How Are Caribbean Nationals Impacted by Gentrified Crown Heights?
Crown Heights is changing, and high rents and landlords’ aggressive tactics are pushing out longtime tenants, typically African-Americans and Caribbean immigrants. Familiar businesses — bulletproof bodegas, fried chicken joints, video stores — are being replaced by expensive eateries, cocktail bars and national chains. Property values are rising, with 19th century townhouses now commanding prices in the millions.
The month of June marks National Caribbean-American Heritage Month in the United States. Established in 2005, Caribbean-American Heritage Month recognizes “the historic relationship between the people of the Caribbean and the people of the United States, as well as, …the many contributions of Caribbean immigrants and their descendants to the well-being of America.” Since the nineteenth century, Caribbean immigrants were counted among some of the most influential members of black American society, holding positions as religious leaders, educators, politicians, and entrepreneurs. In New York City, especially, they contributed their unique cultural experiences to help shape the state’s identity. From Caribbean real estate developers in the 1910s who helped sell Harlem as an enclave for black families, to settling and developing businesses in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Flatbush, Caribbean people have made strong contributions to the city of New York. These immigrants changed the political, economic, and social landscape of black life in the United States, and in doing so indelibly left their mark on American History. Between the years 1890 and 1940, just over 355,000 Caribbean immigrants came to the United States. They flooded into cities such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. New York served as a central port of entry for Caribbean immigrants, with steamships carrying both tourists and imports between New York and the West Indies.
There are many studies and statistics that support our hands off approach. For starters, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve has found out that low income residents are no more likely to move from gentrifying areas than non-gentrifying areas (Gillespie). Indeed, many low income residents push back against leaving by not taking buyouts and prevent developers from taking over their building. Low income residents able to remain in a gentrifying neighborhood can benefit from the changing landscape. Richard L. Cravatts, Phd. argues that “gentrification does not put new pressure on housing markets and create scarcity; and an upgrade in the quality of life in neighborhoods serves as a catalyst for overall growth and development.” This means that new developments would improve the overall community and allow it to grow. He goes on to argue that newcomers have to live somewhere so the demand constantly increases and they will take the homes of lower income residents if developers don’t build new buildings and increase the supply accordingly. Cravatts goes on to say that a concentration of poor communities, “serves as a permanent barrier to neighborhood growth.” This means, that if poor communities are only surrounded by poor communities than there will not be any room for growth. To build a community there must be a positive inflow of money that comes from its residents (Cravatts).
Finally, still, anyone walking down Nostrand Avenue today can get a feel for the heavy Caribbean influence in its shops and restaurants. The cuisine is a part of the neighborhood — its origins may be traced to the islands, but its presence is woven into the fabric of Brooklyn.
Gillespie, Patrick. “How gentrification may benefit the poor.” CNN Money. 12 Nov. 2015: Web.
Cravatts, Richard L. “Gentrification is Good for the Poor and Everyone Else.” American Thinker 2007
De Graaf, Mia. “The Hipster Takeover: Before-and-after Photos Show How Brooklyn’s Bodegas, Shops and Garages Became Slick Breweries, Brunch Spots and Hotels in Little More than Five Years.” Daily Mail Online. DMG Media, 14 Sept. 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.