Portions of this post were originally published in two posts on the Rentlogic blog.
Affordable housing is serious business in Brooklyn. Squarely in the crosshairs of gentrifiers, the borough — oft-celebrated, oft-condemned — is a rental market battleground.
By all measures, Brooklyn is hopping. Since developers set their sights on the borough, there’s been a wave of fresh units ripe for renting, and new buildings welcoming moderate- to high-income owners.
Part of this is because landlords have taken to raising prices suddenly and harassing tenants to move so they can open up new space. Brooklyn is a great spot to find bad landlords, but it’s no wonder that Brooklyn is the borough to be in, even if Brooklyn’s building owners aren’t exactly up to snuff (to put it lightly).
Neighbourhoods like Bushwick simultaneously have some of the most sought-after spots to live and some of the worst landlords. A hub for small businesses and great Latin American grub, Bushwick is within arm’s reach of Williamsburg and it’s caught all the buzz. Median annual household income is between $35,000 and $45,000, and a 1-bedroom in the neighbourhood is just over $2,000 per month, putting it in the lower range of places that folks in need of affordable housing can actually access and thrive.
But according to experts, gentrification is hitting Bushwick in full force, and community members — largely folks of colour who have formed a core of the borough’s substantial Latinx community — are suffering. Many more units in Bushwick are supposed to be rent-stabilized than are actually registered with the city. Unfortunately, building owners are using that information disparity as a trick to suddenly hike up rents and push out tenants. According to the good folks over at ProPublica, the rental market in Brooklyn has gotten aggressively volatile as more and more landlords are refusing to register rent-stabilized buildings with the city so they can charge higher rent than the law allows.
Now renters in the borough’s Bushwick neighbourhood are proving that knowledge is power, by equipping local residents with an interactive map that invites participants to track cases of illegal ownership practices, civic actions, developments, and projects in their area in real time — and to join together in solidarity against these cases of exploitation and urban colonialism.
While developers and brokers can tap into costly services to give them all the local information they need to make decisions, renters rarely have such a luxury. In cities like New York where the cost of living is astronomical, accurate information is scarce for those who can’t afford to pay for it. In Brooklyn, where some rent prices have now outpaced Manhattan’s, neighbourhood affordable housing advocates created the North West Bushwick Community Map to inform locals of their rent-stabilization eligibility and how they can organize against displacement. The site is full of information and resources for Brooklynites to educate and agitate in defense of their livelihoods, homes, and communities.
The map is a response to what community members are calling a “housing justice crisis” that pits low income residents against building owners looking to flip their properties over to wealthier developers. According to its creators, the map is speaking to a serious need for a “free, community-owned, and community-directed map to help residents get a better sense of these changes and to unite together against these injustices.”
The map works by using open data — information collected for government databases that is free for public use. Similar projects, such as Am I Rent Stabilized and Rentlogic, use open data to provide New York renters with important information about the histories and overall quality of buildings and landlords. AIRS uses open data to spot the most likely locations of rent-stabilized units. There are an estimated 20,000 buildings missing from the city’s rent-stabilized registry, which means there are bound to be tens of thousands of New Yorkers who are being illegally overcharged for lower quality buildings without their knowledge. Rentlogic uses open data from the City of New York to give renters the information they need to avoid predatory landlords and nasty surprises while apartment-hunting. They take reports of complaints and violations collected from the City from throughout a building’s history, and develops quality ratings for all the buildings and landlords they list.
Check out the North West Bushwick Community Map, and check out Brooklyn buildings on Rentlogic and AIRS, to see what open data can do for New York renters faced with a crisis in affordable housing. If you live in the area, connect with some of the community organizations in Brooklyn to work in solidarity with the folks standing up against displacement and exploitation of their communities.