Laurelton: The Queens Community Gentrification Forgot, Where Black Incomes are Higher than Whites

While gentrification has been an issue in many of the city's Black neighborhoods, there has been relatively little impact in the middle-class communities of Southeast Queens. Borough Reporter Ruschell Boone looks back at how things have changed in a borough where Black incomes have surpassed those of whites in the time since NY1 launched 25 years ago.

While images of crime and poverty are often associated with Southeast Queens, there has long been another side. Large bedroom communities that have been meccas for upper middle and middle class blacks for generations. 

Vernel Bennett and his wife Delores moved to Laurelton in 1987. He was a supervising corporate tax auditor for the city. She was an assistant vice president at JP Morgan Chase.

"If I moved into another neighborhood and my neighbor is not the same color or background, they, you know have some preconceived notions," said Delores Bennett. "That's not here. Like, here, you move here, you know. You know what kind of people are here."

There are about 18 neighborhoods in Southeast Queens. Most have predominantly black populations with relatively high incomes. In many cases, they've surpassed whites in the area over the past two-and-a-half decades.

In Laurelton, the average income for black families is $81,000 year. For whites, it is $73,000.

"We have every profession you can name," said Vernel Bennett. "We have from the lawyer to the doctor and the accountant, you know, to the plumber and the electrician."

Blacks began moving here from the South in the 1940s. They also came from other parts of the world.

John Crow is the community liaison for the Langston Hughes Library and a resident.

"We have Jamaicans, we have Haitians, we have Africans from the continent, Nigeria, Ghana, you know," Crow said. "Wherever you name it. We have Grenadians, of course."

While gentrification has not been an issue in areas like Laurelton, where residents have higher incomes and own their homes, in Jamaica, where most rent apartments, it is another story.

Jamaica was hit hard after the housing market crashed. But the neighborhood has since rebounded with revitalization plans for the downtown area. And crime is way down.

There has also been a significant shift in Jamaica's black population. In 1990, there were 22,000. Today, the number is half that, according to the census.

Some of the other neighborhoods are becoming more diverse as well.

Many welcome the new residents, but are worried long timers are being pushed out.

"That's always a concern," Crow said.

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