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INK_BLAST | GENTRIFICATION DISPLACES POOR FAMILIES

INK_BLAST | GENTRIFICATION DISPLACES POOR FAMILIES

By Juleyka Lantigua
GentrificationSkyrocketing rents are pushing black and Latino residents out of their communities. The polite word for this is gentrification, and in New York, it’s becoming more than a nuisance.

Bill Clinton’s much-publicized relocation to the heart of New York’s famous black neighborhood, Harlem, brought with it rising property values, opportunistic landlords ready to capitalize on their celebrity neighbor and big businesses that took over storefronts that had been locally owned for generations.

The good news, some argue, is the renewed interest from the business sector for places such as Harlem — places long overdue for an economic renaissance.

The bad news is that as middle-class residents move into Harlem, the Lower East Side and Washington Heights, longtime lower-income residents are forced to pack up and leave.

Even in a city where rent-control policies protect many residents, especially the elderly and the working poor, landlords find ways to generate vacancies. The payoff is high, since rent-controlled units that are vacated immediately go for general market prices.

Landlords have long been performing “self-help evictions,” which means they are locking out longtime residents from their apartments and tossing tenants’ belongings out onto the streets, according to the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court.

And that’s not the least of it.

Landlords have also filed unsubstantiated eviction suits that claim residents did not pay rent or did not complete a lease form. These bullying schemes succeed because poorer tenants often cannot afford to take time off from work to dispute the claims. They usually opt to move out instead of dealing with the harassment and bureaucratic runaround.

Many of the newly displaced cannot afford to go anywhere else. Some are already using a large portion of their salary to pay rent on their apartments. Approximately 37 percent of rent-stabilized tenants spend more than 40 percent of their income on rent,  Mark Green, a New York City public advocate and former mayoral candidate, has said. One in six spends more than 80 percent of his or her earnings on rent.

College graduates, young professionals, newlyweds and single people who are willing to split a three-bedroom five ways are arriving to the city in droves, ready to pay bloated rents for apartments historically occupied by poorer families.

Communities like Washington Heights, formerly referred to as “bad” or “distressed” neighborhoods, have become prohibitively expensive for most working families. It is cruel to push rents so high that people can no longer live in the neighborhood they have called home for decades.

* Adapted from an op-ed syndicated by the Progressive Media Project

"Juleyka Lantigua is a journalist and editor whose work appears in national newspapers and magazines. For more info visit: www.juleykalantigua.com."

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