Gentrification for the last thirty-plus years has signaled what some have called a much needed improvement and revitalization of poor urban communities. However, this has not come baring tidings of good joy. Communities that were once home to African Americans and minorities just trying to work and earn livable wages are now being dislocated. Local government and politicians are using urban development and renewal as the reasoning for the change. Furthermore, in the name of eroding roads, and underperforming and obsolete infrastructure these community members are being sold a lie. In reality, as told by a landlord in Brooklyn, New York City, having poor black people in properties causes the value of the properties to go down tremendously. In an effort to infuse the tax base and improve the value of these properties, you have to replace them with affluent white people. This is what gentrification ultimately does, moves out the poor minorities and replaces them with yuppies, guitar toting whites, who are more than willing to pay twice the rent so long as there are no black tenants. Moreover, gentrification is not only destroying and further segregating poor minorities; it is destroying the very fabric that makes these communities unique. Local stores are closing their doors, unable to now afford the expensive rents caused by this urban renewal. Ultimately, gentrification is continuing, regardless of the consequences. Urban renewal and renovation is spreading across the country, displacing millions of people who end up where they started, poor deplorable communities void of resources.
Gentrification: Renovating Aging Neighborhoods, or
Moving Out Minorities to Make Room for Whites?
If one were to go back in time to an urban area like the Mid-City area of Los Angeles, the south side of Chicago, or even Brooklyn, New York and Washington D.C., these neighborhoods would have been seen in some instances as dilapidated, and in desperate need of an influx of funding and resources. To say that negative entropy had set in would be an understatement. Cities looked for ways to get businesses to relocate there to infuse the tax base, and generate revenue, but gangs, and violence, albeit a small percentage of what actually goes on, kept these potential businesses out. With the socio-economic levels in these neighborhoods all but below poverty levels, struggling, and an educational system seriously underperforming, it seemed that there was no answer. How could cities turn around these urban communities, and give the people there a chance at a better quality of life, all while adding value to the city. Enter Gentrification. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus defines gentrification as the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents. While gentrification on the surface seems like an long term answer, and fix to these problems, it is short sighted, and ultimately does a disservice to the people who were in need of help in the first place.
In the purview, and spirit of Americanism, and that is giving all citizens, no matter the race or ethnicity a chance at the “American Dream,” who is gentrification really helping? Let us look into this further, and through research, it will be shown how calculated politicians and cities were in removing the powerless, and replacing them with the powerful. In History in a Time of Gentrification, George Derek Musgrove (2014) in his review of Building the Body Politic: Power and Urban Space in Washington, DC, went on to say that our nation’s capital was in the process of drastically changing, and not necessarily for the betterment of its citizens. (p. 1155) Musgrove (2014) wrote that, “Nearly two decades of white in-migration and black out-migration, facilitated by federal lending practices and pro-development city policy, have made Washington’s population younger, whiter, and wealthier” (p. 1155). Prior to this happening, this same city wanted and needed revitalization, but through calculated measures, and politics it was decided that the people of color in these neighborhoods, were no more in need of help, than the people they were replacing them with. Again, is this gentrification, or just simply a fancy word to move out minorities and move in whites? Washington DC wanted the area to be revitalized and re-energized as the capital of the United States. However, this revitalization did not include offering better paying jobs, so that in turn neighborhoods would flourish and property values increase.
Instead there has been much study on the values of property when said poor minorities, mostly black, live in these neighborhoods. David R. Harris (1999) in Property values drop when blacks move in, because...": Racial and socioeconomic determinants of neighborhood desirability, assessed that,
…With respect to the national market, property values do respond to racial composition. Housing loses at least 16 percent of its value when located in neighborhoods that are more than 10 percent black. [Also]… in neighborhoods with a high percentage of black residents is less valuable not because of an aversion to blacks per se, but rather because people prefer affluent, well-educated neighbors, and these traits are more common among whites than blacks. (p. 476)
What this study has shown, along with how most cities deal with their poor urban communities, is that when large communities blacks are concentrated in a singular neighborhood, the value of said neighborhood goes down. This then becomes a dead tax base, and the local government is forced to take action. This action however, while addressing the dead tax base by infusing it with mostly affluent whites, still neglects the root of the problem in the first place. Nevertheless, gentrification continues to be the driving force behind improving urban communities, displacing the poor, and sending them packing.
Washington DC had been seeing this happen for some time, with the majority of the black residents being displaced and moved out. But again, why? If these neighborhoods were so deplorable, why not just create jobs, and a sense of urban renewal? Were black citizens not worthy of the same revitalization efforts that would follow once they were ousted? This indeed was part of a bigger plan, a plan change the political base, and a change that would transform the political landscape. Racist perhaps, but this was not a plan that would be enacted so soon as to arouse the suspicion of those being impacted. What the poor blacks knew was that the area was being changed, roads were being built, and that they simply had to go. In her research, Sabiyha Prince (2014) in Urban Anthropology: African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C. : Race, Class and Social Justice in the Nation’s Capital, interviewed and talked with many people who were long standing residents of the District, who witnessed the coming change first hand. This dismantling of their neighborhoods created a distrust and Prince wrote that, “Distrust of top-down “improvements” has been nurtured in vulnerable communities where residents have seen the converging, profit-driven efforts of politicians, developers, and banks in their midst” (p. 103). The disenfranchisement of these neighborhoods was clearly a purposeful action all in the mighty name of renewal and development that would not include the African Americans’ who were at the receiving end of government’s proverbial whip.
