Do Black lives matter in regards to gentrification?

How ironic is it to see people who barely interact with Black people from the neighborhoods they’ve moved into, hang “Black Lives Matter” banners and placards from their windows? Or in front of properties and businesses that have largely ignored the Black people existing around them? Do Black lives matter when you take over the community gardens? Do Black lives matter when that old building is renovated after Black people were evicted to now house others from other cities and different class background and/or race? Do they matter when that group of men are outside loud late at night, drinking, smoking, playing dice, and you’re calling the cops on them because you won’t be able to wake up on time for your fancy job? Do Black lives matter for the people in the NYCHA complex that have no heat or hot water in the winter, dirty building conditions, infestations, and more, while you live in your beautiful apartment in a building across the street from it? Do Black lives matter when you rush to the train to go to work or to a bar or anywhere, and you see a Black person homeless and addicted to drugs?

This may strike a nerve for liberals who are only outraged by anti-Black state violence that is recorded and shared for masses across the country and world to see. An argument against this is that it may be “divisive,” that “it’s not the same,” and “at least they’re standing up for us now,” “or that gentrification is making life better for Black people.”

State violence is not only getting your ass beat and/or murdered by police. Gentrification is state violence perpetrated by local and state officials against poor Black people to “revitalize” neighborhoods that they’ve been red-lined into and economically strangled in for decades. Being pushed in and pushed out is a historical phenomenon for Black people in the United States and the diaspora; we can refer to the Middle Passage.

Again, people will say this is divisive, not the correct time to bring it up, or at least we have “allies,” but none of this can be refuted against actual research. So let the hurt feelings commence.

Let’s look at some statistics from the Furman Center:

  • While rents only increased modestly in the 1990s, they rose everywhere in the 2000s, most rapidly in the low-income neighborhoods surrounding central Manhattan.
  • Most neighborhoods in New York City regained the population they lost during the 1970s and 1980s, while the population in the average gentrifying neighborhood in 2010 was still 16 percent below its 1970 level.
  • One third of the housing units added in New York City from 2000 to 2010 were added in the city’s 15 gentrifying neighborhoods despite their accounting for only 26 percent of the city’s population.
  • Gentrifying neighborhoods experienced the fastest growth citywide in the number of college graduates, young adults, childless families, non-family households, and white residents between 1990 and 2010-2014. They saw increases in average household income while most other neighborhoods did not.
  • Rent burden has increased for households citywide since 2000, but particularly for low- and moderate-income households in gentrifying and non-gentrifying neighborhoods. • The share of recently available rental units affordable to low-income households declined sharply in gentrifying neighborhoods between 2000 and 2010-2014.
  • There was considerable variation among the sub-borough areas classified as gentrifying neighborhoods; for example, among the sub-borough areas classified as gentrifying, the change in average household income between 2000 and 2010-2014 ranged from a decrease of 16 percent to an increase of 41 percent.

This is a broad look at New York City. Now let’s look even more specifically at a neighborhood such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, widely known for its rapid gentrification. This information comes from An Economic Snapshot of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood straight from the New York State comptroller’s office:

  • The population in Bedford-Stuyvesant grew by 34 percent between 1980 and 2015, faster than the citywide rate of growth
  • In 2015, there was a wide disparity in median household incomes between new residents ($50,200) and long-term residents ($28,000).  
  • The number of households with incomes below the federal poverty level has increased by 13 percent since the end of the recession. 
  •  The share of households that devoted more than 30 percent of their incomes to rent increased from 47 percent to 55 percent between 2005 and 2015.  
  • Residents suffer from above-average incidences of chronic health problems.

Interesting, right? Let’s look into some more information from this publication:

Overall, more than one-quarter (29 percent) of the population had at least a bachelor’s degree. However, there was a disparity between long-term and new residents.1 In 2015, less than one-fifth of long-term residents had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with nearly half of new residents (46 percent).

An Economic Snapshot of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood

It gets even more grim in terms of housing and income. Research from the SAME PUBLICATION notes:

In addition, there is a wide disparity between long-term and new residents with respect to income. In 2015, new residents comprised one-third of the households. The new residents had a median household income of $50,200, compared to $28,000 for long-term residents. This is a relatively new development. In 2010, the household income of new residents was similar to those of long-term residents. The share of households living in poverty has hovered at about 30 percent since the end of the recession, significantly higher than the citywide poverty rate (19 percent). Moreover, the number of households in poverty increased by 13 percent from 13,800 in 2009 to 15,600 in 2015. One-third of all households receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (i.e., food stamps), compared to one-fifth citywide. There were 14,000 senior residents (defined as 65 years or older) living in the neighborhood. Most seniors are long-term residents. Their median household income is low ($25,500 in 2015), and 42 percent rely on SNAP benefits. The number of residents aged 55 to 64 rose rapidly (by 18 percent) between 2010 and 2015.

An Economic Snapshot to the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood

It’s even harmed the Black children in Bed-Stuy’s school district:

Rising housing costs and low incomes have contributed to increased displacement and homelessness. Bedford-Stuyvesant has a large number of homeless shelters and other temporary housing sites. School District 16 (which covers most of the neighborhood) has one of the highest concentrations of homeless students in New York City, according to the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness

An Economic Snapshot to the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood

This is just a look into New York City as a whole and a brief delve into Bed-Stuy. Think about Long Island City which is facing rapid gentrification and almost had to face an Amazon headquarters funded by New York tax payer money. Or Harlem that is facing a quick demographic shift with conditions becoming worse for long-term residents. Or the South Bronx also facing gentrification, with politicians and artists marketing Hip Hop culture as the gateway to displacement and revitalization.

What are we supposed to do with a street in every borough named “Black Lives Matter?” Sheer symbolism is a slap in the face to long-time residents that are barely living check-to-check, ignored and shunned by local and state politicians, and the new residents who treat them as outsiders. When you’re done with your photo opportunities and feel-good theatrics, your life will remain the same, as Black people who are being gentrified out are facing even worse conditions during a pandemic that has harmed them disproportionately. What about Black and Latino New Yorkers receiving more than 81 percent of social distancing summonses by the NYPD? It is not enough to have our oppression recognized and seemingly funneled into liberal politics and marketing for corporations.

5 thoughts on “Do Black lives matter in regards to gentrification?

  1. I had to cut some people off during the height of BLM last year and I couldn’t find the words to tell them why, so I left them ghosted for the most part. I live in NJ right now but my abuelita and tios are in Sunnyside. I have seen gentrification start to rear it’s ugly head in that area, and the new residents can’t seem to catch onto the unwritten code of the area, especially when it comes to the treatment of the elders and also the local businesses and street vendors, yanno? During the pandemic we weren’t able to go to visit and help, and knowing that my abuelita and her friends in her building had to fend for themselves because none of the gentrifiers in her building reached out to help KILLED ME. I’m going to repost this onto my stories and hope it gets the point across that I’m not against BLM, but not the way that they were doing it. Thanks SO much for this.

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