Crow Hill or Pro-Cro: gentrifiers promote new names for Crown Heights
Gentrification is already well underway in parts of Crown Heights. Promoters are trying out new names for the area. Some local residents like “Crow Hill,” which was the historical name for the area. However, some real estate concerns want a sharp break from the past. They promote “Pro-Cro.”
Market rents can be more than three times what tenants in rent-stabilized units pay, giving landlords an incentive to drive out longtime occupants by taking them to housing court, withholding repairs, harassment, or offering checks of $5,000 or more, according to one media report. Apartment prices are up more than 50 percent from a year ago and rents are rising at the fastest pace in the borough, according to a recent report by Bloomberg. The median price of a home shot up 58% to $600,000 in the first seven months of this year, according to StreetEasy, a New York real estate website.
Gentry-friendly establishments are opening up. Berg’n, a 9,000-square-foot beer and food hall that opened a few weeks ago, is part of a redevelopment of a former Studebaker garage. Meanwhile, police are responding to complainants who want to hustle African Americans off the streets when they play street ball. Church spaces are being torn down, and little consideration is being paid to how non-profits for the poorer residents will be able to find space. Some locals call it renovation of the buildings for the rich while destroying the social life of the poor. Defenders say that gentrification is the way the city housing stock gets renewed.
Working two jobs and still poor
Despite the influx of the well-to-do, the median household income is a modest $40,000, according to the 2007-2009 American Community Survey. Because the poor people in Crown Heights prefer work to idleness, the 10% unemployment rate is only a little higher than Brooklyn’s as a whole. So, this is a population that works and works again to stay afloat. Many Crown Heights workers hold lower paying jobs like nurse/home health aide (6.2% of the labor force) and security guard (3.4% of the labor force). In 2012, the pay for these positions is around $20,000-$21,000, which means that one can work hard with much overtime or another job and still be living in poverty.
In light of the relatively strong employment rate at low pay, it is not surprising that Crown Heights families use subsidy group day care at twice the rate as the rest of Brooklyn.
Despite herculean efforts by school administrators and teachers, public school educators have so far achieve poor results in Crown Heights. The schools had deteriorated so badly that improvements will take hard and prolonged efforts. Wingate High School, which serviced many Caribbean students, took a nose dive since the 1990s and was closed down as hopeless. Only 56% of the students in Crown Heights graduated from high school in 2010, according to the NYC Department of Education. And only 6% are college ready, though 29% do enroll in college.
Crime is costly
The police precinct that includes northern Crown Heights had 1,025 felonies this year, down 75 percent from the same period in 1993. However, although crimes has decreased from the bad days of the 1990s, crime in the community district continues to stand out as a serious problem in the community district relative to the crime rates in other areas of Brooklyn. According to NYPD, in 2011 most types of crime occured here at higher rates than in Brooklyn as a whole. According to the Justice Mapping Center, in 2011 the number of prison admissions from the population in the community district was over twice the rate for Brooklyn as a whole. This means that for every person turned away from crime by a faith-based organization in Crown Heights, the taxpayer saves about $98,000.
Arts and gardens
According to the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, there are thirty-one arts and cultural organizations in the community district, not counting many of the faith-based efforts that are housed within religious organizations.
There were twelve community gardens in Crown Heights in 2012, according to the Center for the Study of Brooklyn. Right now, real estate sharks are looking for ways to snatch up the land out from under community gardens and other non-profit groups. Steve Billings of TYC Realty grabbed a garden property for only $10 because it had unpaid back taxes. Now, he is demanding that the community garden to pay him up to one million dollars for the right to remain on the property. This should be a wake-up call to community gardeners to check the status of their property.
The founders of the free African American community of Weeksville in Crown Heights had dreams for a better future. In the 1970s conditions took a nose dive. Now, is Crown Heights waking up from a bad dream or falling into another one, at least for the working class? Or are its demographic changes provoking merely the sort of restless nights of both good and bad thoughts that all of us have in this city?
*Unless otherwise noted, the stats are from the 2014 Community District 8 report by the NYC Department of Planning. Many of the specialized statistics are from the 2012 report of Center for the Study of Brooklyn, though we have updated the statistics in a few cases.