How One Bed-Stuy Group Is Fighting Gentrification

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In a time when even the Wall Street Journal has discovered that there is indeed “life east of Malcolm X Boulevard,” we can’t pretend to be all that surprised to hear that Bed-Stuy home prices have risen just as stratospherically—if not more so—as they have in other parts of Brooklyn. Just how coveted are Bed-Stuy brownstones right now? Well, DNAInfo reports “a majestic turn-of-the-century seven-bedroom fully-renovated brownstone on Macon Street hit the market last week, listed by Douglas Elliman for $1.989 million. The same building sold for $714,500 in 2011 and for $325,000 when it was part of an estate sale in 2010.” A more than 600% profit could’ve been made? That’s insane! Unfortunately, this real-estate gold rush is leading to aggressive acts on the part of real-estate opportunists who are doing things like harassing the neighborhood’s senior citizens and pressuring them to sell their houses. This? Is despicable. But luckily, a Bed-Stuy community group is taking action.

DNAInfo reports that the community group Coalition for the Improvement of Bedford-Stuyvesant is “trying to help older homeowners” by hosting workshops recommending that seniors hold onto their homes and gain income by doing things like “rent[ing] out units in multi-family homes” and renting out rooms through AirBnB to carefully selected tenants. But perhaps the most important advice that CIBS is giving seniors is in a workshop on “passing homes to heirs”  that will include topics like “estate planning, insurance, lending and property management.” This is a huge issue, partly because, CIBS director Tamecca Tillard notes, “A lot of seniors have done [reverse mortgages] to bolster their income to make ends meet, not realizing their heirs won’t have the option to reverse and buy the house back.” But also because inherited wealth (including, primarily, real estate) is one of the things that most separates the upper and lower classes in this country. And at a time when rapacious real estate players are using unscrupulous tactics to take advantage of the people who helped build the neighborhoods that have suddenly become incredibly desirable, it is more important than ever that those people—and their families—benefit from the latest real estate developments.

It is easy enough to think that fighting against gentrification is impossible, but the truth is that there are things that communities can do to protect the residents who have lived there for decades. And it’s especially important to do that not only to preserve a neighborhood’s character (that type of thing will inevitably change over the decades) but also to protect the residents who might not realize everything they’re giving up when they sell to a developer. One of the main reasons wealth is concentrated in this country among so few people is because of inheritance laws (remember that whole estate/death tax thing that Bush got rid of? yeah, that mostly helped the wealthiest people in America). There might not be many silver linings to this whole sky-rocketing real estate situation, but if there is one, it’s that the homeowners who survived the bad times can hopefully benefit from the good ones. Thanks to groups like CIBS that might be more possible than ever.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen