On a recent rainy Sunday, I bundled up and hustled across Bushwick. I was coming from a meeting with the owner of Bootleg Bar, which just opened up on Myrtle and Bleeker, and I was rushing to a panel on affordable housing being held at Radio Bushwick.
The panel was organized by Arts in Bushwick, a group that is best known for putting on Bushwick Open Studios, although they’ve set out to accomplish quite a bit more. Last weekend, AiB brought together five prominent community members, including feisty and spirited councilman Antonio Reynoso, to address an issue that was by no means unexamined: affordable housing in Bushwick. How can we preserve affordability in a neighborhood that is as trendy as a cronut? Is it possible to stop the rapid displacement of the working poor? And how can we retain the culture and vibrance that make Bushwick so desirable without turning that desirability into a commodity for developers and landlords to exploit?
Affordable housing is the issue facing New York, and the United States, right now, and Bushwick is at the crux of these questions. And the lack of affordable housing is symptomatic of the apocalyptic state of income inequality in America, which means that whether or not you, personally, have a good living situation going on, this is something that affects all of us and will do so to an even greater degree in years to come.
Antonio Reynoso addresses an audience member’s concern.
But there is still cause for optimism. John Dereszewski, former District Manager of Community Board #4, pointed out that “some of the people fighting hardest against the Rheingold development were the newer residents…and that’s a very positive thing.” Although it can be difficult to parse out what exactly Bushwick has to offer to each new individual as the neighborhood changes (Relatively cheap rents? A community identity? Close proximity to a reliable train?), it can be even more difficult to evaluate how ‘valid’ those motivations are. Or as Chloe Bass, the co-founder of Arts in Bushwick, explained, the fight to keep Bushwick affordable and vibrant, “has the effect of bringing in people who are in pursuit of a lifestyle.”
Kunal Gupta, of Silent Barn.
But that isn’t so damning as it might seem. Many of us – most of us – were newcomers to the neighborhood at one point. Something thrilling, or alive, or convenient, or affordable, brought us to this community. And whether we came here four months, or four years, or four generations ago, we won’t stop the inevitable onslaught of developers without uniting: as tenants, as neighbors, and as community members.
So what can you do? Register to vote!! In Bushwick! To those of you who are still toting a home-state ID and proudly repping your blue vote in Mississipppi, give it up and start voting somewhere where you can really make a difference. And Community Board #4 meets monthly every third Wednesday of the month. Get involved, talk to your neighbors, keep an eye out for landlord injustice. Educate yourself, and those around you, on your rights as tenants.
Kunal Gupta, of Silent Barn, spoke eloquently about how humbled he was to sit on the panel. The existence of the panel, and the strong turnout, moved him to express optimism for Bushwick’s future. The strength of the community would prevail. Chloe Bass smiled resignedly. She recognized Gupta’s optimism—it was what had inspired her to found Arts in Bushwick eight years ago.