Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights Draws Chinese Residents

Lee Li both lives and works in Dyker Heights. His store, Red Sun clothing, just opened in October. (Photo by Stefani Kim/Voices of NY)

Lee Li both lives and works in Dyker Heights. His store, Red Sun Clothing, opened last August. (Photo by Stefani Kim/Voices of NY)

When Ray Chen moved to Dyker Heights from Sunset Park in 1998, he was seeking his version of the American Dream: better schools, a safer neighborhood and a bigger living space.

Some residents of this historically Italian area, however, were apprehensive at first about the influx of Chinese newcomers into their neighborhood, which borders both Sunset Park and Bensonhurst.

Chen, a 49-year-old real estate developer, said that he received complaints from neighbors of home sellers in Dyker Heights when he first showed houses to Asian clients in the late ‘80s.

“The people were not welcome.  They [neighbors] didn’t want them to see homes,” he said.  Eventually, though, the resistance began to ease and the buyers kept coming.

Now, Dyker Heights is but one of a group of Brooklyn neighborhoods that has drawn immigrants from Asia, and, more specifically, China.

According to “The Newest New Yorkers,” a 2013 report recently released by the New York City Planning Department, Brooklyn neighborhoods like Bensonhurst and Sunset Park are now home to greater numbers of Chinese-born residents than Manhattan’s Chinatown, which used to claim the largest numbers of new Chinese citywide.  Though Chinatown still has a denser population of Asian residents, their numbers have dwindled by 20 percent since 2000 .

In contrast, Chinese residents in Brooklyn have spread out farther, settling in neighborhoods from Sunset Park in the north, to Dyker Heights and Sheepshead Bay in the south.

Stanley Ng, a member of the Citywide Council of High Schools, moved to Dyker Heights from Bensonhurst 15 years ago when he wanted to buy a home.  What he found, though, was that homes on 80th St. between 10th and 11th Avenues were off-limits to Asian buyers.  He now lives on 70th St.  where several Chinese families live.

“At the time, they wouldn’t sell to us,” said Ng, in a phone interview. “That told me we weren’t welcome on the block back then.”

Nonetheless, from 2000 to 2010, the Chinese population in Dyker Heights swelled from 6,073 to 12,149, a 100 percent increase, according to New York City census data. As of 2010, Chinese residents accounted for 28.6 percent of Dyker Heights’ population, compared with 15.4 percent a decade earlier.

Unlike other South Brooklyn communities with larger populations of new Chinese immigrants — Sunset Park and Bensonhurst had 39,952 and 47,105 Chinese residents respectively as of the 2010 census — Dyker Heights is a more attractive destination for those seeking a better quality of life after they’ve been in the United States for a few years.

To the newly affluent immigrant community, Dyker Heights stands out for its winding blocks of neatly maintained homes — many with their own yards — and for its low crime rate. It has proximity to traditional Chinese neighborhoods like Sunset Park without the “Chinatown of Brooklyn’s” higher crime rate, crowded conditions and limited home ownership options.

Steve Chung, president of the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn, said that many of the Chinese buying homes in Dyker Heights are well-established business owners and professionals looking to own their own homes. He said the reactions from locals toward the current wave of Chinese homebuyers have been positive.

“Residents are likely to welcome them because they drive up real estate values.  They are a wealthier group — they bring in value,” said Chung in a phone interview.

Louis Liu, 51, a real estate agent in Dyker Heights, estimates that 80 percent of the home sales he makes in the area are to Chinese buyers, who often purchase a two-family home so that half of it can be rented out for extra income.

“It is a tradition in Chinese culture to own property. They like the area because they are into education and, overall, Dyker Heights is a very safe area,” said Liu in a phone interview.

According to New York City Department of Education high school admission data, 92 students from Dyker Heights were admitted to selective high schools like Stuveysant and Brooklyn Tech in 2012, ranking them #8 among zip codes within the city.  Other high-ranking neighborhoods included the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Sheepshead Bay and Borough Park.

