A Close Look at Gentrification in Crown Heights


More than 50 businesses have opened on Franklin Avenue in Crown Heights north since 2008, rents in Crown Heights are rising rapidly and new people, many of whom are young and white, are moving into the area. Narratively, a site that publishes in-depth stories about New York, takes a long look at the what and why of the changes happening in Crown Heights. Their explanation: Local community groups who have worked hard to improve the area, more policing (often at the request of the community), and real estate firms. We agree that areas such as Crown Heights and Bed Stuy have become safer, more desirable places to live because of the hard work of the people who have lived there for decades. Might broader forces also be at work, namely the decades-long disappearance of well-paid jobs with benefits and the reversal of white flight?
Note: The publisher of Brownstoner is one of the development partners at 1000 Dean, mentioned in the article.
A Look Below the Surface in Gentrifying Crown Heights [Narratively]
Photo by Mo Scarpelli for Narratively

31 Comment

  • blaaaah hipsters…blaaaah old new york……blaaaah go back to ohio.

  • Yes its only the people who lived there for decades…the dramatic reduction in crime has nothing to do with the police or NYC Government, and the improvement in desirability has nothing to do with new businesses, landlords, developers, and individuals investing millions of dollars into these areas.

  • my only problem with these articles is there is always some guy who seems to base his love for the neighborhood on the fact that people say ‘hi’ to him. if that’s the extent of ‘community engagement’, why bother.

  • It’s always interesting to me that people complain about rising rents forcing out old businesses. But many of the buildings are owned by people who’ve been in the neighborhood for generations, so some of the blame for gentrification lands squarely on the very people who “built” the neighborhood in the first place. They want to make as much money as possible, just like anyone else.

    • Amen. This article is one of the more balanced I’ve seen. There are many ‘old timers’ here (I bought in this area) happy with what’s been happening, and not only ignorant folks who just want to blame a bogeyman for all their woes.

    • very true. i actually think most people who complain about it understand the process, but give the landlords a “pass” for cultural reasons. it doesn’t make sense, though. what is the obligation of a newcomer versus the obligation of a longstanding community member to make decisions based on community? the newcomer hasn’t contributed anything, and is deserving of blame? whereas the landlord has paid his dues and therefore is absolved of complicity?

      especially residential landlords…many own multiple buildings, so their business decisions are far more influential in setting demographic trends than individual young hipsters making individual decisions about where to live. in fact, the “one of the 50 worst landlords” landlord mentioned in the article, elcorno martin, appears to have owned properties in the area since the late 60s at least. and he’s definitely not white (or jewish).

      the strategy noted in the article seems entirely to be to get old-timers out so that they can cycle through young tenants with perhaps more disposable income and fewer demands on the landlord to make repairs than someone with kids, disabilities, etc.. however, unlike the article suggests, in my experience these landlords are usually NOT actually improving the property for the new tenants, though they might promise to. it’s all about the churn for them – the most fees and the most rent for the least capital outlay. it seems painful for many people involved, and only directly profitable for a few.

      this is an area where government and nonprofits could help with some of the concerns, and i’d like to see more reporting on why they haven’t. why is a guy with 150 violations able to continue to operate – why can’t the city force repairs or force the sale of these buildings? it wouldn’t stop gentrification but at least it would curb the ability of unscrupulous profiteers to force tenants out by depriving them of habitable conditions.

  • I also thought this was one of the more balanced articles on the subject.

  • But Jimmy, the hipsters moving in do not say “Hi” Oftentimes they are too busy on their iPhones.

  • One thing the article didn’t mention is that the gentrification of Prospect Heights eventually pushed eastwards. As of a couple of years ago, all you had to do was cross Washington Ave. and the rents went down signficantly.

    • And before that it pushed east from Brooklyn Heights. And now its pushing east of Franklin, over to Nostrand, slowly (Catfish opened on Bedford, b/c many that are now there or Nostrand dont want to have to come to Franklin for everything). The fixation on Franklin is a bit much and strange. Its just a few blocks on a miles long Ave.

  • LL do not make money on churn (or on below market rents, or on tenants who dont pay regularly, or on tenants who break stuff, overflow their apartments, and otherwise ruin the building for everyone else).

