Rebecca Raghunath

Writer, The Paper

Published February 28, 2022

In the US, New York has become one of the most expensive cities to live in. For a city whose shoulders rest on the backs of immigrants, it is becoming more difficult for them and many others to survive in what is becoming a city for the elite. 

Gentrification is the process of changing a poor area into a wealthier one. There are many benefits to this process such as more funding for education and infrastructure, cleaner communities, reduction of crime, real estate increase, etc. 

Even though gentrification is advertised as a way to improve and provide more funding to underprivileged communities, there are many drawbacks to this process. Small businesses, mainly owned by immigrants and minorities, are being replaced by franchised owned businesses, and residents who lived in the city all their life are left to hunt for a new home that is beyond their price range.

Gentrification in the South Bronx. Photo by Taylor Alexander

There are many homeless persons in New York because there are not that many affordable housing units. Due to inflation and the pandemic, the cost of living has made it extremely difficult for people to afford to live. Many people are checking into homeless shelters, or living on the street and the subway. According to the New York Times, “The precise number of people who live in the subway is unknown, but an annual survey in January 2021 estimated the figure at about 1,300 — and that was during the time when the system closed down for four hours every night for disinfecting. The number of homeless people in the system is believed to have increased since then. It was estimated at about 1,700 in January 2020, before the pandemic.”

When gentrification occurs in a community, the people living there could not afford to survive on their own because the prices of groceries and rent have skyrocketed. This is creating a deeper class divide, especially within Manhattan and Brooklyn, and will soon explode within the South Bronx.

Gentrification and homelessness are facing much backlash in the outer boroughs. For example, 

The concern in the Bronx case is that more homeless people in other boroughs are being dumped into the residential communities in the North Bronx. They are upset because when gentrification is fully realized in the South Bronx, many of the residents will have to move into the hotel shelters. If this continues there won’t be enough resources to be distributed to Bronx residents.

Gentrification in the South Bronx. Photo by Taylor Alexander

Whereas, Queens residents are upset that hotels are being converted into homeless shelters. Even though no one is against homeless people, many of them do not want their community to be packed with homeless shelters. This has happened before in neighborhoods like East Elmhurst, in Queens, where residents protested about how hotel shelters are disproportionately located in the outer boroughs. According to Assemblyman Jefferion Anderson, “Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, State Island: we are not the throwaway places. They couldn’t keep the homeless shelters in Manhattan because everybody raised a fuss. Well, we’re going to raise a fuss too.”

Queens residents are upset because the presence of hotel shelters leads to polluted streets, safety concerns, and an increase in police presence. However, traditional shelters are expensive, crowded, and unsafe for those living there and for those in the communities. Even homeless people are relieved to see hotels being converted into shelters because for them it is much safer, and allows them to have more privacy. The living conditions at the hotels were vastly better than the living conditions in the shelters. When the city decided to move people to shelters in the spring, there was much controversy on whether this would take a toll on residents’ mental health. “The actual results have been mixed. Some shelters have seen increases in overdoses, but others have seen reductions and reported that removing sources of tension seemed to have improved many people’s mental health, which resulted in fewer fights between residents.”

Homelessness is a fight New Yorkers have been fighting for for decades, and due to the pandemic, many families and individuals have consequently suffered. Ultimately, we want to improve the place we live, and not displace people. By having affordable housing units in all boroughs, and by providing resources for people living on the street, New York could be a city for all people to afford to live in.