Turf Wars of East New York

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
In the Bay Area where I’ve lived for a couple of decades now, I’ve watched the front line of gentrification move further and further east. This show is based in Oakland, as you probably know, and Oakland’s quite big and heterogeneous, so you can never really talk about it as one thing. But in the last couple of years, rents have been going up and the fear is that rents will continue to go up to a point where only wealthy tech workers can afford it. This phenomenon is not unique to the Bay. East New York, a residential neighborhood on the eastern edge of Brooklyn, is going through this now too. In the 1960s, East New York rapidly transformed from a mostly white working-class neighborhood to an underserved community of mostly black and brown New Yorkers neglected by both society and policy. But now as New York City rents skyrocket, East New York is staring down a wave of gentrification that will forever change the character of this neighborhood that 120,000 people call home.

Roman Mars:
‘WNYC’ in New York and ‘The Nation’ magazine have teamed up for an in-depth look at the gentrification of Brooklyn. They call their series “There Goes the Neighborhood.” Today we’re showcasing an episode from this ongoing series that’s really fantastic. It turns back the clock and looks at how this new, rather unlikely hotspot for gentrification got to where it is today. This is episode 3 of “There Goes the Neighborhood”, Turf Wars, presented by Kai Wright of ‘The Nation’ magazine.

Woman: “Hi, can I get a latte?”
Barista: “Latte? Sure. You going to sit down and have this here or take it to go?”
Woman: “To go.”

Woman:
“You know what’s interesting? The other day I was walking in my neighborhood and I saw a black elderly gentleman that I hadn’t seen in a couple months and he literally, his eyes flew open and he said, ‘You’re still here!’ And I went, ‘Yeah, and you’re still here. Things have changed, haven’t they?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, black folks are disappearing’.”

Crowd Chanting:
“New York, New York, New York, New York, New York, New York…”

Man:
This is some phenomenon that everybody sees, everybody feels, but somehow it isn’t in the center of the discussion where it needs to be. I am, of course, talking about gentrification.

Man:
When everybody gave up on the neighborhood, we didn’t. We stood in the neighborhood, we worked it out, and we made it the better place that everybody wants to invest into now.

Woman:
We live as family. We all there for each other.

Man:
They have, also, the political power to modify things. They can go and sit with commissioners and with high`-ranked people and say, “I need an extra block.”

Man:
I had a guy walking around my backyard. “Yeah, I’m looking to buy this property.” I said, “Who are you looking to buy the property from, I own it.” And he says, “Oh, dude, is this here foreclosed?” I said, “Listen, dude, you’re confused.”

Man:
All I see is overpopulating the city with others. The only ones that could afford this rent is people that’s not from New York. Pay and my income doesn’t even give enough for room in East New York, so how the hell is it going to get me an apartment?

Montage of voices:
There goes the neighborhood.
There goes the neighborhood.
There goes the neighborhood.

Kai Wright:
I’m Kai Wright and I’m an editor at The Nation magazine, and my WNYC colleagues and I have been looking at this major demographic change that’s happening all over Brooklyn now. Gentrification is one term that’s applied to it and a lot of people who are sick of hearing that term feel like, “Hey, this is just the law of supply and demand. There’s relatively cheap property available, and all things being equal, the people who can afford it, grab it, and the people who had it earlier, they reap the rewards. But, all things are not equal. They never have been. For decades, public policies stack the deck of economic opportunity against black people. Writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, has spoken a lot about this fact lately and making his case for economic reparations. He made the link to gentrification succinctly during a recent talk in Brooklyn.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:
Neighborhoods change all the time in their makeup and their ethnic makeup. The problem is black people don’t really have the same level of self-determination to decide whether they want to stay and whether they want to leave. When we built the middle class in this country, we made decisions about who was going to benefit, and we decided black people weren’t a part of that. When we get to the point of talking about gentrification, you’ve got to dig deep. You’ve got to go further back.

