What will happen to the people of Hempstead?

What Hempstead will look like after they relocated its current residents
A map of condominiums the Village wishes to build, currently there are hundreds of homes and businesses that fill this area.
A map that shows the villages' "weed area", or predominately the area that is filled with minority land owners

The future of Hempstead, gentrification, classism and new wave racism.

There is a new era in racism, segregation and the destruction of community. The history of the Civil Rights movement makes us think of these acts as being embodied through physical violence. But I feel like in modern days, ideologies of hate can be seen a lot more in economics. Poverty is used to starve people from their homes, their community and, as it forces those with little to continually hustle their neighbors, it also starves us from one another.

Long Island Food Not Bombs has been a staple in the Town of Hempstead for years and over that time we’ve created a community of hundreds. As part of this community I’ve seen a horrible trend growing in the village, town and county.

It seems to me that whenever someone try’s to do something to make the community better the town squashes it. Like, in the spring of 2008, the community came together to transform a vacant trash-filled lot (on W. Columbia & Morrell St.) into a community garden. The town’s reaction to this was to spend taxpayer dollars to illegally bulldoze the garden. The land wasn’t theirs, and after they destroyed it they filled it with construction debris as a message to those who wanted their town to look better.

That same year, as homelessness grew and people were seeking shelter on cold nights, the town spent millions to retrofit the bus station with a fortress style fence. This prevented people from staying warm at night where there used to be a shelter for them. People now wait for the bus out in the cold of night and the homeless sleep on the sidewalk and freeze to death. Publicly the town got away with doing this because they renamed the bus station to the “Rosa Parks” bus station. I believe that this is a disgrace to her name.

There are many examples of these sorts of actions and while they might differ in form the concept behind them is all the same. The powers that be have gone out of their way to make Hempstead a harder place to live.

Many people may not be familiar with the ideology of “weed and seed”. The government program embodying this name labels itself as charitable and community oriented and, because of this falsely portrayed image, many well-intentioned people work within its framework. And that said, there is a reality to weed and seed that many do not understand.

This reality is that weed and seed is a program that town-officials and corporate interests use to weed-out low income residents and then seed-in wealthier high income residents. The result of this tends to be the forced relocation of minority communities through economic starvation, crippled infrastructure and more often than not physical violence. In this sense violence takes the form of poverty, crime and the growing police presence associated with the program.

Unfortunately, for thousands of residents, this ideology is currently being unleashed on the Village of Hempstead. This is how it works - various economic and political interests (the people in control of the Town & Village of Hempstead and Nassau County) take an area predominately populated by minorities and they starve it.

They take an area like the 15 block radius around the Hempstead train station and they deem it a low-tax base zone. The County draws an imaginary line around areas populated by minorities, and even though surrounding areas in the same County are extremely wealthy, county officials refuse to spend enough money to upkeep the roads, support the schools, provide services or even incentives for business owners.

They do this so that after years of neglect the powers that be can say, “look this area is blighted and we need to fix it”. For them, fixing it means the creation of a master plan, the gathering of developers for long-term investments and, most important of all, the lining of pockets.

At this point the people in power pass new laws, regulations, taxes and increase the police force in order to make it harder for people to live in what has become the “weeding area”. The increased taxes and regulations ruin businesses - so they go under, people lose their jobs. They can’t pay for their mortgages or their rent - so they lose their homes, and then the same developers who’ve signed onto the village’s master plan buy those homes.

They buy these homes and businesses and they don’t fix them up, they don’t sell them, they just sit on them. They know these homes will become an eyesore and inevitably lower the price of the surrounding homes in the neighboring area.

These vacant run down properties inevitably attract vandals and drugs. Over time crime increases and as crime increase people call on the town to increase the police force and regulations. All this makes the neighborhood less attractive to live in, and reduces everyone’s property values even more.

The point of all this is that one day the neighborhood gets so bad most everyone will want to move out and sell their homes to the same developer who’s been sitting on their neighbors’ property. Oh, and if someone refuses to sell - the town will just take their land under eminent domain, or they’ll loose it because they can’t keep up with all the new regulations. They could even have the audacity to kick you out in the middle of the night without warning (This has happened and is happening right now).

The developer who steals your land will do so for a fraction of what it’s worth. They’ll receive tax credits from the town and they’ll eventually bulldoze the whole neighborhood down to the ground and “seed” in a new community made up of condominiums and wealthier residents.

This has been the story of what’s going on in Hempstead over the past few decades and in recent months the Village has taken new steps in this gentrification campaign.

They have passed their new revitalization project that transforms the area we’ve been talking about into a new town. In effect, the plan is to literally bulldoze the entire area, remove the residents and replace them with new wealthier ones… residents who will be living in million dollar apartments where your home used to be.

They are getting away with doing this because they say Hempstead needs to be revitalized and the truth is, it does. We as a community need to fix the problems of Hempstead but what the village, town and county want to do over the next few years isn’t it.

What’s really needed?

Why don’t we spend that 2 billion on making new schools or creating new jobs for the people that live in the village? We could house the homeless in abandoned homes in return for their help in fixing them up - it would teach people valuable skills. Use the vacant lots for community gardens to feed people, end hunger and make the streets prettier.

Go after the corrupt police and town officials involved in protecting the drug traffickers and crack houses. Fix the roads and give people jobs doing so. Encourage new development, but not the kind that forces those with the least means to lose what little they have, their homes.

Encourage community by creating forums and public discourse. Give the youth something to do! You can create a mural project to prevent graffiti; you can organize neighborhood watches instead of bringing in more men with guns. Talk and work with the gangs, people are joining them because there isn’t a family or community structure for them, so lets a start real interdependent community.

You see, all these solutions can be done with little money, and that’s the problem. These solutions don’t involve fat cats taking off the top. The village, the town, the county, they should all be working for the people. They were elected to do this but they don’t because they work for the interests that pay them.

The only way for the people of Hempstead to make their community better, to keep their homes, is to stand in solidarity with one another, to organize with one another. We need to make the community we want to see and stand up to the village who wants to replace the people of Hempstead with a higher tax base. I say f*** the villages deceptive lies. Spread the truth, share your voice, defend what should belong to everyone – stand up for your community!

With Love & Liberation,
JonSTeps & Long Island Food Not Bombs
LongIslandFoodNotBombs[at]gmail.com

Posted Nov 9 2009 - 7:43pm by JonSTeps

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