25 July 2005
If middle-class Black and Spanish-Americans don’t think what people in low-income neighborhoods do should matter to them, well, think again. Here are just a couple of examples of how what one group does affects all:
Free Offering Of A Better Life
I moved away from New Orleans in 1986. Shortly after I moved, a long time housing project, the Desire, in New Orleans, was closed down and low-income black residents were relocated to east New Orleans, a predominately black middle to upper class area which included lakefront and private wooded area properties, clean malls with excellent shopping selections, restaurants, decent hospitals and lots of night life to enjoy. The Desire housing project at one point housed many future famous people, civic leaders, and relatives whose home and surrounding areas were always spotless. My grandmother who owned her own beauty salon at one point lived there prior to the mid-1970s. My cousin even attended school with NBA star Avery Johnson who also lived in the same housing project. Basically, you could walk in and visit people, even white people. People looked out for each other, it was once the only community many had, it was their home.
About 6-years later, I returned to New Orleans for a wedding and saw the New Orleans East apartment community I lived in just before I moved away. I was shocked. It had boarded up areas. I asked my friend “what happened? THIS was always a nice area”. She explained to me that the Desire housing project had been closed down and many of the residents were relocated to many of the luxury apartment communities nearby.
The managed apartment communities in the New Orleans East area were once apartments that many were previously turned down for because a “certain type of resident” was desired: people who could pay the rent and not destroy the property. What a concept, huh?! Then people from a low-income area were given the opportunity to live in luxury apartments with amenities that many living in houses and paying mortgages didn’t even have. Better school options were also available, schools that many previously lied about their home address to attend. What I saw when I returned looked like a war zone! One of my favorite luxury community properties was completely boarded up and was severely damaged and trashed. It was surrounded by lakefront homes. And as we drove down one stretch of road, if the apartment community wasn’t boarded up, it was so dilapidated, the building looked as if it was crying!
Even the shopping mall that I practically lived in as a teenager was run down and the store selections were of lesser quality. Now, could this relocation disaster be the reason why hard-working decent blacks are given the cold shoulder and run-around when trying to rent or buy properties from either blacks or whites? I’m guessing so. Whites have been in the real estate business for “many moons” ahead of blacks. And blacks who know of someone in a low-income area, don’t want to see the same thing happen to their property. They know the value of property and its long-term worth, not to mention costs required to repair extensive damage. I’m sure many were all watching the outcome of the relocation of the Desire housing project residents. Many whites who lived in the nearby homes moved out to St. Bernard Parish (Chalmette) or Jefferson Parish (home of David Duke, himself). Sane people, black, white or whatever, just want safe, clean and quiet housing.
Now, instead of repeatedly pouring money into deteriorating communities, there is more focus on gentrification in prime real estate areas which have become dilapidated. I don’t see how you can live in a rent free or low rent (less than 100.00 a month) apartment and run it down. People working would kill for a low rent apartment in a prime location. Many residents paying low rent will claim the landlord is a slum lord. But was the place run down when you moved in? If so, then you rented a slum and knew what to expect. But if you moved in and the property was clean, livable with many amenities, and one by one, things started breaking in a careless manner, then it’s not the landlord, because the landlord was not residing in the apartment.
Perfect example of successful gentrification is Harlem, New York. More and more white residents are moving in daily. They are getting a prime, central location to everything in Manhattan, more for their money and paying three to ten times and more than the previous tenant for a spacious and quiet apartment. And there is less of a chance for the properties being renovated to luxury apartment standards becoming run down, meaning the values increase not decrease. What a concept, huh?! When I first moved to Manhattan, Harlem brownstone apartments were boarded up and available for less than $100,000.00. Now their values are $750,000.00 and higher. Makes me wonder why those who lived there for 30+ years couldn’t understand the value of the property when it was directly owned. It’s sad to see Harlem slowly become majority white because of its history, but what can you do if the people that live there don’t even care. I even tried working with minority-owned businesses to help them take advantage of the gentrification so that the money comes directly to their businesses first. They LOVED the idea, but didn’t even take the initiative.
Misconceptions, Confusion and Unfairness
And speaking of being treated differently when attempting to rent property, my second example involves the most unusual encounter when attempting to rent my first New York apartment in Park Slope Brooklyn. The realtor, who was white, was very professional. She obtained my credit report and smiled from ear-to-ear, and this was after showing me a few very nice properties, as in she treated me like a decent human immediately. She even commented while grinning like a mouse with cheese, “you have EXCELLENT CREDIT Miss Lady!” You see, to her with good credit and excellent long-term rental references, that meant she could present me to any client of hers. And she did. The apartment in Park Slope I would have died for, I couldn’t afford. It was 2700.00 a month. The apartment was in a renovated brownstone that had been handed down to the new owner by his family. It had exposed brick walls, 1 1/2 bedrooms (a large bedroom with a loft), lots of windows, a brand new kitchen with never ending expensive oak cabinets, a semi-new bathroom, and a living room with a working fireplace which was rare in New York because a permit is required to have one. And the building owner lived below. He was a nice, and friendly white male who really wanted me to have the apartment for several reasons, and he had other applicants as well. There was even plenty of off-street parking. The only issue was the price.
