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7 Uncomfortable Truths About Living in Brooklyn

by Doree Simon Mar 23, 2015

1. Gentrification is creating a parallel universe.

Brooklyn, one of the five boroughs that makes up New York City, has become known for its hipster neighborhoods and artisan shops, so it’s not a shock that this Fordham study showed that Brooklyn is home to four of the top 25 fastest gentrifying zip codes in America. But the fact that no other NYC zip codes made the list says a lot about where the young, hip, and wealthy are (and aren’t) migrating.

Since 2000, the percentage of white people in Brooklyn has grown from 41% to 50% and rent prices have spiked 77%. What does this mean for local residents and businesses? In many cases, small businesses are closing up shop due to rising rent and disinterested clientele. “White people don’t come in here” a Jamaican man told City Limits of his dry cleaning shop in rapidly-gentrifying Flatbush/Ditmas Park.

The landscape of court juries is cause for concern for defendants as well. A 20-something affluent hipster-type new to the area may not have grown up knowing the real impact of Stop-and-Frisk, excessive force, raids, etc. They tend to be more trusting of police and judges are noticing. Marilyn Gelber, former president of the Brooklyn Community Foundation, maybe said it best to NY Daily News: “Kids are getting shot in Brownsville parks. Artisanal horseradish is selling for $74 in Williamsburg […] We have more poor people in Brooklyn than the entire population of Detroit; we have more people on food stamps than the entire population of Washington, D.C, yet there are more wealthy people than in Greenwich, Connecticut.”

2. 40% of the residents can’t actually afford to live here.

According to a 2014 report by United Way New York, two out of five households in Brooklyn fall below the minimum income needed to be self-sufficient. Since 2000, the United Way has used the Self-Sufficiency Standard to look at how much income a family has to earn to meet their needs given family composition and location, taking into consideration the costs of housing, child care, food, health care, transportation, taxes, miscellaneous costs, and an emergency savings fund. Across New York City, 40% of households falls below the standard, families with children having the hardest time meeting it. Census data shows that the median household income across Brooklyn is $44,850, yet the Standard in Brooklyn is $72,160 for a family with two adults and two children. That’s over $27,000 below the standard.

Some of the workers most impacted? Brooklyn’s nurses, janitors, construction workers, cashiers, taxi drivers, secretaries, security guards, and cooks; in other words, the people who keep the city going. Add to this that, although 50% of Brooklyn residents are white, the United Way’s report found that 80% of households with inadequate income are minorities: 61% of Latino families don’t make enough to be self-sufficient, and the same goes for 48% of African-American households, and 79% of all single mothers.

3. Brooklyn’s income inequality is significantly greater than India’s.

Despite these numbers, Brooklyn also attracts the wealthy and New York State regularly tops the lists of US income inequality. Researchers often measure income inequality using the Gini index, which measures income inequality from 0 to 1, where 0 represents perfect equality (everyone has the same income) and 1 represents complete inequality (one person has all the income). The US as a whole scored a 0.45, but US Census bureau data shows that although New York City indeed tops the list with a Gini Index of almost .5994 — a number on par with many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa notorious for income inequality, Brooklyn is not far behind with a Gini index of 0.5019, the exact same as The Gambia and Zimbabwe, and significantly higher than India’s .368.

Again, there’s a racial factor to this inequality: this article explores that in one census tract, which includes gentrifying DUMBO, the median income was $149,000, but for whites, i.e. 80% of that population, the median was actually $163,000, while black residents in the area earn a median of $23,000. That’s $140,000 less than their white neighbors.

4. The average commute time adds up to almost another whole workday per week.

Brooklyn’s 2.5 million residents rely heavily on New York’s MTA as their daily source of public transportation. But this very recent Economic Brief put out by New York City’s Comptroller Scott M. Stringer shows just how much time the average New Yorker spends commuting and the numbers are simply ridiculous. If the 9-5 (or 6, or 7) work-life wasn’t already enough, add six hours and 18 minutes onto that per week. That’s the average New Yorker’s commute time — nearly an hour longer than any other US city. Around 400,000 Brooklynites commute into Manhattan daily, with many more commuting within the borough itself.

Inter-borough trips can sometimes mean even longer-than-average commute times given the limitations of Brooklyn’s public transportation. For example it takes this writer about one hour to get from my Ditmas Park, South-Brooklyn apartment to North-Brooklyn Williamsburg, requiring me to dip into Manhattan and switch trains to get back into Brooklyn. Stringer’s report highlights that the city’s commute and long hours likely contribute to the fact that women with children are less likely to work in NYC than other cities, blaming inflexible work schedules and long commutes.[/mn_slideshow_slide]

5. Children’s futures can depend on the luck of the draw (and whether their parents even know to enter them).

Brooklyn is home to 86 charter schools, which are publicly funded and privately run. They were introduced in the 90s as a kind of test tube for different practices that could then be implemented into the public school system. Students mostly get in through lotteries which their parents have to seek out and apply for; a process often critiqued for weeding out the neediest families.

Despite many of the charter schools sharing a building with district schools, the results between the programs couldn’t be more different. A recent look at two neighboring schools in Brooklyn’s Brownsville, East New York area, showed some staggering results. At Christopher Avenue Community School, which shares a building with Leadership Preparatory Ocean Hill Charter School, just 8% of third-graders tested proficient in math compared to Leadership Prep’s 100%.

The same classes reading tests yielded similar results, with 7% of Christopher Avenue third-graders testing proficient compared to 80% of the charter school students. The effort required to get children into charter schools may be worthwhile for many parents, given that even lower-priced private schools still cost upwards of $20,000/year, but this still means more work for already over-worked parents, as well as pressure to donate and fundraise if the children are indeed accepted.

6. Over 21,000 children are homeless.

Census data shows that over 20% of Brooklyn’s population lives below the official poverty line, and a staggering 21,998 school students are homeless according to the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness (ICHP).

This number has grown 55% between 2008 and 2013, a factor ICPH attributes to the lack of both employment and education. Their studies show that over 208,000 children are living in poverty in Brooklyn alone. And although many of these children are in school, the education for homeless and poor children shows to be worse than those better off. Consider the Brownsville district vs. charter school mentioned above: 36% of the district school’s kids are homeless, compared to 4% of Leadership Prep’s students.

7. A third of complaints against the NYPD come from Brooklyn, more than any other NYC borough.

In an effort to understand where the NYPD may be abusing its power, there exists the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an all-civilian board that investigates complaints about alleged misconduct by the NYPD. Despite the decrease in stop-and-frisk numbers, according the Review Board’s 2014 January-June report, 33.3% of all civilian complaints about the police force occurred in Brooklyn.

Although black residents make up 23% of NYC (36% in Brooklyn), they accounted for 54% of complaints against police, which begs the question: can we believe NYPD Commissioner William Bratton’s post-Eric Garner death comment that the NYPD is “not a racist organization”? For example, take this corruption in East Flatbush where the State Supreme Court is looking into the alleged planting of guns by Brooklyn NYPD on black citizens.

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