There are so many rich things to discuss in this report on the characteristics of renters in Brooklyn that I hesitate to open the worm-can. First, props are due to Ideal Properties for providing this in depth analysis. The purpose here is obvious - to encourage a robust rental market to keep up the heat. This is, of course, in Ideal's best interest and I take no issue.
The opening statement from Aleksandra Scepanovic lays out the framework. Note the phrase "Brownstone Brooklyn" and the fact that incoming tenant traffic is at "rates higher than ever before." I'll come back to that. And of course, I'm happy to see that a rebounding tech and media landscape have brought more jobs to our fair city. Her forward:
With national retailers courting Brownstone Brooklyn, and New York City making a sharp turn from a “Silicon Alley” to one of the nation’s prime tech hubs, the area’s rental markets absorb the incoming tenant traffic at monthly rates higher than ever before. And while the maturing of Brownstone Brooklyn’s rental landscape attracts a mixture of young, either creatively or technically savvy individuals, most tenants respond to the rising prices by opting to rent with friends or family members.
Park Slope and Williamsburg reign supreme as top rental destinations. Brownstone Brooklyn is also attracting tenants from out of state and from out of the country, further solidifying the reality those of us who live here witness daily: Brownstone Brooklyn is becoming one of the most exciting
boroughs of New York.
Managing Director | Ideal Properties Group
Someone told me the other day that I'm "obsessed" with race. To which I replied "what makes you say that, white boy?" But what I find so interesting about this kind of report is how it leaves out the issue of race altogether. With all the nosy demographic information contained in this report, why no mention of race or ethnicity? They even mention international origin in one graph, with fully 10% of new renters in "Brownstone Brooklyn" being internationals, presumably not mostly what we typically refer to as "immigrants."
And why not remain blithely unaware of racial realities? We're already discussing the mythological "borough" of Brownstone Brooklyn (that's what Scepanovic calls it - a borough - slip of keyboard?). Brownstone Brooklyn, as we find late in the report, consists of Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Clinton Hill, Cobble Hill, Columbia Waterfront District, Downtown, DUMBO, Fort Greene, Gowanus, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Red Hook, Vinegar Hill, and Windsor Terrace. The irony, of course, is that there are way more brownstones in Lefferts and Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights and East New York than in Red Hook, DUMBO, Gowanus and the creepy sounding "Columbia Waterfront District." But clearly Brownstone Brooklyn is a stand-in for something else entirely.
The defining face of these neighborhoods is the "sort" of people who find these places desirable and can actually afford to rent there, meaning lots of upper middle class young folks (look at the charts - even their parents' incomes get mentioned in the section on guarantors, showing how many grew up in comfortable households) who are, as most upper middle class young folks in this country are, mostly white and/or coming from nice universities. Like contemporary art I can't say what this demo "IS" precisely, but I know it when I see it, and you probably do too. It's not necessarily white, and it's not necessarily elite educated. And it's maybe artsy and maybe simply professional. IT most definitely owns a Mac. The word hipster is too unnecessarily derogatory in my opinion. My current verbose definition (see above) is more to my taste, though I'm clearly teetering along some strange line of my own creation that's probably not necessary anyway, because I've probably not lost anyone who is reading this blog, at least not until this unwieldy sentence.
Since, as David Gates of Bread is quick to point out in his gorgeous "If" - a picture paints a thousand words - so too I'll let this classic from the much-missed Stay Free do the do:
What we learn about "Brownstone Brooklyn" in the Ideal report is that it is becoming younger, richer, with more folks shacking up together to afford rent. Some will note that this report doesn't really discuss the buyers, who are increasingly paying super-top dollar for the pleasure of calling Brooklyn home. We do learn however that fewer and fewer folks are coming from Manhattan, and many more people are moving to Brooklyn as their first choice in NYC, from all over. I don't think that the buying crowd is the one that's really remaking the borough - we're too busy raising brats and panicking over schools to bake artisanal pretzels. But as I've noted many times before, the current building fever is primarily about rentals, studios and one-bedrooms, meant for young people in their urban experiment phase. This report documents the neighborhoods where such young people are able to use their guarantor AND make enough dough to essentially choose their surroundings and those they want to see at the subway station. So it stands to reason that folks renting further and further east are doing so to chase the lower rents, which is causing rents to rise, etc. etc. etc. Thus, the new faces at the Q at Parkside platform. And thus the dilemma for longtime Flatbushians, who are now experience at warp speed the changes that have been working their west since Jane Jacobs stuck her nose into the business of one Greenwich Village more than 50 years ago now.
It is, of course, inconvenient and probably illegal to note in such a report as this that the areas further east are becoming less and less black. A stand-in term for these areas, replete with all the tact of the phrase "white trash," is "ghetto," since the type of blackness we would be talking about is not Barack Obama and his enviable family. When I first moved here a guy on the street asked me what I was doing in "the ghetto." I suspect longtimers will take issue with the term, for any number of reasons, but his message was crystal clear. It was like a brag and a reproach at the same time. I also recall a plumber remarking on how nice and safe our neighborhood was, relative to East New York where he was living. It's enough to make your head spin sometimes, 720 degrees at the neck. (And let's face it, you have to be inadvisably sure of yourself and who you are to even delve into this stuff in print. Because at some point you're going to put your foot so far into your mouth you'll swallow a toe. Or at the very least never be able to run for public office.)
If the building boom leads to a new and permanent younger, wealthier, whiter borough, then it is this crowd that will define Brooklyn's next 50 years. If, however, a major event or crisis drives these renters away (say free tapas at happy hours in the Bronx, or a terrorist attack), then we will be left with a glut of apartment buildings and perhaps, finally, some relief for the would-be renter of moderate means trying just to stay in the City for longer than a New York minute.
And who knows, maybe those cookie cutter pop-up buildings will have retro charm by then.