Kai Wright:
So today we take a long look back at East New York, the Brooklyn neighborhood that, as we started exploring last time, is now standing right in the path of gentrification. The first developer to set his sights on East New York was Colonel John Pitkin way back in 1835. His family got rich on cotton and slaves but went broke in the cotton crash of 1837. It was a lot like 2008, but back then, the bubble was cotton, not subprime mortgages. Anyway, Pitkin lost his shirt in the crash, but not before launching this neighborhood into existence. He bought up a bunch of farmland, built a shoe factory, and called it East New York. Brooklyn’s famous Pitkin Avenue still bears his name. The Long Island Railroad came about a year later, and with it, factories to process foods from Long Island’s farms. The low rise housing that still defines the area skyline came next. Then more rail lines connecting the area to Manhattan and the rest of Brooklyn, and it just kept growing all the way through the middle of the 20th century.

Kai Wright:
East New York became a thriving suburb for the European immigrants who worked in all those factories; Germans, and then Italians, and eventually, Jewish families came here to feel successful and American.

Ron Shiffman:
It was sort of the suburbs in the city. It was a place where people strived to go.

Kai Wright:
That’s Ron Shiffman, a community organizer and urban planner who’s been fighting the development wars in Brooklyn since the 60s. He grew up in Westchester but spent a lot of time in East New York as a high school kid in the 50s.

Ron Shiffman:
My first girlfriend, actually, was in East New York. I used to travel from lower Westchester County to meet her at the-

Kai Wright:
It’s a long commute. You must’ve been in love.

Ron Shiffman:
It was a long commute. She was a daughter of a judge, lived in East New York.

Kai Wright:
He paints an almost Norman Rockwell portrait of the place.

Ron Shiffman:
It was attached housing, but everybody had their own porch. It was an upper middle-income community in many ways or aspiring community. It was not what we think of today.

Kai Wright:
It was a white community, and then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. Over the course of just four or five years, the neighborhood changed dramatically from middle-class to poor, from largely white to nearly all black. In 1960, East New York was 85% white. By 1966, it was 80% black and Puerto Rican. Why? What created such a stark change? A lot happened really fast, but there was a key moment. It happened on a hot summer night on July 21st, 1966. That’s the day an 11-year-old black boy was shot. Jim O’Grady has the story.

Jim O’Grady:
Here’s a little hint that East New York was primed for racial tension. In the summer of 1966, some of its citizens got together and started a little self-help group called SPONGE, the society for the prevention of Negroes getting everything. Oh, 1966. Of course, the group was whites only. Its members, part of the 20% of the neighborhood that hadn’t become black or Puerto Rican. A neighborhood that, as Kai said, ethnic whites had dominated demographically, economically, culturally, until as recently as five years before. Anthony Mamina was a teenager when the changes came down. He was born in Tunisia, but he’s Italian. A lot of the whites in East New York were Italian.

Anthony Mamina:
I remember where I lived, and it was mostly all white kids, anybody crossed Euclid Avenue, a black kid would cross there, they will chase them back there.

Jim O’Grady:
In the beginning, it was sort of like playing chicken.

Anthony Mamina:
The thing was, with them, it was the game. And the black kids used to come, I think, for the same reason, “Let’s get the white kids to chase us.”

Jim O’Grady:
Think about how disorienting it was to be in East New York in the early 1960s. If you’re white, you’ve seen your tight ethnic enclave flooded with newcomers. Your friends are gone. If you’re black or Puerto Rican, you’re moving in for the affordable rents or the American dream of homeownership. You might’ve also migrated from the South to find a job and escape segregation. But now, these cranky old-timers are telling you, “this ain’t your place.” And you’re probably thinking, “Dude, if this neighborhood is so wonderful, why did all the white folks, all at once, like a herd of antelope, move to Long Island?”

Anthony Mamina:
I used to deliver the Brooklyn Eagle, and when I used to get to Broadway, I see one side of the street was black and the other side of the street was white and I couldn’t understand that. Then when I was in junior high, we got two black girls in there and that was a big thing going on. I still didn’t understand it. Then I had a friend of mine, lived across the street, went down to Alabama, and he got beat up for the simple reason he got up and gave a black woman his seat. When he came back to Brooklyn, he had two black eyes.

Jim O’Grady:
So yeah, race relations in the South were obviously not good, but in 1965, America was reminded, in a big way, they’re not good anywhere. This is a network news report from the time.

News Report:
“August 11th, 1965. The bloodiest riot in 40 years of America’s troubled racial history begins. Los Angeles, California. The district called Watts. 34 persons die. $40 million worth of property is destroyed. Almost 4,000 are arrested. The American Negro, the invisible man, breaks out in a scream, ‘Look at me, look at me. Know me for what I am. Look at me if you can’.”

