As someone who did not grow up in NYC, it’s hard to imagine what these neighborhoods were like before their sharp, sweeping transitions from the hood to hood chic, from Black and Latino to mixed, aka, young white college-educated hipsters as your neighbors. We know the stories – we’ve got an A-list of BK emcees to flesh out ‘90s ski-mask tales and crack sales. Where these used to be red (and blue) lights flashing to caution said individuals away from neighborhoods like Bed Stuy, Crown Heights, Bushwick, and Flatbush, they have now become selling points – a “cool” factor, of sorts. A chance to frequent the new bars, coffee shops, and restaurants, without all thatsketchy crime stuff. But this is no new news to you.
Us queers of color are clustered up in these exact same neighborhoods – a community within a community. Some of us were born and lived here our whole lives, others moved in from other cities and settled down where we’d feel most comfortable. But sometimes I wonder, am I one “young professional” who moved in and hiked up the rent for that family that’s been living here for generations? Am I the cause of Flatbush being bombarded with cops walking in packs of 8? Did they build that organic market up the street for me? What’s the thin line between simply moving into a neighborhood you can afford, and gentrifying it?
On the surface, I look as if I’ve been here for years, just by being Black. I'm aware, though, that my income as a single person probably matches some families I live next to. But don’t get it twisted – I am extremely far from a trust fund baby. My parents can't pay my rent, since they’re struggling to pay theirs. I lived on a very modest budget of $32,000 for a year and four months, only for that to be slashed by 55% with unemployment. This barebones income now covers my basic living expenses. In keeping that gentrification is as much about class as it is race, I’m as expendable as my Caribbean neighbors are. The uncomfortable truth is, being white and living in these neighborhoods means you physically embody an inevitable change in the neighborhood, and even more striking, an inevitable change in NYC.
The definition of “low-income” according to City Hall is anyone who makes $68,000 or below. $68,000. Obviously, this means some millions of New Yorkers simply aren’t even on the map. The blitz of luxury condos and rehabilitated apartments have been built in these neighborhoods, without a second thought to whom they’re displacing. Rent-stabilized apartments that hit the $2000 mark for rent can pretty much kiss “stability” goodbye (our $1937 number has me shaking in my boots). I’m seeing more sushi places than Kennedy Fried Chicken spots…
And I’m wondering how much longer I can realistically last here.
I’ve been to several going away parties in the community, as some of our folks want to experience other parts of the US where you’re not paying for a NAME when you’re paying your rent. (And if you are, it’s significantly less.) I’ve also been chatting with many college juniors and seniors who are pondering where they should move, and seeing NYC as an option. I immediately screech to them, “DON’T DO IT. It’s not for us anymore.” I really want to remain optimistic, and bask in the shopping list of Brooklyn perks that I don’t get many places else, but that list is getting shorter and shorter. I own up to my privilege of being able to bounce to another city, but this time, it would be out of necessity rather than pure desire. Bloomberg wants NYC to be a “luxury product”. The underbelly of the Brooklyn, or the working class that built its legacy and culture, are being traded for bike lanes and Crunch gyms.
What does that mean for queers of color? We come from various class dynamics, so I can’t profess that all of us going to the same $10 party are living comfortably. Sure, we may frequent the same bars, restaurants, or galleries, but what happens to those of us who can no longer afford to stay here? What happens when we start getting citations for “trespassing” for walking in the park? Or denied that new apartment because we don’t make enough income?
I’ll let the good times roll while I’m here. But by the time they start rolling out red carpets at subway stations for people carrying Whole Foods bags, I have a good feeling I’ll be gone. Smooches.