    Sure there are some LLs who suck (just like some tenants, coffee shop owners, chefs drs, lawyers etc…) But in the aggregate, the LL (big and small) is doing exactly what everyone else (including subsidized or stabilized tenants), is doing. Trying to maximize return.
    The idea that any category of people is “wrong” or “evil” in the story of gentrification is just naive.
    Hell I am sure many (if not a majority) of the “new” faces appearing in Crown Heights and Bed Stuy lived somewhere else in NY and ended up there because it offered the best lifestyle and price they could afford (i.e. they were gentrified out of somewhere else).

    • right, this isn’t “the story of gentrification,” it’s a story of gentrification in crown heights and, in particular, surrounding franklin avenue. these are real people, not just ideas or categories – in fact, they are specific individuals (alleged in the article) engaging in business practices that absolutely could fall on one side of “wrong” or “unethical,” regardless of where they fall in the continuum of effective (or ineffective) profit-generation. your apparent inability to decouple the two seems disingenuous.

      it can be profitable to exploit people, that doesn’t mean it’s not exploitive (nor does it mean that exploitation is the most profitable).

      realtors make money on fees, and more fees come from turnover. a landlord absolutely can still make money despite everything you pointed out – especially where their cost basis was nil or negligble, and they have no maintenance costs.

  • well stated well_phd.

    As someone who was quoted in the article, and knows just about everyone else who was quoted: “I’m glad you like it. It has been quite a ride.”

    …we are discussing it on Brooklynian as well.

  • And people (LL included) weren’t “exploiting” people before gentrification????
    I already said that there are outliers in all areas (tenants who exploit, LL who exploit, store keepers, realtors, professionals, etc..)
    but in general you dont make money as a LL by constant turnover (brokers do not LL), further no LL has $0 maintenance – there is always taxes, water, usually fuel, fines, etc….
    I think you are just uninformed about the economics involved.
    Further and most importantly, you seem to have the view that all economic transactions are inherently exploitative – which is your opinion but not necessarily shared by all (or most)

    • no, i don’t have that view at all. complete misreading of what i wrote.

      i’m not uninformed about the economics involved. i understand how a theoretically rational landlord would behave.

      respectfullly, i think you are uninformed about the particular landlords, and particular brokers, involved. you are talking about generalities (with which most of i do not disagree and/or are unrelated to what i wrote). the article and my earlier comments are about specifics.

  • Brownstoners:

    Check out this article for one perspective on Brooklyn’s changes. I found it during my daily troll of websites and thought it made an interesting companion to the Franklin Avenue article:

    http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/gentrification-2013-style-white-hipsters-invade-bed-stuy-and-put-petite-bourgeois-buppies-ou

    Warning! It reveals what at least some people are thinking as they pass the “gentry” on the streets.

    By the way, Black Agenda Report has frequent features about life in African-American urban neighborhoods, written by “insiders.” The news, it appears, isn’t so good.

    NOP

    • Meh, that’s a nice trashy racist read NOP, but just another example of someone who see’s the entire world and everything that happens in it, through a racial (racist) lens. Kinda sad and typical victicrat mentality. The type who’s crying wolf make more and more people turn a deaf ear when real issues come up, cuz we’re tired of hearing the bellyaching.

      • For that writer, displacement, housing prices, religious spaces, taste cultures, etc. are “real” issues. Take it or leave it.

      • In Mr. Shankly’s world, “real issues” are those she/he is concerned about, and everyone else is a “victicrat” if they mention other problems.

        • I’ll rephrase it. Screaming racist crap at every move makes people just ignore you. Displacement is a real issue. But yelling that its cracker whiteys invading and its time for a race war, isnt really how youre going to get anyone with a braincell to listen to you, or care. So when this sort of ranting is all you hear, the issue never really gets established/perceived as a ‘real issue’ b/c of the way its discussed by these guys. But if you think his approach is the right way to draw attention, like those bus stop signs the other day, keep it up .

  • That “writer” is an (racist) idiot:

    “. I am waiting for a 2013 style Rodney King verdict or somethin’ to set off a major race riot, so that these new colonialists don’t feel so smug and comfortable here. ”

  • Mrshankley is profoundly right. His last comment summed up the bare truth. The article loses all credibility when referencing another “Rodney King moment”. I can’t decide whether this character is real or a Neanderthal. I would gladly take a hipster who is more interested in their IPhone over an angry rabble rousing idiot any day.