Jim O’Grady:
So now, it’s a year after images of LA burning have lit up American TV screens. It’s the start of the summer of 1966, and every major city is wondering, could the Watts riot happen here? New York’s new mayor, John Lindsay, is fixated on preventing it. Lindsay has been gathering a national reputation for walking the streets of New York at night without a security detail, mostly in poor neighborhoods, as a gesture of concern. Here’s how he describes the tension in places like East New York.

John Lindsay:
“City governments have been largely absent from the ghettos. Their chief presence, usually, has taken the form of a policeman, and it has been his unhappy lot to be the lone representative of the men, whitey, the hunkies, and by extension, the entire public and private establishment.”

Jim O’Grady:
Lindsay’s chief of staff was Jay Kriegel, who was 26 at the time. Today, he’s a white-haired executive with the real estate giant Related Companies. His office has a power brokers view of Columbus Circle, where he and I talked. When I emailed Kriegel to set up the interview, I asked if he remembered a particular incident from that summer of 1966; the shooting an 11-year-old black boy named Eric Dean. He wrote back, “Like it was yesterday.”

Jay Kriegel:
So this incident begins with a conflict over turf. It’s a classic turf battle of something called a triangle, right below the East New York subway station. And it’s a battle between the Italian kids who’ve always lived there, this is their turf, and black kids who are newly moving in.

Jim O’Grady:
Shouting matches. Fistfights. By all accounts, the neighborhood was on the verge of exploding.

Jay Kriegel:
Lindsay decides to go out to East New York, which, as you know, is a long way away from City Hall because there’s an eruption of violence between the two communities. Lindsay and three of us race out there, and go to a little pizza parlor, which is right under the subway station, where Lindsay meets with these kids.

Jim O’Grady:
Kriegel says the sit down at Frank’s Restaurant on New Lots Avenue goes well enough, except for the group of whites who march by shouting, “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate.” Lindsay leaves around 10:00 PM, and then the explosion happens. An account in ‘The New York Times’ says about 30 whites from SPONGE, remember SPONGE, the society for the prevention of Negroes getting everything. They start picketing at a traffic island behind police barricades. A group of black counter-demonstrators form and the groups exchange words. SPONGE members burst through the barricades and give chase. The groups don’t physically clash, but a block away, near a group of blacks, a gun goes off. A witness later tells a jury that nothing happens for a minute before “a little boy stands up and lays down in the gutter.” It’s Eric Dean. He’s taken away by ambulance and soon dies.

Jim O’Grady:
‘The Times’ says groups of black residents then roam the neighborhood; some throw garbage cans through store windows and bricks at police cars. The disturbance lasts about four hours. At City Hall the next day, Mayor Lindsay calls his aides in and asks them, who knows East New York? What’s going on? Who were the players? Jay Kriegel says everyone sort of looks at each other. Previous mayors could have gotten these answers quickly because previous mayors were Democrats. Lindsay is a Republican.

Jay Kriegel:
The city had been run by Democratic mayors using the democratic machine. So, if the city wanted to know what was going on in East New York, it would call the local district leader and it would call the local clubhouse and that was really the city’s branch office in these communities across the city.

Jim O’Grady:
Kriegel says this is why today we have community boards with professional staff. The boards existed in 1966, but they were voluntary and there were pretty sleepy. Lindsay beef up their powers and gave them money so he’d have locals on the ground to talk to when stuff hit the fan. Lindsay also oversaw a change in police tactics.

Jay Kriegel:
Bringing the cops into the community early, four in the afternoon rather than nine o’clock at night in the dark. So, instead of having cops run down the streets in the dark where they’re scared cause they don’t know where they are and the people are scared to see an army marching in. Cops come in the daylight, they stand around, they talk to people, they get acclimated, they see what’s around and the people get acclimated to them.

Jim O’Grady:
Kriegel says cops were instructed to leave their nightsticks at the precincts, to not use force, and to not stand on rooftops with rifles. Those tactics helped calm East New York. Besides Eric Dean, no one died that summer during public unrest. A local black teenager was later charged with the Dean shooting and put on trial, but a jury acquitted him. In the end, Lindsay managed to keep New York relatively free from the major fires and fatal racial violence that ignited around the country in places like Newark and Detroit and other cities. But within a year, almost every single white family moved away from East New York. White flight then spread through neighborhoods around the city, especially the outer boroughs.