Liu noted that in Dyker Heights there are “more Cantonese or English-speaking, second or third-generation [Chinese] residents.” That’s in marked contrast, he said, to neighborhoods like Sunset Park where large numbers of Mandarin-speaking community of immigrants from Fuzhou — a city in southern China — “don’t even need to speak English.”

Bob Brannigan, 63, the owner of B & A Pork Store on 13th Avenue, has been in Dyker Heights for 38 years. He said that while the neighborhood has changed over the years, his clientele of Italian residents remained largely unchanged.

“It’s practically a Chinatown on 8th Avenue [Sunset Park]. They mostly shop up there,” he said, referring to Chinese residents of the neighborhood.

Businesses up and down 11th Avenue in Dyker Heights also reflect the changing community.

Lee Li, 37, opened Red Sun Clothing Store last August. He’s lived in the neighborhood for three years since emigrating from China with his wife, daughter and parents.

His store, which has a mostly Chinese clientele, serves a need in a growing community of new arrivals.

“Chinese people need smaller sizes,” he said.

But it’s not clear how much the two communities have blended.

Assemblyman Peter Abbate, Jr. said that local business owners would like to attract an older generation of Chinese residents into their stores. Though younger Chinese have been known to frequent local stores and restaurants, the older generation may be more hesitant to navigate language or cultural barriers.

“It’s really no different than when the Italians came in,” he said, referring to the stumbling blocks Italian newcomers encountered when they first came to the neighborhood in the 20th century.

In recent years, the burgeoning Chinese community in Brooklyn has held celebrations for the Asian Lunar New Year in Bensonhurst that have included traditional dance performances held at both New Utrecht High School and I.S. 288.

Derrick Fung, a Dyker Heights resident who is studying at Northeastern University, said that New Year’s celebrations he’s attended in past years have not necessarily included members of both the old and new communities in South Brooklyn.

That kind of mixing may still be some years off. But he pointed to 18th Avenue and portions of 86th Street in Bensonhurst as examples of places where Chinese residents live near longtime denizens of the area.

“Both new and old residents do coexist side-by-side,” he said.

Stefani Kim is a student at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @StefaniJKim

14 Comments

  1. Pingback: CUNY Graduate School of Journalism » Clips of the Week

  2. Dkyer heights is nice and safe because of the Italians. when it’s all Chinese it won’t be nice anymore. Say goodbye to well maintained houses.

  3. I notice the same thing. Before the houses was well kept, and clean. Now you starting to see more filth and window bars front of the houses. We can say bye bye to Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst. Next will be Staten Island.

  4. Its over time to go before sll theFILTH COMES bar on windows 20 to a house

  5. And who is to blame for the changing of the areas ? Our own people have sold out. The remaining Italians that hold out and are left behind are the one’s who suffer. Many of my cowardly Italian Brothers and sisters sold out when one Puerto Rican family moved on their block. We ran this f**king city and now we are becoming the minority. As Italians we have no right to complain. We abandoned our neighborhoods and we will pay the price. You can only run so far. If we stayed put these f**king scheister real estate companies would be out of business. There is an area called “The Hill” in St. Louis that has been 100% Italian for 130 years because the Italians will only sell directly to other Italians and that is how neighborhoods should be kept.

    • Tony my Italian landlady raised our rent to 2500 despite the fact we did our own repairs and kept the property spotlessly clean which she did not. Only so much money I was willing to pay to live with hookah bars , trash can divers and having to step over Asians looking for unprotected internet access on my stoop. Yes it broke my heart to leave but I’m not going to be a sucker to keep the memory alive.

  6. I totally agree with the above comments when I first moved here in 2012 I saw one or two Chinese. Now it’s the whole neighborhood. I don’t care what race you are but these people are rude, nasty and unfriendly. I agree the suckers who sold to them just brought this whole neighborhood down.

    Italians maintain their property, they talk with thier neighbors and sell and buy in the same neighborhood.

    Chinese negligent thier property, aren’t friendly, sell in the neighborhood and send the money to China.

