Brooklyn Boro

Seems like a return to the ‘bad old days’ for Brooklyn’s Caribbean community and homeowners

May 16, 2022 Sharon Redhead and Lincoln Eccles
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The barbaric attack against East Flatbush homeowners Kennisha Gilbert, a medical doctor, and her husband, allegedly by a group of thugs in retaliation for reporting one of them (who was their tenant) to police for animal cruelty, is an example of the violence that has become more commonplace these days in this West Indian American enclave of Brooklyn and long-striving community of color.

It’s also an example of how the entire system is again failing our Caribbean community – especially hard-working homeowners, those of us who own 1-to-3-family homes and small apartment buildings with less than 15 units – not only in East Flatbush, but in neighborhoods throughout the borough. Even after theft of services and property damage – and yes, violent assault and arrests – involving her tenant, Gilbert still doesn’t have possession of her property. It demonstrates the near-impossibility of small property owners in our community to get their nuisance cases resolved, even when it involves tenants physically assaulting them on their own property.

The attack against the doctor and her husband is a microcosm of the serious uptick in murders and violent crimes in East Flatbush and other Caribbean neighborhoods. It has been a reminder of “the bad old days,” when gang violence and drug-related killings was the norm, when the echoes of gunfire in playgrounds were more ordinary than children’s laughter. Thankfully, through common-sense policing, the passage of time, and the rising affluence of this predominantly homeowner population, life improved.

But the COVID shutdown and related economic struggles, along with abandonment of proven strategies, reversed years of progress. This struggle is nothing new for Brooklyn’s Caribbean neighborhoods, where safety eluded us during those bad old days. We have long been derided because of racism toward Blacks, while also being held to impossible standards as a hardworking “model minority.” Ask any person with Caribbean roots living in New York. You know them – the hospital workers, for example, from Trinidad, Barbados, and Haiti who pick up overnight shifts as home health aides. Whether from Guyana or Saint Lucia, the stories are the same – our very early morning subway commutes are crowded with proud working people.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

We live in neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn. Our politics are moderate. We voted for Michael Bloomberg in all three of his mayoral elections, and we voted for Eric Adams over all his opponents. We prioritize public safety. Many of us are active in labor unions, and in our churches, block associations, parent-teacher organizations, and the Business Improvement Districts that provide upkeep for commercial strips filled with restaurants, hair salons, test prep services, clothing stores, and catering halls.

We are homeowners. In fact, the stability of West Indian American neighborhoods has always been home ownership. A recent New York Times article noted that decades-ago “block-busting” in East Flatbush resulted in our parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents buying one- and two-family homes at inflated prices. Racism may have sped the creation of our neighborhoods, but we’ve become stakeholders, investing in our homes, blocks, and neighborhoods.

All of which is why policies recklessly targeting property owners with increased regulations and costs, while limiting the income we’re able to collect as rent, have been especially destructive. Now there’s an effort in Albany to pass “Good Cause Eviction,” which would immediately devalue every apartment building throughout the city and state.

It would force enormous property tax increases on single-family homeowners – the 1-to-3 private homes, and the smaller buildings with 4-to-5 units – to make up for the money lost on lower property tax assessments of apartment buildings. In communities of color, Caribbean Americans will be hit twice – once as building owners, and then again as homeowners. The economic impact of COVID and untenable policies already have us unable to maintain our buildings – a situation that will only be made worse by a “Good Cause Eviction” law that would tax even more the homes we own and where we live.

We put quotes around “Good Cause Eviction” because it is intentionally misnamed legislation that’s anything but good news for our Brooklyn neighborhoods. This proposed legislation would freeze the rental market, locking it into a state of deterioration that would be inescapable. The problems that politicians insist Good Cause legislation would solve are, in truth, issues already addressed by other rules and regulations. Good Cause is a politically contrived issue that offers a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

This passion project of the radical left and professional activists mixes “want” with “need.” We laid roots in our communities because it’s where we could afford to buy homes, be close to schools, and keep grandparents and children in the same homes. The apartment buildings we bought years later – investments in our families, blocks and neighborhoods – are how we’ll pass capital and legacy to the next generations.

Would we have wanted to live in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Brooklyn Heights, or the West Village? Maybe. Could we have? Absolutely not. We bought in two-fare zone neighborhoods not well served by subways; we invested where we could afford to live. We shouldn’t now be punished for that.

Lincoln Eccles
Sharon Redhead

While we are hopeful that Mayor Adams and his Police Department are on track for restoring safety in the city, our leaders must not stay silent while professional activists, tenant lobbyists, and far-left politicians – none of whom understand our struggle – pick our pockets with impunity.

Redhead and Eccles, whose parents are immigrants from Caribbean countries, own small buildings that have been in their families for decades in East Flatbush and Crown Heights. 

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