Kai Wright:
But the turf wars between teenagers were just one symptom of a larger process that was unfolding. Whites and blacks were in conflict, but they were being pitted against each other by much larger forces. Brooklyn was in the process of absorbing two great migrations, Southern blacks coming North in search of industrial jobs and Puerto Ricans fleeing the decimated economy of the Island, but segregation limited these migrants’ housing options. So, black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods, like Bedford-Stuyvesant and Harlem, quickly became overcrowded. People began desperately searching for places to live and landlords and real estate investors saw opportunity in that desperation. They honed two tactics that have shaped neighborhoods all over the country ever since, fear-induced white flight and predatory lending.

Ad Clip:
“You can sell your home as is all cash at no cost to you, and your home can be sold fast, even if you’re facing foreclosures…”

Kai Wright:
Here’s how it worked: it started in the years after World War II and a stretch of tenements on the neighborhood’s western edge. The white families who lived there were already frustrated with the landlord’s neglect. Owners wanted to do the least and get the most out of these buildings, but something larger was about to play out.

Ron Shiffman:
We were very much afraid of the atomic bomb.

Kai Wright:
This is Ron Shiffman again. The urban planner who has been working in central Brooklyn since the 60s, and that’s right, he said the atom bomb. The fear during the cold war permeated American policy.

Ron Shiffman:
Coming out of World War II, the policy of the federal government was to disperse essential populations, to allow people to move out of the cities, to allow manufacturing and essential industries to move out of the cities.

Kai Wright:
So white tenants were given an out. The Feds began subsidizing mortgages and highways in what became a wildly successful effort to create a new class of suburban homeowners, but only for those essential populations.

Ron Shiffman:
Essential populations were considered to be white and educated and wealthy.

Kai Wright:
And all of the major real estate lobby groups advocated for restricting black buyers from the loans and neighborhoods that our public dollars financed. In East New York, white renters seized upon the chance to buy homes, and the landlords were happy to see them go. They’d been a pain in the butt, and now there are all of these black and Puerto Rican renters who faced a housing shortage and could be price gouged, but it didn’t stop there. The real opportunity that segregation offered for real estate speculators was in flipping the houses that East New York’s Italian and German and Jewish immigrants had owned for years, but to make a profit off of that, they had to get those white homeowners to sell for cheap.

Ron Shiffman:
People would come in, literally, and hire somebody to go out on the street and get into a fight in front of your house to scare you from leaving.

Kai Wright:
So that you’d feel like there’s a violence in the neighborhood.

Ron Shiffman:
There were even pamphlets put out that were attributed to black people. When you read them, it was obviously written by a white pretending to be such.

Kai Wright:
And they would say, what? What would the flyers say?

Ron Shiffman:
You know, we’re going to get Whitey because of this or something or other. It was scare tactics going on. There were people coming in and basically saying that if you don’t sell, you’re going to lose the value of your home.

Kai Wright:
They would just show up and knock on the door and say, Hey-

Ron Shiffman:
They went and solicited door to door, knocked on their door, in a way saying, we’re willing to buy your house for all cash today. You may not get this tomorrow.

Kai Wright:
What we now think of as white flight began in East New York.

Anthony Mamina:
I remember one person, she had a house up on Forbell Street.

Kai Wright:
Again, Tony Mamina.

Anthony Mamina:
They came one day, asked, do you want to sell? She says, no, they came the next day, you want to sell? She says, no! After about a week, they get up in the morning and the front door is on the floor.

Kai Wright:
A little something to focus the woman’s mind on the offer. The next day the buyer’s returned.

Anthony Mamina:
Says, you want to sell now? So, they took the money and ran.

Kai Wright:
This is blockbusting, and it worked. While teens fought in the streets, their parents fought over property. And the blockbusting, it set up the next stage in the process for real estate investors, predatory lending.

Ron Shiffman:
They set up these fast foreclosure schemes, where they would buy cheaper from the white families, resell it at a higher price to African American and Latino families.

Kai Wright:
The aspiring black or Latino homeowner would sign a contract with the investor, but the arrangement would look a lot like those rent-to-own deals on appliances today. They’d be on the hook for way too much money, more than they could afford, and more than the house was worth.

