Not far from the Bungalows stands a largely vacant mecca of livable housing. On Rockaway Boulevard a large condo development spreads out along the water on the island’s eastern shore, virtually untouched by the storm. A billboard in front of the housing complex advertises two-family homes at “Arverne by the Sea.” While little work has been undertaken in Rockaway’s poor and working-class communities, construction crews have been hammering away on the condos at Arverne, homes that few in the Bungalows can afford.
“That’s always the problem with capitalist society,” said local activist Josmar Trujill, “You’re going to have empty, glorious housing and people out on the streets. This just kind of puts the spotlight on that contradiction.” Trujill said he received a check from the FEMA to find a place to stay after the storm, but it wasn’t enough. “You can’t just leave it up to people going out and renting market-rate apartments. You got to be able to provide housing. There’s talk of FEMA providing trailers, but I’d like to see something more long-term.”
Residents are worried that their neighborhoods could be slated for demolition and replaced with an Arverne-style development. Some landlords have been handing out eviction notices in the Rockaways. Others have hiked up the rent. Tenants accuse them of using the storm as an excuse wash them out and gentrify.
“People are being bullied and harassed,” said Susan Max. Her landlord has attempted to jack up her rent by $300 to cover the cost of flood damage. Some tenants have moved out, but Max has chosen to stay, organize and fight. Occupy Sandy has put her in touch with a lawyer who has agreed to represent all 26 remaining tenants in her building and take their landlord to court.
There are other modes of gentrification. A lot of the Rockaway politicians are big champions of Aqueduct Casino, a major gambling complex in Rockaway, raising concerns in the community that Sandy could be used to instigate large-scale corporate development. State Senator Joe Addabbo said that while he “enjoys the work” that unions do and he likes small businesses, he wouldn’t rule out welcoming big-box stores to the Rockaways.“We do have a segment of the population that is non-union and we have to find them work as well.”