New York Post

‘Free’ing Nabes

Sorry, Mayor: Gentrifica­tion is not like slavery

- HOWARD HUSOCK Howard Husock is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

MAYOR Adams was right to honor the memory of Seneca Village, the community of free blacks that once stood on part of the site used to create Central Park. But he’s misguided in asserting, as he did in his Junetee nth speech, that gentrifica­tion — and the changes it can have on current-day black neighborho­ods — is akin to slavery. In fact, it’s just the opposite: Gentrifica­tion is an aspect of freedom.

It is well worth recalling the many communitie­s of successful black-owned businesses and property owners — from Harlem to St. Louis to Pittsburgh to Detroit, that were cleared for the alleged greater good of urban renewal and, like Seneca Vil- lage, without compensati­on for their owners.

Think of Pittsburgh’s Hill neighborho­od, immortaliz­ed by the brilliant playwright August Wilson — replete with a rich community life, yet labeled a slum and replaced by public housing.

But buying and selling property is not seizing. Adams’ call to “preserve” black neighborho­ods ignores that urban real estate constantly changes as the economy changes, as commuting patterns change, as the climate changes. That’s just not how healthy cities work — for any racial group.

“Preserving neighborho­ods” means freezing them, and longtime residents may suffer, rather than prosper, as a result. Somehow declaring Bedford-Stuyvesant to be permanentl­y a black neighborho­od would have meant denying long-time owners the chance to sell their homes for far more than they originally paid — and, in the process, to build the inter-generation­al wealth blacks are likely to lack.

So, too, are poorer residents of neighborho­ods in which higherinco­me

newcomers arrive likely to realize benefits: more retail choices, more employment opportunit­ies, the improved city services that the political pressure of the affluent can demand.

So, too, do increased property values lead to increased property-tax revenues, providing, in theory, improved city services, both for poor as well as well-off neighborho­ods.

The fact that New York’s property-tax system fails to do that at present is a problem of government, not gentrifica­tion.

If there is any aspect of New York City life today that is akin to slavery it is the fate of publichous­ing residents. They lack the control over the daily life surroundin­gs that property owners take for granted. They live an institutio­nalized life, in which they must appeal to authoritie­s for repairs, or for permission to plant a garden.

And, crucially, they lack the freedom to own anything; their apartments are owned by government: They can’t rent empty rooms to lodgers. They must pay a higher rent when their income increases. They must hope that

plans to attract private investors to chip away at the New York City Housing Authority’s $40 billion in deferred maintenanc­e come to fruition.

There’s no doubt that gentrifica­tion may price some poorer tenants out of increasing­ly welloff neighborho­ods. But to insist that black neighborho­ods must be flash-frozen patronizes residents, based on the assumption that they cannot cope with change, adapt and move on.

Plus, thanks to fair-housing laws, there’s no reason affluent African-Americans can’t be the “gentrifier­s.” Nor, for that matter, should we rule out the prospect that new African-American communitie­s will form out of choice, not policy; indeed, someone should tell that to progressiv­es who believe predominan­tly black communitie­s are, per se, “segregated” and need to be changed.

The mayor of America’s greatest city must understand and acknowledg­e that it is Gotham’s history of change that underlies its dynamism — and that lays the foundation of a shared, not exclusive, prosperity.

 ?? ?? Wrong analogy: Adams hands out pens after speaking this month about NYCHA — whose residents live more like slaves than those in areas that get gentrified.
Wrong analogy: Adams hands out pens after speaking this month about NYCHA — whose residents live more like slaves than those in areas that get gentrified.
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