Last week I posted a column about gentrification and the African American community that stimulated quite a reaction. Some wanted to know why I only dealt with the African American community. They asked, is not “gentrification more of a white problem?” Also, I was asked why I didn’t state my personal belief about it; “had I just accepted it?” Moreover, I was taken to task for not offering facts or solutions.
The feedback was useful; thus, I am devoting this column to responding to some of the comments.
First, my main reason for writing last week’s column was to challenge middle and upper income Blacks to come clean about the fact that they benefit from gentrification if they live in a neighborhood that has experienced gentrification. Recently, I completed a campaign for elected office where every candidate proclaimed gentrification to be the original sin; they refused to treat the subject with any nuance or complexity. If you survived the great recession of a decade ago and found yourself under water as far as your home value was concerned, as many of us did, enjoying double digit appreciation in home value was not bad for you.
Second, I believe it goes without saying that we all should support the right of individuals to live wherever they choose. This freedom of choice does not mean we should support all problems associated with gentrification such as displacement, skyrocketing taxes, and re-segregation of neighborhoods. Many of these problems, often attributed to gentrification, are due to bad public policies and or discriminatory practices by banks and financial institutions.
In the early 1990s, the AJC published a Pulitzer Prize winning series called, “The Color of Money” that details the way banks have discriminated against black middle class customers seeking loans for purchase or improvement to their homes. More recently the Times has published a similar article where the results are the same. If black customers can’t receive mortgages for which they qualify they won’t be able to purchase homes, build wealth or gentrify neighborhoods.
Gentrification is real—whether in Harlem, Brooklyn, Baltimore, D.C., San Francisco, or southwest Atlanta. This phenomenon has or is changing the complexion, composition, and character of neighborhoods that once were scary, dilapidated, and abandoned.
Take Atlanta for an example, one only has to drive through Adams Park, Grant Park, West End, Mozley Park, Washington Park, Ashview Heights, and other close-in neighborhoods, and one will find homes for sale that attract competing bids. Newcomers joke routinely about offering $5-10K over list price, and that’s just for starting.
While it is true that gentrification has both race and class implications, data shows a huge shift in racial demographics underway in Atlanta. The 2018 Census Report is estimating that the city of Atlanta in 2020 will be 52% Black, down from 61.4% in 2000; and 40% White, up from 31% in 2000. The Asian and Latina populations will be just under 9%. Further, it indicates that as Whites have moved back into the city, Blacks have moved to the suburbs.
Finally, a number of readers took issue with my assertion that some Blacks feel guilty over the fact that they have not been able to bring about community development to black neighborhoods. Perhaps, I was unartful in my use of the term, guilty; fatigue might have been a more accurate description. We tried for 40 years to motivate other middle class Blacks to join in inner city living. Many of my friends who could, left for the suburbs of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Henry, Rockdale, and other counties. After trying for many decades, we got tired.
It will take a multifaceted approach to ameliorate gentrification’s harmful effects, First, let’s protect legacy and long-term residents. Taxes should be frozen for those on low incomes unless a sale has occurred. Landlords should not be allowed to raise rents to a level that long-term renters no longer can afford to stay. Developers who receive lucrative public subsidies such as tax abatements or credits must be required to provide a percentage of affordable housing. Let’s view affordable housing as a human right instead of a socialist experiment or regulatory burden.
Also, we must do a better job educating the community and residents on the importance of homeownership. Heirs to property must be taught the significance of keeping up with property taxes, maintaining properties to code, and not letting investors steal property from underneath senior citizens and those with low income.
Gentrification is complex and we need comprehensive planning with community input. We need a new vision for in-town neighborhoods. Is diversity an important value today and will it be tomorrow? Can we build age-in-place communities so seniors don’t have the burden of upkeep, but still will be able to remain in neighborhoods they have lived all their lives?
Above all, as our neighborhoods change, will they maintain their historic charm and uniqueness? Will legacy residents become like strangers in their own land? Or will the neighborhoods become the beloved communities for which we have anxiously awaited?