and Black, Asian and lesbian, woman and resident of New York City," according to her bio.

A co-writer and original performer in Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, Chin is currently starring in her one-woman show, MotherStruck!  at the Lynn Redgrave Theater. Directed by Cynthia Nixon and produced by Rosie O’Donnell, MotherStruck! tells the autobiographical story of Chin's childhood in Jamaica (a country that was extremely hostile toward homosexuals), chronicles the incredibly difficult pregnancy she endured, her struggles to stay in New York City, and  why she ultimately decided to stay in Brooklyn rather than fleeing to a cheaper city.

Here she shares some of her thoughts on her neighborhood and her city with us.

1.  What neighborhood do you live in?

Crown Heights. 

2. Is this your dream neighborhood or is there someplace else in NYC you’d prefer to settle in?

I'd love to stay in Crown Heights. It has a neighborhood feel, while retaining the edgy artsy beat of Fort Greene or Bed-Stuy. The neighborhood is still pretty diverse, but gentrification has its horns in our 'hood at the moment. I'm afraid all the color will also be drained from us if we cannot stave off the advancing whitewashed wave. 

3. Do you own or rent? 

I rent my apartment. 

4. How’d you find it?

I used a broker in 2001 when I moved in. So yes, I imagine I was in the pre-wave of gentrifiers. 

5. What’s the one thing you love the most about it?

I love that the elderly is as present as the young here. Children are present. A snapshot of the people here look like a community. The buildings are pretty low so we can still see the sky. Tree-lined streets are the norm. People still say good morning. Our new neighbors have to be urged into the practice, but most of us greet each other when we pass each other on the street. 

6. If there’s one thing you could change about your apartment, what would it be?

Better management service. No mold. And I wish residents had the right to buy the apartments we have been living in for decades.  

7. In three words, describe the first apartment you've ever lived in.

Far Rockaway studio. 

8. Do you prefer old NYC or this NYC?

There are benefits to both the way we used to be and the many ways in which we are changing. I loved the way people felt connected- engaged in a common struggle. Living. Trying to make life. I have great disdain for the speed at which rents are rising. I also struggle with the entitled attitudes of the new wave of residents.

They often have no love and little respect for the traditions, needs, languages, and ways of life of the working class community that built and sustained this place before their arrival. To them, the perks of this place are mere services they pay for—and not the cultural magic that has traveled across waters and sustained the spirit and dignity of people who have had to survive the realities of being new immigrant, and working class in a place like New York City. 

9. Tell us about the favorite apartment you’ve ever had.

This is actually my first real apartment. With my own name on the lease. It's my favorite place to be. It's the longest place I have lived and for those of us with a history of displacement and lack of security—those of us who moved around so much as children, it's a necessary milestone of not only surviving, but of thriving. If I had the money I would buy this building, fix its myriad problems and live here always. 

10. And the worst?

I've lived in many places in NYC. And I've always had to navigate pests. Rodents. Roaches, etc are a standard part of navigating a city in which the garbage of millions of people huddle in piles. If I were a pest, NYC would be a great place to get my grub on.  No worst. Just the worst thing about living in apartment buildings in NYC. 

11. Name one NYC service you couldn’t live without.

Food delivery. I love that I can get any kind of food in NYC at any time of day or night. Makes me feel like the global citizen I fancy myself to be. 

12. What's your favorite spot in the city?

I love a good cafe. A place to eat yummy brunch. Cheryl's Global Soul. Marietta. Pillow Cafe. Outpost. Peaches

13. Which would you rather: Brooklyn brownstone or a penthouse in a shiny, new condo?

Hmm. Tough one. The lazier side of me would love a nice modern condo. But I would love a house. A brownstone would be lovely. All that space. All that history under my feet. The best of both worlds might be one of those spread out homes in Ditmas. But that's just dreaming. I'd settle for any place that I could call a permanent New York home. With a title. Mine. In which I could raise my daughter. A place that would mean we could stay here—even after I am not able to generate income for rent. 

14. If you could live elsewhere, where would it be?

Johannesburg or Melbourne. 

15. Any advice for a recent New York transplant?

Be open. Try to experience as much as you can in this city. This place is like a giant feast of experience. Soon you will lose the skin of being a visitor. Make sure your entry is steeped in magic and wonder, so when the glitter and lights flicker and dim, you have the memory of that feeling to sustain you until you can find it again. New York City is a place of cycles and waves. It can be amazingly buoyant. It can make you feel like you've finally found your tribe. Your true north. And it can also be relentlessly, brutally isolating. And depressing. Make sure you remember that balance is how you survive this city and its pulses. Eat well. Exercise. See people. Spend time alone. Get out. Stay in. Travel when you can. See other places. Remind yourself of why you love NYC. And the things you need to have real access to, to live here indefinitely. 


Orange is the New Black's Jessica Pimentel has seen gentrification first hand and feels priced out of Carroll Gardens

American Ballet Theatre's Stella Abrera thinks her Hell's Kitchen building's garden is on point and misses "old" NYC

Nom Wah's Wilson Tang on winning the affordable housing lottery, the best LES eateries, and more

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