Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, two of the few bastions of actual diversity in New York City, are becoming playgrounds for the rich.
It’s payday for the owners of our neighborhoods’ real estate, but moving day for longtime residents.
More than 150 of those residents showed up at Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church last week to complain of the pressure they were experiencing from their landlords and to hook up with tenant organizers and housing rights lawyers.
“While the influx of working young professionals has helped rejuvenate the area, the accompanying increase in housing costs has come at a price, one that has resulted in the displacement of countless residents,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene), who organized the meeting with the Pratt Area Community Council and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D–Fort Greene).
James spoke to the crowd from the podium, in the shadows of the church’s huge mural, the “Mighty Cloud of Witnesses.” A Pratt Institute artist painted the mural of regular, seemingly middle-class, racially diverse Fort Greeners going about their daily lives in the 1970s, basing the individual portraits on photos he’d taken.
“That represents the blended community we all want to preserve,” said James, pointing to the mural.
Then she resumed speaking to the homogenous crowd, made up mostly of middle-aged and older black and Hispanic women.
Later, one tenant after another stood up to tell a tale of real estate woe.
There was Idalia Polanco, who has lived on Grand Avenue for more than 30 years. Her two sisters live in the same building. About a year ago, her landlord began trying to evict both of her sisters. Now, Polanco says, she’s trying to evict Polanco to have her unit for “personal use” — a legal, though often abused, loophole. So far, at least one judge has struck down the landlord’s efforts, directing her to instead empty one of the several market-rate units also in her portfolio.
“I was able to raise my family when no one else wanted to live here,” said Polanco, her son acting as her translator.
Then there was Bob Foster, a 30-year tenant of 266 Washington Ave., recently purchased by the Dermot Company, the real-estate firm that is turning the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower into luxury condos.
“We’ve seen workers come in 10 at a time to work on the market rate rentals, but we can’t get a repair done in our rent-subsidized apartments,” said Foster. (Dermot countered that it’s done countless repairs on rent-subsidized units.)
“It’s getting late,” added Foster. “Displacement is here. Displacement is here.”
Such was the tenor of the meeting that night: angry, rebellious and pinched for time.
“We’re at a crossroads in this community,” said Jeffries. “I don’t think it’s a black or white issue — it’s all about the color of money. It’s all about greed.”
Dana Rubinstein is a staff reporter at The Brooklyn Paper.
The Kitchen Sink
Got any decades-old, sepia-toned photos of the intersection of Myrtle Avenue and Washington Park sitting around? If so, call the Fort Greene Park Conservancy. The group just secured more than $1 million to restore the greensward entrance, and they want to do the job right. For information, call (718) 222-1461. …
The Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower’s unofficial portraitist, Robert Goldstrom, is getting a big show in DUMBO. Goldstrom, who has painted no less than 80 portraits of Brooklyn’s tallest building in just five years, will show his works at Underbridge Pictures (111 Front St., bet. Washington and Adams streets), through Oct. 14. For information, call (718) 596-0390 or visit www.underbridgepictures.com. …
Danny Goldfield, a Brooklyn photographer, has set out to photograph 194 New York City children — one from each of the countries in the world. So far, he’s snapped 151. Check out a few dozen of those of photos from the “NYChildren Photography Project” through Halloween at Habana Outpost (757 Fulton St., at South Portland Avenue). For information, call (718) 858-9500 or visit www.ecoeatery.com. …
Tired of feeling like you’re reliving the 1980s, what with all the young ones sporting skinny jeans and Spandex and neon-colored heels? Well, relive the ’70s instead! The Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church is hosting a family ’70s dance and dinner on Oct. 20 to benefit the restoration of the landmarked church (85 S. Oxford St., between Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street). For information, call (718) 625-7515 or visit www.lapcbrooklyn.org.