Gentrification: A Double-Edged Sword by Cydnii Jones

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The Middletons

It was three in the morning as I lay awake in my apartment in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. My wife slept soundly next to me and my two kids down the hall. I hadn’t told my wife yet about the message our landlord had left for us earlier that day. She was usually the one who kept me level headed at times like these, but I knew this upcoming month would be the hardest one of our lives. Clinton Hill was a fast changing neighborhood. Out of towners were moving in everyday. Although I had lived in Brooklyn all my life I barely recognized the neighborhood anymore with all the new restaurants and high rise condos being built. I knew a two bedroom apartment in the neighborhood where I grew up was for sale for $825,000. I shook my head in disbelief just thinking about it. Growing up in Clinton Hill during the 70’s and 80’s had been rough. My entire neighborhood had been nothing but beat up houses, tenements, and bodegas. When my wife and I had decided to find a place for ourselves to start a family we naturally looked back to our old neighborhood and found ourselves two floors in a lovely brownstone with familiar surroundings. The same apartment where, 15 years later, my whole family slept soundly. Unbeknownst to them, our landlord had called to say that he was selling the entire building on Clinton ave and we had a month to find a place. Where were we gonna go? I turned around to look at my clock and sighed as I realised it was time to get up for work. I was doing overtime this whole week at work. We were going to need it if we had any chance of affording a place in new this unfamiliar Brooklyn growing around us.

The Newmans

I could hear the alarm go off in the next door apartment as I pulled on my nikes for my run. I got up to go to my 3 year old son’s room and banged my elbow on the dresser by the door just as the gay couple downstairs started their morning argument. I rolled my eyes as I walked into the room across the hall to see my son’s smiling face waiting for me in his crib. I looked around the cramped room that used to be my walk in with a sigh. This Manhattan apartment had seemed wonderful when my husband and I first moved in seven years ago, but now that we had a child the apartment and the borough seemed cramped. Luckily, my husband had been coming from a business meeting in Brooklyn and fell in love with the Clinton Hill neighborhood. Although we had been talking about finding a bigger place I had been reluctant to leave Manhattan where I had grown up, and even more reluctant to move to Brooklyn where, as a child, I had been forbidden to go until well into my teens. But one summer day my husband packed up the car and the family took a trip to Clinton Hill. We had a wonderful lunch at one of the many cafes on DeKalb avenue and took our son Jamie to Fort Greene park where plenty of families with young children were enjoying their day as well. The last stop on our trip was a beautiful brownstone my husband said had just recently been put up for sale for the bargain price of $2,495,000. The owner even came out to speak to us and said that right now the house was empty save one family that he would soon be giving notice that the place was up for sale. Now, weeks later we were in contract for buying the house and would be starting the new chapter of our lives within a month that couldn’t go by any faster. I put Jamie in his stroller to go for our run and closed the apartment door behind me, but not before looking around at the many boxes that would soon find themselves in our new house across the bridge.

 

The Middletons

“One month! How are we supposed to find a place to live in one month? Where are we going to go? You know the rent prices for neighborhoods around here are skyrocketing, Harold!” It was 7am and I had just told my wife over the phone about the call I had gotten from our landlord.

“I know baby, trust me I know. I looked into some areas nearby like Cobble Hill and the median real estate price is $750,000.” I looked around my desk at work, trying to come to terms with the realisation that even if I sat here doing overtime for the next 3 months it was unlikely that we would be able to afford anything in our neighborhood or the surrounding areas. My family had been among the last of the original residents to have to leave. For the past few years rents had been raising, leases unrenewed, and the neighborhood changing rapidly all to accommodate the newcomers from Manhattan and out of town who were willing and able to pay insane amounts for these houses. “What about Jordan?” My wife asked about our son “He just got into that new school and he loves it there. This is the only neighborhood he knows, this is the only neighborhood we know...at least it used to be.” I sighed heavily at my wife’s words. “Well what do you want me to do Patrice? The landlord already found a buyer from Manhattan that’s gonna give him $2,495,000 for our place. Do you know where we can come up with that money? I sure don’t.” I responded harshly. “I know Harold but we have to do something.” she replied, defeat already present in her tone, “and we only have a month to do it.”

 

2 weeks before moving day...

The Newmans

There were only two weeks left before the big day and my husband John and I had decided to take Jamie to a street festival taking place on our new block. There were plenty of families, music, games for the children, local restaurant food and drinks for the adults. I looked across the street and saw Jamie playing with a young boy about his age and a older boy of about 15 who appeared to be his brother. They were standing the yard of the house we had just closed on a week earlier. I walked over to see what was going on. “Jamie, sweetheart did you find some new friends?” I said sweetly. “Yeah mommy, but this boy says this is his house, but you said this was our house. Tell him it’s our house mommy!” Jamie said expectantly. I looked at the older boy who was standing sheepishly behind his younger brother. “Hi, my name is Emily. Do you live here?” I said to him. “Hi, I’m Jordan, and we do for now. My parents are out searching for a new house for us before you move in.” Jordan looked at his brother who had ran off to play with Jamie. “That’s my brother Elijah.” I looked at him in disbelief, I couldn’t believe that with two weeks before my family was to move in, this boy and his family were still looking for a place. “Hey Em, what’s going on?” I turned around at the sound of my husband’s voice. “John this is Jordan, and that’s his brother Elijah playing with Jamie. They are the family that lives here currently.” I said. “Still? Cutting it a little close aren’t we kid?” said John playfully. Jordan gave John a dirty look and called for Elijah to come inside. I looked at John with a glare and started to walk towards the car. “Emily, where are you going? I was just playing!” He called to me as he walked over with Jamie. “You know this neighborhood wasn’t always so pretty.” I said coldly. “That family probably lived here long before the neighborhood came up and all the prices rose. It was really insensitive of you to say something like that John.” I said angrily. John wordlessly put Jamie in his carseat and got into the drivers side of the car. “Look, i’m sorry Em. Let’s just forget it and go home.” he said impatiently. I got in the car and looked at the now empty front yard of the house that would soon be our home, and hoped that Jordan’s family would find a place soon.

The Middletons

“Patrice! Jordan! Elijah! Come down here, we got good news!” I read over the the letter in my hand one more time just to make sure I was seeing everything correctly. “What’s the big deal dad, the Knicks are playing?” Called my older son from his room. “We got a new house!!!” I yelled excitedly. “Are you serious? Where, how?” said my wife as she ran from the kitchen. “Well remember we applied for that apartment on the affordable housing list for NYC Housing Connect last month? Well we got the apartment! Three bedrooms in the new condo on Washington and Flushing!” I said as I hugged my wife. I felt the stress lifting off both of our shoulders now that we had a home to go to. Washington and Flushing was only a couple of blocks from where we were, Jordan didn’t have to leave his new school, and this time around we were going to be owners instead of renters. “Daddy we got a house?” Elijah asked. I picked him up with a giant smile on my face, “That’s right little man, we got our own house.” After all the open houses, the mad scramble to pack all of our things in one month, and fear that we might even have to leave Brooklyn and pull our kids out of their schools, we could finally breath a sigh of relief. Brooklyn was definitely changing, but the Middleton family would be around to see it.