Whose Housing Search Is It, Anyway?

There’s so much Brooklyn news I could be writing you about: the mayor’s latest proposals for shoring up rent control laws and what they’d likely mean for gentrifying neighborhoods, Jeremiah Moss’s #SaveNYC campaign, the political travails of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, the latest comedy skit about young bearded white people settling new lands across the Williamsburg Bridge.

But right now, I’d rather focus on this far more routine story from the New York Times. It’s the kind of thing that runs in the Times all the time, especially in the real estate pages: the tale of a young couple seeking more space at an affordable price, who venture out into the heretofore unexplored hinterlands of Brooklyn to see what they can find. And eventually they find a home, and settle in there, and live happily ever after in a converted shoe factory.

And there’s nothing wrong with that — well, aside from the degree to which these stories are less news you can use than bones thrown to the real estate section advertisers. But the real problem is the stories that aren’t told: Of a young couple seeking new space at an affordable price in the hinterlands of Brooklyn, only they’re told by landlords that no one will rent to them because they have kids, or because they don’t make enough money, or because they’re from Ecuador. And they’re only seeking to move because they’re being evicted to make way for new renters, who probably decided to check out their “up-and-coming” neighborhood after reading about it in the Times.

That’s why I spent a good chunk of time the last few months trying to find families who’ve moved out of Bushwick in the wake of its designation (by the Times Real Estate section, of course) as “the coolest place on the planet,” and asking where they’d ended up. A full account of their stories will be featured in The Brooklyn Wars, but for now you can read my article in City Limits, which also appeared at the policy news site City and State:



(It’s the same article both places, so feel free to choose which one to read based on font preference or something.)

I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback already on this article in the two days since it appeared, but the kind that’s been simultaneously the most rewarding and the most alarming is the many people who’ve said, “These are stories that we usually never hear.” Which is why I wrote the article — and, in large part, why I’m writing the book — but it’s still crazy to me that you can open up the pages of the city’s most prominent newspaper any day of the week and read about the lives and concerns of a relatively tiny segment of Brooklyn’s population, while the millions of people who see the New Brooklyn from the other side of the telescope never get to talk about what they want from neighborhoods, from apartment fixtures, from schools for their children.

As one commenter remarked, they appreciated that my article “humanized” the people who lived in Brooklyn before the new settlers came. And if you don’t find that necessity chilling, I have a $3,000-a-month Bushwick apartment to sell you.