gentrificationMilitant JournalismNew York City

Brooklyn residents combat impending ‘food desert’

On July 26, members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation joined local community organizers from Flower Lovers Against Corruption and Movement to Protect the People to protest the closure of the Associated Supermarket in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn by Midwood Investment and Development. The supermarket has been a reliable source of affordable groceries for Crown Heights residents for decades. 

Though organizers successfully pressured developers to grant the supermarket a 15-year lease in the luxury housing building that will replace the supermarket, planned construction would still force temporary closure of the store for several years. Activists are now demanding that measures be put in place for residents to have a neighborhood-based source of affordable food until the new supermarket is built.

“Our community is a low- to moderate-income community,” explained Alica Boyd of MTTOP. “And this supermarket has been servicing us for the last 50 years. And when it’s gone, it will create a food desert.” 

Community fights for affordable grocery

With the expiration of Associated Supermarket’s lease back in spring of 2021, plans were in place to demolish the grocery store and redevelop the lot. Midwood Investment and Development, one of the largest and most prominent developers in New York City, planned to build a new luxury housing development and publicly announced their intention to lease the ground floor to a replacement supermarket. As has been the case with most of the new development surrounding the border of Prospect Park, the new proposed supermarket likely would have been a high-end grocery store like Whole Foods or Lincoln Market — stores which residents of this predominantly Black, low-income community would have been priced out of.

The impending eviction and redevelopment prompted local elders and community organizers, with the consistent support of the PSL, to launch a campaign to save Associated Supermarket. Their tireless organizing efforts recently bore fruit, successfully pressuring the developers back to the negotiating table and ultimately granting Associated Supermarket a new 15-year lease. However, even under this new agreement, the store would still be forced to close temporarily.

The fight continues!

The new lease agreement saw Associated Supermarket close its doors on July 31 for the planned construction. As of now, no measures have been put into place by either the developers, store owners, or local politicians to address this interruption in the community’s supply of affordable food. The closest supermarket is the Western Beef on Empire Boulevard, almost a mile away. The neighborhood surrounding Associated has a high density of senior citizens with limited mobility and fixed incomes. 

Gentrification and the power of NYC real estate

Gentrification and the subsequent displacement of countless long-time residents is not a mere by-product of development — it is the product! The aim is not to revitalize an economically-deprived community, it is to push out the community and exploit every inch of livable space for every last cent that can be squeezed out of it.

Since the flight of manufacturing in the 1970s, real estate has been the single biggest source of capital in New York City. Just like food, housing under capitalism exists not as a fundamental right, but as a speculative commodity. In a country with enough vacant homes to house every single one of its inhabitants, multitudes of luxury apartment buildings — like the one proposed — sit vacant because they exist primarily as assets, and earn money for investors without even being occupied.

During the past year of the COVID pandemic, a record 60 million-plus people have applied for unemployment, signaling that workers need government-provided benefits just to feed themselves and their families. Even during such a crisis, the capitalist system is still ready to take the most basic needs away from a community that has been hit hardest, including food.

In the face of the seemingly invincible behemoth that is real estate capital, the community of Crown Heights and the PSL stand united and resolute in the fact that when the working class bands together and gets organized, there’s nothing that can stop us. 

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