CROWN HEIGHTS — A small, ad-hoc Brooklyn arts camp has become an unexpected rallying point for tenants rights in a rapidly gentrifying section of Crown Heights.
Artists and longtime local residents Mildred Beltre and Oasa Duverney originally conceived the Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine as a creative outlet for kids on their block of Lincoln Place between Franklin and Classon Avenues, but after four years of crafts, they found themselves at the center of a much larger conversation about the future of the neighborhood.
"The idea behind the tenant meetings was in the idea of service," Beltre said of the now weekly Neighborhood Barbecue and Tenants Rights meetings the Machine began hosting last Friday. "We’re uncertain in our situation, we know the people down the block are uncertain in their situation. We had a barbecue, we had information for everyone, and we had a lawyer."
At first blush, the barbecues don't have a lot in common with the machine's previous endeavors, which have included recycled bottle herb gardens hanging from the Franklin Avenue Shuttle tracks, sidewalk chalk animation and paper chain bling. But Beltre and Duverney said that they see the meetings as important extension of their work to unify the neighborhood.
"We’re concerned with the rapid gentrification of this neighborhood and how it results in multiple things," Beltre said. "There’s an increased policing of certain people to make the streets safer for some and less safe for others."
Another result has been increased rent and what some tenants feel are underhanded tactics by landlords to try to force longtime residents out.
"Everyone had a really similar story," Beltre said. "From those discussions it seemed like people started to organize themselves."
The barbecues will be held on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Lincoln Place between Franklin and Classon Avenues and are open to anyone with concerns about housing in the neighborhood.
For those who can't make it, the women plan to compile their resources into a book.
"We’re making a booklet to be distributed though the neighborhood that will have information on tenants rights, and also about community actions that anyone can take and facilitate," Duverney said. "We’d like to leave it in stacks around the neighborhood — kind of like the phonebook, as accessible as that."