    I personally plan to boycott anything made or sold by Chinesse.
    Perhaps in the future our Chinesse-American citizens will start giving back to the neighborhoods that feed them.

  7. I live in Sunset Park (what a mistake) the Chinese here are disgusting, they hock and spit everywhere, blow snot rockets, urinate on the street and dig in the trash – they destroyed the beautiful park smoke and congregate there in cabals of 100 men every morning, like they’re taking over the world. They don’t learn English, seem to be multiplying like rodents, and somehow are buying up all the homes, tearing them down and destroying the beautiful character of the neighborhood, putting up stainless steel bars, fake businesses, Chinese only signs – everywhere. They also register there big Chinese commuter vans in Pennsylvania (because they don’t buy insurance, PA doesn’t require proof of it to register there) and take up all the parking spaces with them. They are breaking many laws, running brothels, evading taxes, overcrowded dangerous 5-to-a-room rooming houses, and are taking advantage of our system – they are Chinese first, and only in America to take advantage of us. Really horrible disgusting people. I had no idea until living among them (think twice before moving, Sunset Park will always be a disgusting place due to the disgusting residents who are not going anywhere). Hopefully something will drive them out. End Chinese immigration NOW – they are destroying the world, we don’t need them in Brooklyn, New York, or anywhere else in N. America. Just see what happened to Sunset Park if you want to see the consequences of allowing dirty, low-class, disgusting Chinese people to come.

    http://www.chinahush.com/2014/03/17/the-most-disgusting-trains-in-china/

  8. bunch of pathetic Italians crying about neighborhood being taken over by other race, first, they bought it legally, so there’s nothing wrong with it. Second, don’t act like you are superior, i have seen disgusting people from every other race. And finally, stop spreading hatred comments, and try to appreciate the goodness of people, don’t just pick on the bad sides.

  9. Bravo Soto. Everyone has to reflect and anknowledge that all groups face stereotypes. When the Italians migrated to the U.S., they faced similar criticisms by other groups, one being the Irish.

  10. Bravo Sito, well said. Everyone has to reflect and acknowledge that all groups face stereotypes. When the Italians migrated to the U.S., they faced similar criticisms by other groups, one being the Irish.

  11. ThePatriotMuckraker says:

    roy sito is a leftists degenerate dolt. “. . .first, they bought it legally, so there’s nothing wrong with it.” False, assumptions are not arguments. “Second, don’t act like you are superior, i have seen disgusting people from every other race.” The leftist’s “false equivalency”, “we are all the same” arguments. The Chinese pale in comparison to the achievement of Europeans, mainly Italians. “. . .stop spreading hatred comments. . .” Snowflake alert. “try to appreciate the goodness of people, don’t just pick on the bad sides.” Apparently, the chinese don’t, or any other sub-human race that is allowed to breed and take over. Leftists don’t understand the concept of “in group preference.” The chinese immigration is a huge problem. . .

  12. what I can say is Don’t sell your house if you don’t have another back up house, all Chinese will probably buy all lol and your children/ grandchildren/ grand grand children will buy at high higher price in the future or can’t afford ..

    Not only in America, it’s happening everywhere ,Watch this on YouTube Search (China’s Home Invasion: The Hunger for Global Real Estate | 101 East)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFcsFOKXsFU
    Search Chinese buying spree for U.S. homes
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIq8PO18Eso
    Chinese investors buy properties in Australia
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyuU88c_Xr0

  13. Victor sforza says:

    I lived in dyker heights for the 1st 32 yrs of my life. The italian/irish landlords were rotten and petty like any ethnic group that owned or rented property.. Also the generation(s) of irish/italian children that grew up in the 60s 70s 80s and beyond went to college, got professional jobs in education, buisness, law enforcement, the arts etc.. They didn’t stay around these old neighborhoods to run the pork stores, bakeries, candy stores & all the other mom n pop shoppes their parents ran.. They moved to Westchester, long island, new jersey, staten island etc etc.. In other words THEY LEFT.. So who eventually filled the void?? Mostly asians.. It’s not rocket science folks..

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