Stand Your Ground

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The perpetrators show up when you’re most likely to be at work. The only proof that they were there is the notice in your mailbox — a small square of white paper with big black letters in boldface: WE’LL BUY YOUR HOUSE FOR CASH$$$$$$$$$! I’ve been tempted to call the number listed and slap a cease-and-desist on whomever answers, but I worry about putting the spotlight on my address. I have vivid memories of the circumstances under which my aunt sold her home.

My aunt and uncle bought their single-family brownstone in Crown Heights the late 1960s, shortly after my parents bought theirs. Innumerable multigeneration family gatherings were held there. After my uncle died, my aunt remained in the house alone, with no plans to sell or move. Then the notices started coming and individuals from the community began to knock on her door, offering her cash for the house. My aunt stood her ground. During one of my visits, a gentleman in the next yard stopped me on the steps and asked if the owner would sell. I brushed him off with a curt “Ask the owner.” My aunt sucked her teeth, indicating annoyance, when I related the incident.

 

Not long after that, a robber broke into my elderly aunt’s home. A most unusual occurrence in that neighborhood, it drove the fear of God into my aunt. Within a year she had sold the house to people from the same community and had gone to live with one of her children.

 

News reports say Brooklyn is a “hip” address, and that the once heavy-industrial borough is now a global brand. Companies, big-name retailers, white-Americans and professionals are moving into streets where they never dared live before; bike lanes and sidewalk restaurants are popping up, tour buses are driving through, neighborhood parks are being spruced up. The average price per square foot in the second quarter of this year was $400, up 3.4 percent from the previous year. The median price of condos, co-ops and one- to three-family homes was $550,000, up 15 percent from a year earlier and the highest in more than a decade of record keeping, real estate figures show.

 

Walking along my street recently, I stopped to compliment a homeowner on her beautiful garden as she swept her sidewalk. I asked her if she, too, received the notices. “All the time,” she said, sucking her teeth as my aunt had done. She continued, “Do they think we’re stupid? We worked hard to buy these homes and fix them up, now they want to come in and take it away. Where will we go? Why should we go?”

 

Bloomberg reported in September that the homeownership rate for Blacks fell from 50 percent during the housing bubble to 43 percent in the second quarter of this year, the lowest rate since 1995. In January, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey Brief, “Homeownership Among the Foreign-Born Population: 2011,” showed declining homeownership among immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean. Among African and Caribbean immigrants who arrived in the country before 1980, 73 percent and 64 percent, respectively, owned their homes. Homeownership among those arriving between 1980 and 1989 was 63 percent and 48 percent, respectively; between 1990 and 1999, 43 percent and 39 percent, respectively; and from 2,000 on, 20 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

 

Homeownership, an indicator of economic mobility, is in crisis. We lived through redlining. Stand your ground!