Ron Shiffman:
After two to three months, they couldn’t make their payments so they finally moved to evict them. And within a year or two, they evicted them and they had the housing back in their own hands and sold them again. So, they churned these buildings.

Kai Wright:
Wait, are you talking about the 60s or the early 2000s and our foreclosure crisis. That sounds very similar to the subprime crisis that we talked about.

Ron Shiffman:
It was very similar.

Kai Wright:
Throughout all of this, racial tensions of course emerged.

Ron Shiffman:
They always blamed each other for what happened. Primarily, the white families blame the blacks who moved into the neighborhood for the abandonment and the decay of the neighborhood when it was really the real estate manipulation going on behind the scenes.

Kai Wright:
This played out in fights between teenagers. Those fights blossomed into gang wars. The summers of 1966 and 67 were marred by conflict, and then Eric Dean got shot and killed. By the end of 1967, broad swaths of East New York were as much as 97% black and Puerto Rican. Today, Tony is in the same house, but he says he can count the other whites in the surrounding area on one hand. He watched them move, one after another, over the decades.

Anthony Mamina:
Either to Howard Beach or out to Long Island. I don’t know if people have a beach better than where I am, but the whole thing is they have the name Howard Beach. A lot of people are afraid to say East New York. When somebody asks me, I tell them East New York. I’m proud of it.

Kai Wright:
That pride is not a small matter when it comes to neighborhood development. In the decades after Eric Dean was killed, when public and private investment drained out of the place, the real difference between the dark stereotypes of East New York and the reality of community has been residents’ sheer will. Tony retired from driving delivery trucks 33 years ago. He spent most of that time volunteering at Cypress Hill’s local development corporation. He’s been part of dozens of initiatives from watchdogging the local police precinct to working with banks to fund building projects, and he’s not alone. Harold Green and his wife moved here in 1978 when they bought a house up on the Hill by Highland Park in what is still one of the ‘tonier’ parts of the neighborhood?

Harold Green:
It was nice. It was very nice. It was very quiet. It was transportation accessible, and the price. The price was very affordable at the time, and we have a nice two-family house.

Kai Wright:
By the early 80s, he was volunteering at the development corporation with Tony.

Harold Green:
One of my neighbors was on the board of Cypress Hill and she kept insisting, “Harold, you should come down and volunteer your time.” So I came, being in management and social services, I had some communication skills and I also had some financial background. So, it worked out.

Kai Wright:
Today, long retired, he’s the board chair. He drove me around and showed me some of this stuff they’ve built during the years of divestment: a grade school with a greenhouse on top, three- and four-story apartment buildings with affordable units, senior housing for which they’ve just broken ground.

Harold Green:
You have to do for your community because no one else would do for you.

Kai Wright:
And now, like most other property owners here, he’s got mixed feelings about the city’s plan to spur more development. He’s more than happy to see the new resources and even eager to see new people with their new money. It’s just, well, what will happen then?

Harold Green:
We’ve been watching from Williamsburg up through Fort Green, Bushwick, so we’re aware of what’s happening and we’re just trying to position ourselves to get the best results and the best response from the city administration to help make East New York, Cypress Hills, Broadway Junction, surrounding areas as vibrant, as safe and as livable as possible.

Kai Wright:
But, you know, for guys like Tony, it’s been livable for a long time.

Kai Wright:
Why did you never move?

Anthony Mamina:
Oh, I can move. My son’s got a big house up in Newburgh. I could’ve moved there, no problem. Everything on the main floor and everything. But what am I going to do there? Once a day watch the armadillo go across the grounds to drink the water? You know, that’s the most excitement. Over here, we have a little shooting, we have a little car accident. You get go outside, talk to the people, and different views. I still don’t understand this black and white thing. Different, you know. I treat people as they treat me.

Kai Wright:
This black and white thing. We’re still talking about it, and we’re hearing about it in every neighborhood we visit with this podcast. It comes up with foreclosure and the history of racially targeted, subprime lending. It comes up with the demographic shifts people are seeing now, and it explains a lot of the anxieties people have about the city’s redevelopment plan for places like East New York. Because after generations of flipping, of blockbusting to chase out whites, predatory lending to bring in blacks and Latinos, and decades of abandonment that followed, people are skeptical of manufactured change.

