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Critics of 'gentrified' NYC place hopes in de Blasio

Photo: AFP

New York mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has promised to tackle “a crisis of affordability” in the city as lower-income residents fall prey to the gentrification of their once-neglected neighbourhoods. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look.


reporting from New York

As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg maps out his final few months in office, mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will be working out how to keep the promises that got him elected.

One of those is tightening the glaring gap between rich and poor, which de Blasio routinely described as “a tale of two cities” on his campaign trail. Just 1% of earners took home 40% of all earnings in 2012, making New York one of the country’s worst offenders when it comes to income inequality.

The consequence of this ever-growing chasm, coupled with an incessant flow of new arrivals to New York from all over the world, has seen once-impoverished areas of the city slowly transformed into fashionable new hotspots for higher wage earners.


“When so many New Yorkers are being priced out of their own city ... it's a crisis of affordability. I don't accept this as our destiny. I am committed to tackling this crisis.”

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio in October.

While Manhattan used to be the place to be for the city’s high-income residents, it is no longer unusual for New York's money makers to shun the soaring property prices of Greenwich Village or SoHo and follow the subway lines to new homes in formerly underprivileged areas uptown and in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

But as hipster cafés and bars continue to pop up in formerly unfashionable neighbourhoods like Brooklyn's Bedford Stuyvesant, the people who have lived in these areas for decades are finding it increasingly difficult to pay their rent.

Warren Bradley, a teacher and artist from Harlem, is one of sixty residents in his building who has been told he must accept a 35% rent hike – or get out.

Bradley says that people tend to assume gentrified areas have eradicated poverty, when in fact, the poor and middle class are being priced out of their homes. “We are not vanishing at all, we are just being forced out,” he told FRANCE 24.

Brad Bathgate, a poet from Harlem who writes about the gap between rich and poor in his poetry, goes even further, describing the Harlem of today as “a playground for the bourgeoisie”.

“I knew when they put that Starbucks on 125th Street the rent was going to go up,” he says. Bathgate, who can no longer afford to live in the neighbourhood where he grew up, believes that crack cocaine was “pumped” into the area in order to further impoverish residents so that they would be easier to evict. “It was to pimp the misery of the working poor,” he says.

‘Awesome for homeowners’

Those on the other side of the coin have plenty to be excited about. Real estate broker Michel Madie says that the market in Harlem is booming. An apartment bought for around $750,000 can be spruced up and sold on for around $2.5 million, he told FRANCE 24.

Originally from France, Madie lives in a 50-foot-wide townhouse that used to be a church. He estimates his investment is now worth 12 million dollars.

In Brooklyn's Park Slope – Bill de Blasio’s neighborhood – homeowners are also delighted by the booming house prices and are not shy about celebrating the positive effects of gentrification, from their perspective. “There’s no point in denying it,” Andrea Nye, a mother of two, told FRANCE 24. “As a homeowner it’s a beautiful thing to see your home value increase so much. It is sad for those who rent, but it’s awesome for us.”

Others like to think of the change as inevitable and ongoing.

Gaku Takanashi, a Japanese émigré who has been living in New York for 25 years, says Harlem, where he regularly plays as a jazz musician, is almost unrecognisable from the place he knew when he arrived in 1988.

“It’s far more diverse now,” he told FRANCE 24. “You have the entire world in Harlem. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Everybody wants to live in New York! The whole city is being transformed and Harlem is a very important part of that.”

Marjorie Elliot, who opens the doors of her home each Sunday to host a jazz jam in which Takanashi participates, also praised the diversity of Harlem. “Look at my boys,” she said, pointing at the three musicians on stage, one of them her son, Rudel Drears. “We’ve got a kid from Japan, a kid from France, and a kid from down the street. For me, that’s what Harlem’s all about”.

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