We are young activists, born and raised in gentrifying North Brooklyn. As we have grown up, over the last decade, we’ve seen fancy buildings replace our families’ businesses; our friends have had to leave their homes thanks to huge rent increases. We’ve experienced how our families’ basic requests for repairs are ignored and denied by landlords who would prefer if we just packed up and left.
This is a problem across New York City. Young people like us are unable to move out of our parents’ homes if we want to stay in the places were were raised. Many of us will soon have education debt, and homeownership isn’t an option for us. With our lives before us, we are struggling to envision a future in the city in which we were born and raised.
Our parents are immigrants, mostly monolingual Spanish speakers, working for low wages; they want us to have opportunities they didn’t have themselves. They are small business owners, whose livelihoods are being threatened by gentrification. Our parents want us to be able to raise children where they raised us, without having to constantly worry about paying the rent—or moving from apartment to apartment the way we had to.
But housing is so unaffordable in New York, we don’t know how that will happen. Our future is looking scary. We can’t even imagine what our home of North Brooklyn will look like in five years. Our friends and families have left the area or are being pressured to leave. If they push us out, where will we go? It’s a strange and bittersweet thing to watch your neighborhood get “improved”—but not for you.
We know housing is a human right. We deserve dignity and respect, and we are entitled to safe and affordable homes. Housing is supposed to actually house people—not make others wealthy. Yet year after year, landlords and developers benefit from loopholes in the law that make them rich off raising rents and displacing our families. These loopholes have had the worst impact on communities like ours, that have already suffered from racist policies, like redlining. Politicians are benefiting too, getting donations from landlords and developers for making sure that these loopholes stay in place.
That’s why we joined the fight for universal rent control. We need to curb skyrocketing rent, and make sure that New York is affordable to our generation and future ones. We can fight gentrification by going after stronger rent laws. When they expire in 2019, we can close loopholes, expand the regulations, and make them stronger!
We’re fighting for six bills that make up Universal Rent Control. We want to close the vacancy bonus, and end vacancy decontrol, which landlords use to jack up rents unfairly and push out tenants. We need to get rid of individual apartment increases—how landlords turn our family apartments into dorms for gentrifiers—and major capital improvements, through which landlords pass the cost of repairs onto our low income families. And we need to get rid of preferential rent—a bait and switch scam that forces massive rent hikes on us. Finally, we need a “good cause” eviction law that requires landlords to renew leases when they expire, so they can’t just kick people out when they feel like it. And we need these protections for all tenants, not just tenants in buildings with six or more units.
Landlords have too much power and we need permanent measures to help low-income people. As the children of immigrants, we know it is our job to advocate for those who came before us, and those who will come after us. This is our message:
• We want to live where we grew up, with the families and friends we grew up with, and we need universal rent control to that make that happen.
• To other youth, like us: Together, we’re the voice of the future. If you care about your neighborhood: now is the time to get involved.
• To new gentrifiers: Welcome to our neighborhood! Use your privilege, help our cause, and stand with us against the developers that are taking over.
• To politicians: Remember who votes in the future! Support universal rent control or get out of our way.
And to landlords and developers: Brooklyn is our borough, and New York is our city. We won’t stop fighting until we win!
Lauriana Beras, Catherine Murray, Samairy Pina, Emely Rodriguez and Angy Vasquez are Youth Leaders with Churches United for Fair Housing. They all grew up and currently attend high school in Williamsburg and Bushwick, though some have been displaced from the area.