05/12/16 11:29am
Amy Haimerl's Detroit home, mid-rehab. Photo: Amy Haimerl

Amy Haimerl’s Detroit home, mid-rehab. Photo: Amy Haimerl

As the former organizer of the summer film series, Red Hook Ficks, Amy Haimerl’s name often popped up in our inbox with word of the latest lineup. Her emails quietly stopped a few years ago, and then a few weeks ago we got another one from Amy about her new memoir, Detroit Hustle, which details her move with her husband to the Motor City, and their rehab of a 1914 Georgian Revival home in its West Village neighborhood. (Curbed Detroit recently featured all the pretty “after” photos.)

As any normal New Yorker with an overactive imagination about what life must be like in Detroit, I devoured her book–and was reminded often of Brooklyn. Putting down roots in a city with such disparate economic classes is a familiar story here, too, as couples and families make a home for themselves in gentrifying neighborhoods of Brooklyn alongside longtimers who can’t afford to do the same.

Obviously, things are much different in Detroit. The level of blight and poverty in the Motor City is unlike anything most New Yorkers have ever experienced. Nearly 40% live below the poverty line, and the median income is under $30,000 a year (compared to roughly $50,000 in NYC, which is closer to the national average). In one visit back to Red Hook, Haimerl and her husband are amazed at how much copper wiring, sheet metal, and shopping carts they see in plain sight, considering these things are so thoroughly scrapped from homes, neighborhoods and streetlamps in Detroit.

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It is pretty unimaginable to think that half of Detroit’s streetlights do not work because of scrapping and a lack of resources to replace them. But this state of affairs has also lent the city a phoenix-from-the-ashes appeal that we’re constantly reading about. We’ve all seen the Style section pieces about Detroit becoming a haven for artists, ex-Brooklynites and small business owners. Haimerl reveals this side of Detroit not as an onlooker, but as someone who’s become a part of its community. She also dispels a lot of its myths, starting with the fact that the dream of buying a home in Detroit on the cheap is just that–they’re incredibly expensive to repair and good luck getting a mortgage.

Haimerl also spends a good deal of time delving into the thorny issues of gentrification, too, particularly as a woman who grew up poor and worked her way to the middle class. Not the “middle class” of Brooklyn that can afford a million dollar brownstone and another $500,000 in renovations. But the middle class of Detroit, where you are lucky to have a well-paying job.

The questions are ultimately the same, though, in both scenarios. How do you become a part of a community when some members view you as a gentrifier? How do you make peace with the fact that you have the means to invest in a home when many around you cannot?

One of the pleasures of the book is the way Haimerl weighs these questions in her honest, compassionate voice. We asked her a few more questions about Detroit Hustle, below. You can also hear her tomorrow night in Red Hook, in a conversation with journalist Laura Holson. (more…)

04/29/16 4:13pm
Jen Dalton and Bill Powhida’s latest art project, MONTH2MONTH, brings New Yorkers together to discuss and debate the city’s housing crisis in 8 NYC apartments. Photo courtesy Jen Dalton

Jen Dalton and Bill Powhida’s latest art project, MONTH2MONTH, brings New Yorkers together to discuss and debate the city’s housing crisis in eight NYC apartments. Photo: Jemma Koo

Paycheck to paycheck, hand to mouth, month to month. All of these phrases evoke an uncertain living, but “month to month” elicits a special kind of anxiety for renters. Living month to month suggests you have no lease, no official document to protect you from the threat of eviction or a rent hike you can’t afford. Which gets at the heart of Jen Dalton and Bill Powhida’s latest project, MONTH2MONTH, a series of events that combine real estate, art and activism in eight New York City apartments.

“The name was chosen because the project events take place over the course of a month,” explained Dalton, “and also we were hoping to evoke the tenuous nature of most people’s economic situations.”

Beginning May 7 with a “housewarming party,” MONTH2MONTH will continue the ongoing dialogue of inequality and wealth disparity in New York City by inviting the public to discuss the city’s housing crisis—whether they’re affected by it or feel distanced from the issue—in luxury and affordable housing units that will be temporarily open to total strangers. The eight apartments hosting MONTH2MONTH range from a townhouse in Chelsea to an architect’s loft with an indoor pond to a tiny East Village apartment.

“It was not easy by any stretch of the imagination,” said Powhida, who has made his own affordable home one of the project sites. “It’s been a really delicate negotiation to get anyone to open up their home and share their space with the public.” (more…)

06/12/15 11:31am

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It’s a stupidly familiar story–Jesse’s Deli on Bond and Atlantic in Boerum Hill is being forced out the neighborhood by a rent hike of more than double the current rate. Locals have rallied to try and save the bodega, and their morning bacon, egg and cheeses, to no avail. According to Evan Vetere, the photographer who took these shots, the landlord (who DNAinfo reports as being Karina Bilger, of Bilger Design & Development) mailed back a petition that more than 1,000 neighbors signed, pleading for a more reasonable rent increase. Didn’t just throw it away and ignore it, mailed it back. Here’s a video from NY1, for more info on the neighborhood effort to keep the store open.

It seems that’s Jesse’s final appeal comes down to humor, with the help of a large format printer. Sign us up for all the brunch meats, please.

10/31/14 11:09am
The New York Times schooled on an giraffes this month. Photo:  Luca Galuzzi via Wikimedia

The New York Times schooled on an giraffes this month. Photo: Luca Galuzzi via Wikimedia

Likely you’re headed out on some kind of adventure tonight or tomorrow, whether it’s the kind that involves glitter, greasepaint and candy corn-flavored shots, or the type that starts with a Seamless order and ends three horror movies, a pizza and a bowl of popcorn later. Polish your party conversation game with this handful of stories from the past month and turn up your charm whether you’re on the dance floor with a cute werewolf or on the couch with a pal. (more…)

09/12/14 10:00am
Moving away from Williamsburg requires a gentrification tag sale. Photo: Judy McGuire

You’ll find genuine artifacts of middle-class life, plus plenty of vitriol at a gentrification tag sale. Photo: Judy McGuire

After 20 years in Brooklyn I was finally priced out of my borough this summer—much like I’d been priced out of Manhattan two decades earlier. It’s a typical NYC story, but unlike the couples profiled in the most recent eye-roller of a NY Times story on the phenom, my man and I weren’t in a position to lick our wounds in a $500k Jersey City loft.

While Williamsburg has been the butt of five bazillion jokes, I was born in New Jersey, so I’m used to being at the ass-end of a funny. Yes, Bedford Avenue has fancy cheeses and boys in too-tight, ill-fitting women’s skinny slacks to mock, but I’d lived there for two decades and I was kind of attached to the four walls I’d painted loud colors, to the ridiculously specific restaurants, to the little community my neighbors and I had become. I mean, how lucky was I to have one of my closest friends in the same building, just one floor away?

Growing up, my family moved around every few years, so until I landed on North 11th Street, I never really had any place that I considered home. But this place was big enough for one person (though it eventually housed two humans, and three felines) and cheap enough that I could afford it on my own, which was key as a freelancer with a rollercoaster-like income. After five or six years, I started to consider it my home and instead of freaking out at the commitment, I liked it.

I loved it, actually. (more…)