So, financially since I couldn’t justify paying 2700.00 and I still had a mortgage I was paying for elsewhere, I moved on to other places. Here’s where it gets strange. Spanish property owners totally treated me like dirt. One lady used the old “someone just came before you and rented the property” excuse. But we had just called a few minutes ago, at which time you were anxious to meet me after reviewing financial info. I was pissed because I used my lunch break for that nonsense. Not to mention the apartment was a 4th story walk up and not even worth it! One couple, a white guy with an Asian wife, was very strange. They did a fabulous job fixing up a basement apartment in a brownstone (another “to die for” apartment and it was in my price range). Now, they had my credit report (VERY upper 700s credit score), saw what I did for a living (software engineer), and saw me list 1 occupant (me) for the property on the application. They wanted to “interview me”. “I’m sorry are we going to be living together?”, was my first thought! The white male was nice and friendly, the Asian female was cold and standoffish, and asked what I thought were strange questions, but they became standard questions from certain unethical landlords (will it be just me living in the apartment, what do I do during the day, and all sorts of personal things that had nothing to do with paying rent and maintaining property). See this is why there are lawsuits. Take someone black with a credit score over 780, making over $90K a year, who’s single and no kids and put them through stuff like this, it’s insulting and degrading. Needless to say, they “had other applicants interested and would get back to me”. I held my breath!
So, now we move to the apartment I finally selected. It was above a Spanish doctor’s office, who also owned the property. Perfect area of Park Slope, near a train, no adjoining neighbors and after 6pm, the doctor’s office was closed, so it was like having your own home. You enter via a stairwell to a large multi-room, spacious kitchen, hardwood floored apartment. The price was 200.00 more than my budget, but it was great. The apartment was in the process of being renovated. I saw the new cabinetry being added including granite countertops. A stackable washer and dryer could also be installed. And there was a catholic church DIRECTLY across the street — no excuses not to attend church now! The realtor and I stopped by the Spanish doctor’s office first to get the key. He didn’t say anything except “hello” and stared at the realtor. I just assumed he was busy. Now unknown to him and me at this time, one of his patients is a co-worker of mine. After seeing the apartment and the renovations to be completed before move-in, I decided to take the apartment and provided a large deposit.
Here comes move-in day. I pick up the apartment keys from the realtor and bring one of my co-workers by to see the place. We were floored when we saw it. The carpeting aligning the entrance stairs was still there and had holes in it. The kitchen was still the same including with a “wasn’t there before” old nasty, smelly refrigerator. I’m guessing either this doctor is a shady, slick “somma-va-bish”, or he took one look at me and said, “ok this is too much good stuff for her, she’s just gonna ruin my property”. Now keep in mind for references, I had long-term rentals (5 years each) in luxury managed community properties, and upon moving out, not only did I receive a full deposit back each time, but a nice thank you for keeping the property in its original condition.
I guess the “good doctor” treated me this way this because apparently there have been scams where one person with good credit completes an application and moves multiple low-income people in, which explained the good doctor’s only question to me: “will it be just me renting the apartment?“. Did ya not see my application, what I do, that I just relocated here and reason for renting — a quiet, safe place to live?! Apparently, the good doctor wasn’t buying the “just me” residing there. Great! Now I’m paying for the nigglet scams, including one I’d never heard of because of where I’ve always lived!
I had to go through so much drama to get my money back. I kept thinking afterwards this jerk needs to know you can’t treat people like that, but just kept saying, it’s his loss and things happen for a reason. His patient and my co-worker was shocked he behaved in such a shady way. The good doctor was definitely smoking the good crack if he thought I was going to pay that kind of money for that type of property. I later on my own found the greatest apartment through a managed apartment community which had never ending benefits, not to mention surrounded by professionals, celebs and professional athletes in same community. And within 5-minutes I was approved for the apartment and was able to select whichever one I wanted. The property manager was Asian, very professional, and he absolutely made you feel like family.
All THAT just to rent an apartment because of the behavior of others and “can’t really blame them completely” preconceived notions. There are plenty of other examples in which the wrong people are unfairly lumped into a category by any race because of the behavior of a few who just can’t get a clue. But the internet is not big enough to list them all. I try to give each person a chance and benefit of the doubt, and even help. But once I see it’s undeserving, move on.
The sad part is now even I no longer want to deal with certain people from certain areas after being hustled and mistreated by someone being helped from a low-income area who I’d discover later has been living the same way since President Ford was in office. 30 years of growth only amounted to “I must lie to, cheat, and steal from others who have worked all their lives (“the suckas”) and break the law (with family in tow) to achieve my version of financial success” (while collecting welfare). So I’ve actually become what I never thought I would: a classist and a separatist, but in relation to who has integrity and respect for life (and I ain’t talkin’ ’bout “hood” respect) and motivation driven by honesty. Rare finds these days amongst any income group.