Gentrification in America: Risk of Displacement Reaches Far Beyond NYC

Phyllis Pruitt called Hempstead Village home for most of her life, but after taking out a reverse mortgage, she lost her family home in the area. Why? The housing market had changed and she could no longer afford it.

“I did all the right things—graduated high school, got my master’s degree, worked for the federal government … for 22 years, I put money aside, I invested,” she said in an interview with the Regional Planning Association (RPA), an urban research and advocacy organization.

Pruitt, now 60, explained that all of her efforts were ultimately for nothing.

“I bought into the notion of staying in my community so I could give back,” she said. “And, I’m no longer there.”

Pruitt’s story is only one of many accounts that the RPA has collected from around the NYC area. The multiple instances are small parts in a larger report that reveals nearly 1 million people are being pushed from their homes as a result of gentrification. The phenomenon reaches from New Brunswick, NJ to New Haven, CT.

The threat of gentrification is most imminent in dense neighborhoods which have access to good public transportation and jobs. The most common remodeling jobs are bathrooms and kitchens, coming in at 81% and 79% respectively, but gentrification is akin to remodeling an entire neighborhood. In addition, these “remodeled” neighborhoods are typically home to large populations of Black and Hispanic Americans.

Journalist Peter Moskowitz’s new book, How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood, shines a much-needed light on the sometimes glossed over reality of gentrification.

“Gentrification is more discreet, dispersed, and hands-off” than a lot of other urban issues, Moskowitz wrote. He added that while gentrification may bring more people and revenue to cities, it ultimately kills much of the cultural diversity that creates the city environment that many people are looking for.

Moskowitz details case studies of gentrification in major U.S. cities such as Detroit, San Francisco, New York, and post-Katrina New Orleans. Each city has individualized issues, but the similarities in politicians’ and business owners’ decisions and the effects they have on low-income communities across the board are striking.

At its heart, Moskowitz writes, gentrification’s propensity to become a major crisis in America is largely due to a lack of housing regulation. If cities continue in the vein of restricting construction of affordable housing and changing public housing policy, lower-income residents are going to be edged out entirely.

Now, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has announced plans for a $136 million, 300,000-square-foot “Made in New York” campus at Sunset Park’s Bush Terminal. While the campus would create 1,500 permanent jobs and more than 800 construction jobs, elected officials are concerned that its creation would also play a large part in further gentrifying the area.

In a letter penned to the Mayor and signed by Borough President Eric Adams, U.S. Representatives Nydia Velazquez and Jerrold Nadler, and Council Member Carlos Menchaca, a number of requests that would lessen the new campus’s blow to the community are made.

Above all else, the elected officials urged de Blasio to “keep the community in mind when implementing the initiative.”

Ultimately, gentrification isn’t an issue until it is, which is why organizations like the RPA, writers like Moskowitz, and elected officials like those advocating for the Sunset Park area are doing their part to make people aware of the issue and hopefully stop it in its tracks. Their efforts could mean all the difference for people like Phyllis Pruitt and others like her who are suffering in the aftermath of a gentrified society.

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