Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Urban gentrification ain't helping everybody....

Elections have consequences.  I'm saying that because we as a country have been doing the top down approach for many years. It has made a lot of people really wealthy.  In real estate markets in San Francisco, some parts of Washington, DC and my old hometown, Brooklyn, NY, (I have three hometowns BTW) brownstones in formally destitute and crime ridden neighborhoods are now worth hundreds of thousands, if not million(s) of dollars.  How do I know this? A friend of mine who is in real estate just told me the houses on my former neighborhood in "do-or-die-bed-stuy" were selling for $900,000. WHAT?! You mean the block where guys used to smoke weed all day?! Where Ms Ida sat on the stoop all day long and my neighbors blared their music without even being outside?! Wow, the neighborhood must be great now. I wonder where all the people I know are today? Are they doing any better financially? Are the people that lived on the block benefiting from the real estate boom? Apparently, as I expected, Forbes says no…

...lower middle-class Brooklyn “is pockmarked with empty stores,” Siegel notes. With its once robust industrial- and port-based economy shrunken to vestigial levels, opportunities for Brooklynites who lack high-end skills or nice inheritances are shrinking. Some other areas, like Bensonhurst and Sheepshead Bay, have been revived through immigration. 
Jonathan Bowles, president of the New York-based Center for an Urban Future, sees a divide between, on the one hand, “the creative class” and some immigrant neighborhoods, and on the other, “the concentrated poverty” in many other struggling areas like Brownsville (where my mother grew up) and East New York. “There are clearly huge swaths of Brooklyn where you don’t see gentrification and there won’t be anytime soon,” Bowles observes.
The article goes on to talk about the structural issues of transportation that can make it more difficult to get to the jobs within the borough. But I think it's deeper emotionally and spiritually than that. The Republican idea that a rising tide lifts all ships is not at work here. There seem to be a lot of rising tides in Brooklyn, but a bunch of ships are sinking or never left the bottom of the ocean. As the people who have money have less identification with the difficulties of living paycheck to paycheck, they see the poor's difficulties as their own fault, completely. What does not seem to be taken into consideration are the difficulties with transportation, higher taxes due to higher housing values, lack of education that prepares children for the jobs that actually exist, crime, frustration, health costs…whew. I'm tired just listing it.  When poor people have a financial problem that might have to do with one of these listed items, they have less of a buffer to handle it as opposed to those who are owners of those hip brownstones.  

I work with this population's children now and have for many, many years. I'm not talking about Shequana, who's a stripper with five "boyfriends" who's taking her kids to school in tight pants and spike heals cause she just got home from the club an hour ago. I'm talking about Jamia who works two jobs and takes her kids to after school choir because it's free and her child can get homework assistance. That woman tis he majority of people in the working poor. The real estate boom before and the little one happening now haven't helped her AT ALL. She couldn't afford to purchase a house even before gentrification happened and if she did, she may not have had the extra money saved to handle any of the problems that inevitably occur with home ownership. (i.e. my hot water heater broke 2 months after we bought our first home and one month later I had to put a new roof on. These kind of expenses can send you into foreclosure real quick if you don't have a savings cushion) There are no jobs in the "new economy" for barely high school educated but hard working Jamia. So gentrification just got her…a higher rent.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration identifies itself closely with Manhattan’s “luxury city” economy. Focused on finance, media and high-end business services, this approach does not offer much to blue-collar Brooklyn. New York over the past decade has suffered among the worst erosions of its industrial base of any major metropolitan area. Brooklyn alone has lost 23,000 manufacturing jobs during that time. 
Inequality in the Bloombergian “luxury city” is growing even faster than in the nation as whole. In fact, the gap between rich and poor is now the worst in a decade. New York’s wealthiest one percent earn a third of the entire city’s personal income — almost twice the proportion for the rest of the country. 
So while artisanal cheese shops serve the hipsters and high-end shops thrive, one in four Brooklynites receives food stamps.
If a rising tide lifts all boats than my boat should be a yacht or at least a 60 footer with a fly bridge and a place to fish. The working poor in cities are struggling, no one in government is addressing it with any seriousness, and a certain group of people says their poverty is completely their own fault; pull yourself up by your boot straps! All I'm saying is that the top down approach to economic empowerment does not seem to be working. Elections have consequences…

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