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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Housing Polish Greenpoint: Property and Power in a Gentrifying Brooklyn Neighborhood

  • Author(s): Stabrowski, Filip
  • Advisor(s): Walker, Richard
  • et al.

This dissertation will examine the rise and fall of the Polish immigrant enclave of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, over the past 30 years (1980 to 2010), focusing on the changing social relations of housing within the Polish immigrant community during this time. Greenpoint today stands at the cusp of disintegration as classic immigrant enclave, with property values and residential and commercial rent levels that prohibit new immigrants from settling, while forcing out many of the old immigrants who did so years ago. The political economy of immigrant housing in Greenpoint, I will argue, was both creator and destroyer of the Polish enclave - engine of its growth and barrier to its further expansion. A central argument of this dissertation is that the housing market is a social construct, embedded within and conditioned by social relations specific to a particular place and time. Though socially-embedded, however, the immigrant housing market is never fully divorced from the wider urban housing market; it is in fact structured by this impersonal market and its imperative to realize profit. There is an ongoing tension or dialectic between two forms of housing relations -one subordinated to the social utility of housing, another driven by the profit motive - that is manifest within any socio-spatial formation. In the pages that follow I will explore this dialectic as it drives the evolving social relations of housing within the Polish immigrant enclave of Greenpoint, where the political economy of immigrant housing has undergone significant and rapid change in the face of a real estate boom, the likes of which New York City - and the country as a whole - has perhaps never seen before.

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