Gentrifying Crown Heights Is Losing Its Black Community

The intersection of Dean Street and Rogers in Crown Heights | Photo: Cate Corcoran


    Crown Heights is changing, and high rents and landlords’ aggressive tactics are pushing out longtime tenants, typically African-Americans and Caribbean immigrants.

    Familiar businesses — bulletproof bodegas, fried chicken joints, video stores — are being replaced by expensive eateries, cocktail bars and national chains. Property values are rising, with 19th century townhouses now commanding prices in the millions.

    White college grads and young urban professionals are moving into freshly renovated units with freshly elevated rents. Former tenants lived with rats and prewar kitchens, but many can no longer afford the neighborhood.

    West Indian Day Parade Brooklyn 2015

    The annual West Indian Day Parade takes place in Crown Heights | Photo: Maude Delice

    While longtime residents struggle to pay rising rents, they also note that everything from produce to crime has improved in the neighborhood. However, priced out, they cannot reap the benefits.

    As rents surge higher, working class and minority residents increasingly find they can no longer afford to live in the same area, and are forced to move deeper into Brooklyn, to the outer boroughs or out of the city altogether, according to The New York Times. A reporter spoke to more than three dozen former and current residents of the area, as well as experts, about relocation.

    Between 2000 and 2010, Crown Heights (as well as adjacent Flatbush and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens) lost 10 to 14 percent of its black population, census data shows. Not all may have been forced out by rising rents, although the Times story focused on renters.

    crown heights doesn't need a starbucks

    A two-person protest against Starbucks coming to Crown Heights last year | Photo: Brooklynian

    Many former members of Brooklyn’s West Indian community have relocated anywhere from eastern Brooklyn to Boston, Maryland, Philadelphia or even back to the Caribbean, said the Times.

    In the case of seamstress and former Crown Heights resident Shirley De Matas, she watched the rent on her two-bedroom at 1170 Lincoln Place rise from $800 a month in 1999 to almost $1,300 in 2014. Compounded by bursting pipes, rats, and an unhelpful superintendent, De Matas and her family moved out last February, renting in East New York for $750 a month.


    Landmarked homes on St. Marks Avenue | Photo: Cate Corcoran

    For others, moving back in with family is the thriftiest option. After years of living with seemingly incurable mold and vermin, hospital receptionist Angelique Coward moved herself and her four children three flights above her 761 Propsect Place home and into her mother’s apartment. The landlord has since renovated Ms. Coward’s three-bedroom and tacked $1,400 onto the monthly rate.

    Other struggling Brooklyn residents opt for landlord buyouts. In 2010, Raquel Cruz gave up her Franklin Avenue apartment after agreeing to a $10,000 buyout from her landlord as well as three months rent on a $1,300-a-month Bed Stuy unit.

    She had to pawn some of belongings to pay the rent. Luckily, she found an affordable apartment in public housing.

    While accepting buyouts, living with family members, or moving deeper into the borough grant temporary relief to the affordability crisis for many residents, longterm plans increasingly include moving away.

    [Source: NYT | Photos: Brownstoner]

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