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Jun 2, 16

Brooklyn Solidarity Network: No Negotiation with Gentrification

Submitted to It’s Going Down 

New York City is under assault. As urban living has become attractive to the upwardly mobile, living spaces are falling prey to predatory lenders, and rental properties are ending up in the investment portfolios of the super-rich.

Our corner of this city, Bushwick, is known as one of the most quickly gentrifying neighborhoods. The city instituted the Bushwick Initiative – a ‘quality-of-life’ program in the early 2000’s – which swept up whole blocks of people in military-style dragnets. The victims of this program were shipped to prisons in upstate New York, entire families were destroyed and developers and politicians descended on the neighborhood paving the way for gentrification.

The speed and violence of this process is shocking. Every household has a story and every block has a tragedy. While rich residents are flocking to the area, and rapidly moving into hastily erected condos, this area is still home to working people.

This development at the former Rheingold Brewery site heralds a new and extreme blight on the topography of the neighborhood. Called ‘a game changer’ in the constant thrust towards gentrification by local real estate developers, it represents a point of no return in a neighborhood currently overrun by investment capital. As a tenant organization, the Brooklyn Solidarity Network has witnessed the worst actions by landlords: kicking out the elderly, harassing the sick, and pulling cheap legal tricks to force people out of rent controlled housing.

The development is a monstrosity. It threatens the area with several blocks of luxury housing units, essentially the size of Yankee Stadium. The development has 900+ units and will potentially bring in 2,000 new rich tenants. If working people succeed in clinging on to their apartments, the price of basic amenities will make their continued stay untenable.

In January of this year, the local councilman, Antonio Reynoso promised he would help Bushwick tenants with a proposal called Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning and Affordable Housing Development. Yet this seemingly community-based initiative merely gave the appearance of helping tenants, when in actuality it was a green light for rampant development with meager ‘affordable’ housing inclusions.

Brooklyn Solidarity Network has been building a campaign to stop this development before it creates a greater domino effect of displacement and misery. Our demands are simple:

We demand Reynoso rezones the site in order to immediately halt the construction or he resigns. We also demand that the developers give up their stake in this project and hand the site over to community control.

Today marked another escalation in our campaign: a rally at the councilman’s office to call attention to the fact his ‘man of the people’ charade isn’t fooling anybody. We unfurled a banner clearly stating, “Reynoso sold out Bushwick: Rezone or Resign.” We made a lot of noise, chanting and jeering outside of his office and handing out literature to passers-by.

We were met with almost unanimous approval by pedestrians and drivers. “Finally, finally!” one woman remarked. Upon seeing the banner: “Destroy Condos Not Communities,” a neighbor explained: “I’ve been here for 50 years and there’s nothing the poor can do. The rich control everything.”

Another complained: “I went to Reynoso’s office for help and he ignored me and kicked me out. I supported him when he came in.”

Two people confirmed the hypocrisy of political representation: “Reynoso just put a flyer in my building. He’s never around the rest of the year but he comes around when he needs something.”

What was the councilman’s reaction? He instructed a disproportionate amount of police to surround the action. Instead of accepting his role in this process, he cowered behind a wall of police presence. Instead of offering the primary solution that will curb rampant development, he derails it with meaningless proposals. Instead of engaging the issues for what they were, he had a few rogue friends to come heckle us. “I love nice things. I’m paid. I love yoga and nice coffee!” one of them bellowed.

After the rally we took the streets unimpeded by the police, chanting and talking with people along the way. We had a small rally on a main intersection and then continued to the actual site of the development.

Many of the neighbors didn’t know what was coming for them from behind the green construction fence. This condo-city is the nuclear bomb in the developer’s silent war against the people of Bushwick. To illuminate this fact, fake blood was splattered all along the windows of the fence surrounding the development.

The times are serious. People have long been pawns in the games of city planners and investors. We have seen first hand how harassment, intimidation, and threats have affected the health of our neighbors, and the fissures and destabilization from this process: driving people away from their families and friends, and the constant turnover of new, richer tenants make it impossible to build communities, let alone communities of resistance.

We will continue our campaign to help build both. We will not negotiate; we will not sell-out. We will not rest until the development has been stopped.

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