Fighting Gentrification

By Ravenne Reid on April 8, 2017
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Although gentrification has recently become a subject of widespread debate, the process came to light in 1964. In her book, London: Aspects of Change, British sociologist Ruth Glass coined the term when she discussed the changes that she noticed in the class structure and housing markets in urban regions of London. She noted that the area no longer had its 17th-century opulence, but it was being conformed to a more bourgeois appearance.

Glass stated, “Once this process of gentrification starts in a district it goes on rapidly until all or most of the working-class occupiers are displaced and the whole social character of the district is changed.”

At this juncture, she recognized gentrification as a process by which working-class occupants are replaced with tenants who are at the foremost position on the social class pyramid.

This theory still stands as this term is becoming a method of spawning class conflict and lawful apartheid. What was once a way to generate fervor for the betterment of the nation, has now become a cover-up for the fact that America is depriving minorities of their granted rights. By eliminating the shrines of their culture and evicting them from their homes, civil liberties have become non-existent in the eyes of those who fall just above, on, and below the poverty line in America.

The presence of gentrification is transforming New York City neighborhoods from forebodingly sketchy to completely unrecognizable. Iconic buildings, businesses, and landmarks are increasingly being replaced with upscale hotspots.

By 1976, a study by the Urban Land Institute discovered that virtually every American city with a population of 50,000 or more people had experienced gentrification. The findings showed that the renovated houses were inhabited by wealthy Caucasian individuals. The displacement of established African-American culture in all five boroughs is gradually eliminating the social character of each city.

According to Policy Mic, “Throughout NYC, a hipster culture is replacing sights, sounds and experiences that once gave the city its eclectic character.”

One instance is the drumming circles at Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. After the construction of a seven-story co-op across the street from the park, protesters have joined forces against the music group, claiming that the music is distracting. As a result, Harlem’s Parks Department has relocated the group repeatedly.

Another aspect of African-American culture that could be eliminated from New York City completely is soul food restaurants. As Harlem becomes progressively gentrified, many of its famous diners have gone out of business. For instance, historically significant diners such as 22 West, where Malcolm X had once demonstrated inside of, have been forced to shut down due to competition with Irish pubs and Italian restaurants.

In addition to that, the amassed housing demand in New York City has prompted property owners to use any means necessary to evict the tenants occupying rent-controlled apartments or receiving financial assistance from a housing program. For the most part, this portion of gentrification is simply brushed off as a sign of changing times.

As the housing market makes a comeback, landlords are faced with the realization that they can acquire more money by renting to new, higher-income tenants, especially those who do not require government assistance from a Section 8 program to pay their rental fee. In order for this change to come about, landlords must first get old tenants to agree to leave the apartments.

Property owners use tactics such as rent increase, which is “justified” through minor improvements and false accusations of profiteering. A majority of these occupants are impoverished and do not have the resources to defend themselves in court. Thus, they are forced out of their apartments in multitudes.

The newcomers are usually white-collar professionals who earn more money and can afford higher rents without difficulty. Problem solved, right? Wrong. In countless cases, the people who are being forced to move out are those who exhibit the only form of diversity that a specific neighborhood has come to known.

According to Mihai Pruna, writer of Gentrification and The American Dream for Immigrants, “It is ironic that the symbol most associated with America throughout the world has now become a place where only the richest can afford to live.”

In Manhattan, Washington Heights is steadily losing its Dominican residents, and little by little, the Lower East Side has been gradually losing the Chinese and Orthodox Jew population.

These people are being relocated to the Bronx, the suburbs, or to other American cities. In the rarest of cases, they even revert back to their home countries. The chief result of gentrification is the tolerance of depletion in ethnic and economic diversity. The displacement that takes place works wonders for those who can afford it, but for those who cannot, gentrification is only subduing their cry for help.

On 135th Street, Manuel Williams, a former construction worker said, “When the white people came in, the landlords would raise the rent on the black people. So, the people who could not afford it would be pushed out.”

Gentrification has generated a peculiar combination of lower and higher class, in which it is now common for five-star hotels and homeless shelters to share the same block. In order to economically enhance the area, low-income residents are asked and, at times, forced to leave their housing to make way for middle or upper-class individuals.

“It’s the money. The landlords only care about the money. They don’t care about the people,” Williams said.

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Ravenne is a sophomore at CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, and she currently majors in political science. In addition to that, she also minors in journalism and film studies.

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