Black-Flight: Tax Redlining and Gentrification by Lou Cespedes
Recently during a walk, a Haitian neighbor and fellow homeowner said, “things would only improve in E. Flatbush when white people move in”. I laughed, stunned by the irony of the moment. I quickly rebutted and explained the idea that black and brown people can gentrify their own communities with the proper guidance and leadership. Often when we think of gentrification, we think of high-income white people moving in on low income communities by displacing black and brown people of lesser income. Likewise, when we think of white-flight we conjure up images of red-lining neighborhoods, depreciating property value or attractiveness because whites are moving out. This is the classic language used to support misconceptions of wealth, and stereotypes surrounding the relationship between property value and race.
You often don’t see or hear about black gentrification, but it is simply the process by which professional high income black and brown people concentrate their wealth and ownership in a community; the same as whites. What you do see happening in Brooklyn, to blacks and whites alike, is black-flight – getting “priced out” of a community. In Brooklyn this is primarily caused by appreciating property value and increasing taxes and rent. We mistakenly call it gentrification. By employing this language, we contribute to the culture of speculation that hastens our own disenfranchisement. What is really occurring in E. Flatbush is that a steady in-coming stream of lower income whites are either buying or renting, because they have been themselves priced out of more affluent neighborhoods like Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy or Ft. Greene.
Property tax is the new form of red-lining. It is a punitive state sanctioned tariff designed to “promote” development; gentrification is its justification. In order to correct this cult of punishment, we must begin by first training our thoughts and language to the present realities. For anyone, black or white, owning a home is still a determining factor for personal wealth. Most of us are “house rich – cash poor”, in a city with mounting costs of living. As we discuss the tax effect of re-zoning our community, this will only get worse, causing some homes to become financially insolvent.
Another corrective measure we can take is to become “property literate”. Home-owners must know what the value of their property is composed of and seek the proper advice and partnerships to remain stakeholders in their community. There are other alternatives to selling your property, and there are black and brown professionals that have the skills and the money to buy, invest and build.
Finally, as a high-income earner myself, I understand my responsibility is to promote the growth and not the destruction of my own people. It is incomprehensible that we follow godless and ignorant persons within the political apparatus of our community that promote a re-zoning without first understanding the tax ramifications for most current homeowners. This is an irresponsible, malicious, and self-serving means of securing political fortunes on the back of homeowners and pandering to interests far from our own. But sadly, and more importantly, as our neighborhood “appraises”, by talk of re-zoning and speculation, homeownership becomes further out of reach for black and brown families. In our present strange reality of religious and cultural “pacts” between the Haitian and Orthodox community, we will be unequally yoked.
Today, black homeownership is lower than anytime prior to the 1950’s. Whites concentrate 44 times more wealth than blacks. In Brooklyn all black homeowners are under siege. Third- Party Transfers (TPT) of HFDC’s, TIL and abuses by HPD, as well as NYCHA’s collapse, spell a dire future for us. Now more than ever, it is pressing for our community to engage in a re-tooling of our priorities, and actively pursue solutions that will enable us to use our present assets to secure our financial future.