  • NOP, the article you linked was quite interesting. It had just enough fact to make the whole thing plausible, and yet was riddled with inaccuracies, flawed reasoning, and outright crap, enough to make you want to tear your hair out. I find you can’t argue with people like that, because they have altered the events of the world to match their world view.

    In their world, a rain storm on a Saturday is not just nature doing its thing, it’s a plot by some sinister force to ruin the picnic they had planned. No amount of logic will dissuade them. It’s too bad, too, because in this case, the guy made some good points. But they are lost in blaming the white man. Too bad.

  • maybe a balanced article but way too long for me to read.

  • brklynmind got it right for me- I am being gentrified out of my current neighborhood (Carroll Gardens) and Crown Hieghts (and BedStuy, etc) are definitely places I am looking to move to. Granted that is 8 years after leaving Manhattan for Brooklyn. Hell, years ago I lived in the West Village- Pied Piper of yuppies or something.

  • Being on and around Franklin since 2010, and living here since 2011 as another one “displaced” by the changes in Carroll Gardens, it appears to me that much of this attention and angst is caused not just by the changes going on here (not too different from the process going on in many parts of brooklyn) but to a larger extent by the astonishing *speed* of these changes, very evident in my two years around here, which is making it more exciting/disruptive/painful for the various folk involved.

    The narrative.ly piece doesnt mention two really big catalysts for this incredible speed: first, the Jewish Hospital conversion was a huge “moment” in this process, creating an almost instant community of new faces (and new money) within its own walls. It’s so much easier for new faces to venture to an unknown neighborhood knowing that an equally new and like-minded community would be coming with them.

    Second, and more relevant to today: while MySpace may be no more callous than most hungry realtors, their business model is. It’s a freakishly powerful force in pushing up the average rents and changing the character of the neighbourhood. Never a fee for renters – that’s the trick. They’ll take a fee from the landlord instead, and their pitch to win owners promises higher rent for the space to offset the fee. It’s a canny model for them and clearly it works; but now we are all seeing how it impacts the community; renters (especially those with less experience and/or savings) are drawn to the area by the shiny allure of “NO FEE” and commit to a higher monthly rent than they could otherwise. Maybe they can sustain it, maybe they cant, but without the ‘anchor’ of having a fee to amortize, they are more likely to leave at the end of the year … and higher turnovers mean more money for brokers. The landlord will pay again because MySpace (having driven up the comps nearby) will promise even higher rents for the new lease, and to help keep open the faucet of new renters they’ll encourage landlords to put 3 or even 4 bedrooms into 700-800sf apartments. Landlords end up losing out from turnover and renters with less incentive to be good tenants, renters lose out to the higher monthlies. MySpace wins from both sides, and then wins again as their own growing inventory is appraised higher and higher from the spiralling rents.

    So if we want to ease up on this breathless pace, then landlords – dont rent property through MySpace. Renters – dont use MySpace if you can avoid it; save up and pay the upfront fees for a better lease, or use Craigslist and rent direct from an owner.

  • article is one of the more balanced I’ve seen.the dramatic reduction in crime has nothing to do with the police or NYC Government.

  • . There are many ‘old timers’ here happy with what’s been happening.and they want to be a change. Initiative Legal Group

  • I have a lot of interest in this. My family history goes back at least 100 years on Sterling Place. My grandfather owned a building on Sterling Place off of Franklin and it was where my mother lived and I spent 7 happy years visiting and playing there. The demographics began to change. My grandfather had a small business on the ground floor of the building and he was robbed a few times at gunpoint and then the last time the low life thugs pistol whipped him and a died as a result. We sold the building as soon as we could. That was around 1960. It always saddened me that such a beautiful neighborhood became notorious for drugs and crime and I am now extremely happy to see the neighborhood changing for the better. It is too bad that good people have been racially profiled and also that long term residents are being forced out but the area is just too nice to have had the serious crime continue. If I could afford it I would come back but its way too expensive for me now and I am more than fine with that.