things to think about

today i am thinking about: fuck gentrification
January 13, 2011, 2:55 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I know I am supposed to hate gentrification because I am a white person and a middle-class-income-having-person and I am supposed to stand in solidarity with all of the poor brown people that I displace. I know I am supposed to hate gentrification because I am anti-racist and anti-classism and I support working class immigrant communities. I know I am supposed to stand in alliance with anti-gentrification work because lower income families have a right to fair housing, or because immigrants made this city and they have to afford to live here.

But I hate gentrification because I can’t afford to stay in my neighborhood in an apartment I would actually like to live in.

I hate gentrification because I live right behind the line of gentrification. Since I’ve lived here, in the 2 blocks around my house, there are now two coffee shops and a burger shop where burgers cost more than $10 and a wood-fired pizza shop. Franklin Avenue is becoming quite the destination for young, happening white people. There’s a white people bar! You could raise a white people family! Tree-lined streets! This neighborhood is most recently West Indian, and in come the white people marching along, and now this is a Destination Location.

And you know what? I can’t afford the white person version of this neighborhood any more. All my roommate and I want is this: a 2-bedroom apartment for $1,600 with a living room and two grown-up sized bedrooms. These apartments don’t seem to exist. There are reasons for that that are obvious – low supply! lots of limestones = fewer rent-stabilized units! – but the ones that we do see have been made over into this chintzy stupid poem to what a “New York City Apartment” is supposed to look like: exposed brick! stainless steel appliances! steps from bars! This is what I am supposed to want as a white person in this neighborhood now, and I am supposed to be willing to pay ridiculous sums of money for it.

This is how it works, right? Not-rich white people artists and queers (check, check, check, check) move into places because we can afford them, the spaces are nice, we don’t mind a little wear and tear, and we like roti. Then we stay there long enough, and other white people get interested, and start coming, because my shining white face makes the neighborhood seem safer. Then suddenly there’s organic coffee. And bagels. And a deli where you can buy Earth Balance for $6. ($6!) And the white people with more money and entitlement start coming in, and making over everything, and suddenly every apartment needs a stainless steel refrigerator. Who even likes stainless steel?!

I am so, so sick of being a part of this cycle. I am moving by choice, not by need – I live in a punk house now, or a punk-ish house, and I want something more manageable. But I don’t want to move into an apartment further inside the gentrification line, only to do this again when my rent goes up too far. I want rent stabilization because I only want to move again when I am 90 years old and finally have enough money to retire and go to Florida. I want a home, a real home, a stable home. Even if I found another apartment in the neighborhood – and I still could – without rent stabilization I am just going to be there until the landlord decides to find white people — or brown people, in all fairness — who can afford to pay more.

I don’t want to leave my deli guy. I don’t want to leave my train station. I don’t want to leave the roti store. I don’t want to leave the bougie bagelteria. But I want to have somewhere that I can trust is mine from year to year. I want a home I can invest in and trust that it’ll be there a long, long time. And even though I am still a gentrifying face anywhere I can afford to live, I want to be in a neighborhood differently than “young white 20something in passing before she moves on.” I want to be that young white 20something who knows her neighbors over the course of many, many years.

I am holding onto rent stabilization as a talisman at this point. The right to renew! Measured rent increases! Theoretical legal protections! Even if rent comes up over $2,000 – and it will in 12 years or so, I did the math – the apartment still only destabilizes if our combined income is more than $175,000. I should be so lucky! But I won’t be, and that means I at least will get to stay put a long, long time. It’s like a mortgage for people who don’t have the money to buy a home!

Fuck gentrification. Fuck it because I have no idea how you say goodbye to a deli guy. Fuck it because I am moving away from my friends. Fuck it because I haven’t found a better option for pulling myself out of the gentrification game than finding something and holding on with all my might. I will be a gentrifying face in this next neighborhood, and even more so in my next building – my credit + income aren’t high enough to get in with rich white people – but that’s it. After that, they’ll get me out of there with a crowbar.