Roman Mars:
That was Turf Wars, an episode from the series “There Goes The Neighborhood” from ‘WNYC Studios’ and ‘The Nation’ magazine. Recorded and mixed by Cayce Means. Research by Sean Carlson. Digital production by Lee Hill, Delaney Simmons, Kevin France, Frank Roberts, and Annie Shields. It was reported and produced by DW Gibson, Rebecca Carroll, Jim O’Grady, and Kai Wright, and edited and executive produced by Karen Frillmann. You can hear the rest of this series, and you really should – it’s just fantastic – at wnyc.org/neighborhood.

Credits

Production

Turf Wars is an episode from the series There Goes The Neighborhood from WNYC Studios and The Nation Magazine. It was reported and produced by DW Gibson, Rebecca Carrol, Jim O’Grady and Kai Wright; digital production by Lee Hill, Delaney Simmons, Kevin France, Frank Roberts, Annie Shields; research by Sean Carlson. The series is edited and executive produced by Karen Frillmann.

You can hear the rest of the series—and you really should, because it really is fantastic—at WNYC.org/neighborhood. You can also call their voicemail with stories of how your neighborhood is changing.

Music

“Outside”- OK Ikumi

  1. Jay

    I live in East New york. My little brother is from here so needless to say this story hits close to home. I just want to put out that there are dope arts orgs that have been putting in work on the ground for years. one of them is Arts East New york.
    http://artseastny.org/

    There has always been good people here. Its sad that folks only take notice of ENY when gentification comes up. People been holding down ENY

  2. Adam

    I’m disappointed to hear this presented without any sort of commentary at all, some of the comparisons and basic economic reasoning were very shaky. That said, it’s a powerful piece and I’m glad to have heard it.

  3. Laura

    Thank you for sharing this story. I have one comment about the set-up for the piece. Roman states that black and brown New Yorkers were “neglected by both society and policy…”. I would like to draw attention to his use of the word “neglect”, as it removes burden of blame from those with power who shape policy. Perhaps a better phrasing would be “oppressed” by both society and policy. It’s a small difference, but language matters.

  4. Gary Drucker

    I was first interested to happen upon this article about East NY and then amazed by its content. Where to start?

    Yes, ENY was a mostly white, largely Italian neighborhood until around 1955. I don’t know who wrote this not quite accurate article, which seems to have a pre-ordained interest in talking about white flight as though it were some kind of plague, but in 1955, a series of lower class housing projects were opened up in this neighborhood. Hundreds of lower class residents suddenly flooded ENY. There wasn’t even enough room in the local schools to accommodate this radical increase in the number of children. Many of the lower class residents were disadvantaged minorities, but a reasonable portion were white. But they were all lower class. None of this is even alluded to in this article.

    Perhaps concerned that this dramatic influx would affect the value of their properties, or, may we even dare to say, their safety, the middle class (mostly but not totally white) residents of this neighborhood sought to leave. When they couldn’t sell fast enough and their properties became nearly without value, landlord owners of large buildings actually set fires in order to collect insurance money, which was the only value they could extract at that point, even if illegally gotten. The entire neighborhood became a blight–except for the housing projects from which no one could leave (too poor) or gain profit by burning. This only made the neighborhood more disproportionately poor and crime-ridden.

    It is in fact this vast destruction of property (even some of the schools were razed after a time) that led to the more current day building of infill properties, perhaps under the pressure of growing real estate prices in the NYC area. Certainly, I am happy to hear it happen.

    But I have to say, to write an article like this completely skipping over the substantial impact of this huge influx of people into a formerly stable neighborhood really does completely call into question any value to this piece. A story about that time in ENY would be more accurate if it spoke to the impact of such a drastic change of population through public housing instead of a topic of white flight.

    Oh, and in case you are supposing that I and my family were part of the white-flight that this article simplistically discusses, you would be wrong. Although we were white, we were one of the families who moved into the housing projects at its opening, specifically the Cypress Hills Houses. Other nearby public housing was the Pink Houses and, a bit farther away, the Linden Houses. But the Cypress Hills houses were square in the middle of things. My family lived there for 10 years, from 1955 to 1964, and indeed so did my aunt and my cousin. And while we all benefited from a new public housing project, I would be both blind and deaf not to understand its impact on the people around us.

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