As someone raised in a small, rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn as were you, Bernie Sanders, I have a question: How do you feel about gentrification? How about you, Hillary Clinton?
The Clinton-Sanders debate at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard tonight may determine the winner of the New York Democratic primary on Tuesday. If there is one question allowed that relates to Brooklyn while also affecting most major American cities, how about one on gentrification and affordable housing?
Both political parties have virtually ignored the subject of affordable housing in urban America. Perhaps they feel it’s not important. New Yorkers strongly disagree. According to a recent NY1-Baruch College poll, city dwellers rate affordable housing the No. 1 issue. Almost two-thirds of us believe we may be priced out of our neighborhoods in the next four years.
NYC is bursting at the seams with more than 8.5 million residents, with the greatest population growth in Brooklyn, where home prices continue to soar.
Plunging crime rates over the past two decades and other positive factors have made the city more inviting, and Mayor Bill de Blasio is trying to make room for us all by expanding the housing supply. This includes changing zoning laws to permit more high-rise dwellings, with some apartments set aside for means-tested tenants.
Upon hearing of this initiative, many locals howled. For example, some Cobble Hill residents are fighting the development of high-rise condo towers on the site of the former Long Island College Hospital, saying it will ruin the integrity of the low-rise neighborhood.
Director Spike Lee famously bashed gentrification in Brooklyn, saying it prices out and displaces people of color — after he sold his Fort Greene home to a gentrifier for a hefty profit and moved to the Upper East Side.
Meanwhile, some African Americans and families of modest means who bought their Fort Greene homes for about $50,000 find they live in properties worth a million dollars or more. Gentrification and affordable housing are complex and deserve serious discussion.
What better place to start than tonight’s debate in Brooklyn?
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.