If you’ve been a New York City resident for some time, you’ve likely noticed how your once empty subway car is still packed with people, even after crossing that once undesirable Manhattan/Brooklyn line.
The L train doesn’t empty out after Bedford Avenue. The G train, the ignored ghost train of the city, now boasts a schedule to accommodate all the new residents grabbing apartments on its line. And areas like Bushwick and Bed-Stuy are being renamed to market to young White perspective renters looking for a little edge. After all, there’s nothing like telling your parents back at home that you live a block from Biggie’s childhood home.
This is the new Brooklyn — a gentrified haven of bearded baristas, bikes, dogs, and artists who probably make more than city workers on any given day. And we’ve long known that gentrification, the process of “renewing” urban areas which subsequently moves out its original residents, can be a racist system that excludes people of color from the profitable boom (and from homes in areas that they have long inhabited), but hearing it straight from the mouth of a landlord who employs those methods?
Well, that’s pretty hard to stomach.
In the Daily Intelligencer Tuesday, author DW Gibson posted an excerpt from his book, The Edge Becomes the Center: The Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century, that detailed his day with a Brooklyn landlord called Ephraim (a necessary pseudonym given what you’re about to read). Ephraim is a 26-year-old Hasid who got his start buying deeds from owners on houses on the brink of foreclosure, a method that allowed him to collect rent without giving money to the bank that owned the home.
Sounds illegal, but Ephraim ensures Gibson the process is legit.
So we came up with the idea: The bank takes a long time before they take the property away. It can take them up to five, six years. So we go to the owner, buy from him the deed, and then we rent it out. When the market went up a little bit, about 10 percent of the mortgages were almost at market value, so we’d pay them off and keep the building. If it’s a big mortgage, I don’t have any choice; I just sit until the bank takes it away. I’m just sitting, collecting rent. And that’s it.
It’s not 100 percent — I mean, it’s legal, but sometimes in the mortgage there’s a clause that says if you sell the deed, you have to notify the bank and if you don’t notify them the bank can take the property. But even if you didn’t notify them, the bank has to go through the whole process of getting the property and that takes some time.
That money-making scheme may be sickening enough, but it’s Ephraim’s outlook on Black tenants that reflects just how insidious gentrification is.
Some Jewish people, they’re going to come in and they’re going to try to rip off the black tenants — and the tenants know it, there’s word of mouth. So it’s like, “Oh, a Jewish guy again?” There’s a lot of Jewish guys moving around. Like a lot, a lot, a lot of investors who are either Hasidic Jews or a little bit less, but they’re Jewish. They’re holding Bed-Stuy like this — he squeezes at the air in front of him, strangling it. So sometimes it’s like, “Hello, this was our neighborhood. What are you doing here?”
Ephraim understands that he’s kicking people out of their neighborhoods. He’s aware that Black tenants are being ripped off. He just doesn’t care.
We’re small, so we look into places that haven’t caught on — we just did a place on Nostrand Avenue. People are not even there yet. We put in $600,000 and everyone was laughing at us. “It’s crazy, you’re over there. A building for yuppies, white people? It’s not going to work.” The building was full of tenants — $1,300, $1,400 tenants. We paid every tenant the average of twelve, thirteen thousand dollars to leave. I actually went to meet them — lawyers are not going to help you. And we got them out of the building and now we have tenants paying $2,700, $2,800, and they’re all white. So this is what we do.
My saying is — again, I’m not racist — every black person has a price. The average price for a black person here in Bed-Stuy is $30,000 dollars. Up over there in East New York, it’s $10,000 dollars. Everyone wants them to leave, not because we don’t like them, it’s just they’re messing up — they bring everything down. Not all of them.
Even more terrifying? The fact that landlords are actually worried that Black people will catch on…and ruin the scheme.
They don’t know — here he lowers his voice — that even if they get the money and they left, they could always come back. They don’t know that part. And it’s so scary sometimes because they could come up in the middle of construction and say, “It’s my property, I didn’t understand what I was signing, and I want to come back.”
It must be noted — what Ephraim is doing isn’t new. If you’re familiar with redlining and racial residential segregation, you understand that this is both about race and money. Ephraim, according to the excerpt, understands that property value will decrease if he has Black residents in his buildings. What Gibson’s piece ultimately does is shine light on a decades-long issue that, sadly, is sanctioned by the government.
Because money makes the world go round…are we right?
Ephraim’s declaration that he’s not a racist is up for debate. Especially since he supports a historically oppressive process and system. The racism of gentrification, well, that’s not a debate. And it’s time we call it like it really is.
You can read the rest of Gibson’s piece here.
SOURCE: Daily Intelligencer/NY Mag | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty