I Nearly Became One of Those You Might Have Stepped Over, Sir
There was a recent article in The Daily News that caught my eye. It was about yet another glam condo development, this time in the Bowery. The article begins this way:
The drunks are still there — only now they drive Bentleys, wear Prada and
The Bowery — once a national symbol of urban blight — is now one of the
hottest residential, retail and nightlife neighborhoods.
"This is not the Bowery of 20 years ago when we ... stepped over the
homeless," said broker John Gomes, who is handling sales for Douglas Elliman at
250 Bowery, a new condo being developed by Zach Vella with partner Justin
The boutique builder’s stamp is all over the building — and 22 of 28 units
sold in just one month, with prices from $925,000 for a one-bedroom to a hair
under $6 million for a penthouse. The loft-like project is attracting the likes
of Scarlett Johansson and singer Paul Simon, and will house an upscale
Anthropologie shop in the ground floor.
Back in 1975, I was one of 220 women who were told to leave a ladies' residence hall on West 13th Street in Manhattan, so that the Salvation Army, which ran the hall, could change it to another type of residential facility, for senior citizens. We were given two months' notice. Since I was working freelance as a research assistant and art model, and had no money, I had a very hard time finding an affordable new place to live. Some of the prospects I looked at could make you cry. Finally, at the eleventh hour, I lucked out with a very low-rent apartment not far away, and I've been there ever since. I've just retired after 25 years of work for the City of New York, and I had a decent salary, but I still can't afford the standard rents in our town.
I had many advantages, including a college degree. I never used drugs, never got drunk, didn't have a wild life, always dressed neatly, was what you would call a responsible person. I couldn't understand why it was so hard to find work and housing that were suitable, and that enabled me to live with reasonable comfort and safety. I really came quite close to being homeless.
It's bad enough when you can't afford housing; it's worse when you are treated like a bum. The homeless are demonized. Whenever a new homeless shelter is proposed, the community is up in arms. I keep thinking they could have been up in arms about me, simply for being homeless, if that had been my fate.
The crass and unfeeling way the realtor in the article cited above--John Gomes--refers to the homeless is typical. You've come a long way, the article suggest, when you are in a glitzy neighborhood where you don't even have to see the homeless. Housing becomes more and more expensive and unwelcoming, un-neighborly. If you're where many people can't afford to live, you're one of the people worth knowing.
This is part of the cruelty of the profit system, which will one day be no more because it is so ugly that people will not continue to tolerate it. As the great historian and economist Eli Siegel once said, "What does a person deserve by being a person?"