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MAP: See Gowanus' Disappearing Latino Population

 Gilberto Bravo and Nancy Luzunari (with their grandson) have lived on Union Street off Third Avenue in Gowanus for 26 years. Their block was once full of Puerto Rican families, but now there are just a few.
Gilberto Bravo and Nancy Luzunari (with their grandson) have lived on Union Street off Third Avenue in Gowanus for 26 years. Their block was once full of Puerto Rican families, but now there are just a few.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

GOWANUS — When Nancy Luzunari moved to a four-story walk-up on Union Street and Third Avenue in 1990, it was a family affair, with Luzunari and her four sisters all renting separate apartments in the building.

The neighborhood back then was full of families like hers who traced their roots to Puerto Rico. But now her sisters have moved away, and her building is down to just two Latino tenants, she said. She can count the rest of the block's Latino residents on one hand.

"We miss our crowd," Luzunari said. "[The new people] are friendly, but not that friendly. They don't socialize with the Puerto Ricans."

Her block's dramatic change mirrors a trend across Gowanus.

From 2000 to 2014, the neighborhood's Latino population has dropped an estimated 10.8 percent, while the white population has soared by approximately 53 percent, according to a DNAinfo analysis of the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data available.

The changes have been most acute in the part of the neighborhood where Luzunari lives, on the east side of the Gowanus Canal down the hill from Park Slope.

Just 16 years ago, Latinos were in the majority there, making up 54 percent of the population, according to U.S. Census estimates. Today they make up just 31 percent of the population there. The white population in that area has jumped by 232 percent.

The map above is colored according to the largest racial group in each census tract in the Gowanus area. Areas colored yellow represent Latinos, areas in green represent whites, and areas in blue represent African-Americans. DNAinfo/Nigel Chiwaya. Source: US Census Bureau, Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System.

What happened to Gowanus' Latino population? 

Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the local social justice nonprofit Fifth Avenue Committee, said the decline was the result of gentrification, “displacement pressures” and new development linked to the rezonings of north Park Slope in 2003 and south Park Slope in 2005.

By allowing taller residential development along Fourth Avenue, the rezonings hastened the demolition of rent-stabilized buildings along the avenue, many of which were home to Latinos, de la Uz said. They were replaced by new market-rate developments — a trend that continues to this day on Fourth Avenue.

Neither of the rezonings required developers to include affordable housing in their new buildings, de la Uz noted.

"They bought them out," Luzunari remembers, referring to landlords who emptied buildings of Latino residents so they could renovate the properties into market-rate rentals. "They threw them out. They got rid of the Spanish people. ... It's only Americans now."

Two decades ago Latino families with children rented apartments on her block. Now it's mainly young white singles who live with roommates, she said.

Many Latino families also once lived in relatively affordable (but not rent-regulated) buildings in lower Park Slope and Gowanus that were emptied and sold as the area gentrified in the late 1990s and 2000s, de la Uz added.

FAC launched a "displacement-free zone" in the late 1990s to try to fight this trend. The effort put a spotlight on the issue and helped keep some families in their unregulated apartments longer, de la Uz said. FAC also tried to get state lawmakers to create a Good Neighbor Tax Credit that would give property owners a tax break for renting below-market apartments to seniors and disabled people, but the bill did not become law.

Aside from who lives there, Luzunari's block has changed a lot in recent years. A Holiday Inn Express replaced a parking lot, a boutique hotel is opening soon near Fourth Avenue, and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que moved into a former factory building.

Where did Latino residents go after they left Gowanus? Some may have moved in with family members elsewhere in the city, become homeless or moved to Pennsylvania or Florida, where the Latino population is on the rise, de la Uz said.

"It is very easy for folks to forget that only a short time ago, Gowanus and parts of Park Slope were majority Latino," de la Uz said. "It is one of the reasons I decided to move to Park Slope 26 years ago."

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