This process did not happen overnight. Gentrification for all of its subliminal glory began slowly. With certain communities of color struggling, it would seem that the democratic process would prevail, and the outstretched hand of equal opportunity for advancement would also prevail. On the contrary, increasing property values, and rejuvenating the tax base was gentrification’s main concern. Again looking at the research of Sabiyha Prince (2014), she stated that gentrification was preceded by the disinvestment of these communities, and she looked to the riots of 1968 for a clear of example of this, arguing that after the devastation, no one was campaigning to rebuild the homes and businesses in the areas mostly home to African Americans. (p. 104). In one interview, Prince (2014) learned that it was just easier to dislocate, than to relocate. (p. 104). Dislocation because of deteriorating roads, and inferior infrastructure was an easier sale than outright saying; we have to make room for affluent white Americans.
Washington DC was not the only place that this was occurring, Urban Gentrification was taking place all over the country, and the same narrative followed. Again, whom was this really helping? Brooklyn, New York City was also experiencing the same fate as Washington DC. Brooklyn had long been synonymous with the poor in New York State. Even if you were not a New Yorker, from Florida to Washington State, images of poor blackness was conjured up when the city was mentioned. That socioeconomic status was further glorified in rap music in the late to early 1990s. However, as of late, Brooklyn is no longer the Brooklyn of old. As told in a News One Editorial by Christina Coleman (2015), traditional African American boroughs such as Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, are now be rebranded to attract young white perspective renters and buyers. In looking at both Washington DC and Brooklyn on the surface, this does not look like it has the residents in these urban communities best interests at heart. Again, whom is gentrification truly helping? DW Gibson (2015) posted an excerpt from his book, The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century, in the New York Magazine, The Daily Intelligencer where he discussed gentrification in the predominantly black boroughs of New York City. Gibson interviewed a Brooklyn landlord/redeveloper who with his associates bought old derelict, ruined properties in these boroughs that housed black tenants who paid $1,200 to $1,500 in rent. This landlord, as told by Gibson, knew that black tenants brought the property values down. The landlord would then pay the black poor tenants to move out, and replace them with white “yuppies” who were looking to rent. The landlord would charge these white tenants double the rent; in return, the property values would skyrocket. Gibson wrote as told by the landlord
If there’s a black tenant in the house—in every building we have, I put in white tenants. They want to know if black people are going to be living there. So sometimes we have ten apartments and everything is white, and then all of the sudden one tenant comes in with one black roommate, and they don’t like it. They see black people and get all riled up, they call me: “We’re not paying that much money to have black people live in the building.” (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/05/grim-racist-methods-of-one-brooklyn-landlord.html).
Gentrification as seen by this landlord, is about the exodus of poor blacks, and the advent of whites relocating into these areas. As a national narrative, the same can be said about gentrification all over the country. Urban renewal, rebranded and sold as making the community and city better, meanwhile the citizens being exiled, could no longer afford the new developments once constructed. The South Side of Chicago, and Mid-City Los Angeles are experiencing these same fates. These areas that were once enclaves of urban enrichment, are now home to white Americans with half-million dollar and up properties, and the redistribution of wealth complete.
Gentrification is not only displacing millions of black Americans and poor minorities. This process of urban renewal and revitalization is also hurting the very communities it is intended to help. What happens to the small mom-and-pop stores that are unable to afford the now ultra-expensive rents in the neighborhoods they have called home for decades. Even in looking at what makes America great, our ever-changing vibrant cultures are also being hurt. Allan Edson (2001) wrote that, “For people already living in these communities the result is rising rents and home prices, and the loss of their unique social fabric and culture” (p. 30). Looking at gentrification, what are the costs, clearly displacing minorities out of their neighborhoods, and changing the social urban fabric is not of major importance. Increasing the tax base as to increase the revenue for the government seems to be the overriding factor. Even though it has been shown in study after the study, the social costs far outweigh the monetary costs. However this is simply overlooked by the proponents of gentrification, and urban communities are continuing to be rebranded to attract young white middle and upper class affluent white citizenry. Again is gentrification about renewing aging communities or moving in whites, and further segregating communities. T. William Lester (2014) in The Long Term Employment Impact of Gentrification in the 1990s stated that, “However, critics of gentrification highlight the social costs of neighborhood change and point out that displacement of low and moderate income households exacerbates affordable housing problems, destroys long-standing social ties, and can lead to a re-segregation of urban housing markets” (p. 80). So while gentrification enters in and rejuvenates a community, the long term and permanent social costs are devastating, proving further that this only benefits those who could afford it, the white elite.
Conclusively looking at the question, gentrification: renovating aging neighborhoods, or moving out minorities to make room for whites? What is clear is that since the beginning, in the 1980s, gentrification has been the ultimate wrecking crew, in the name of urban renewal; communities have seen their landscape change drastically. From vibrant communities of color, to communities filled with yuppies and middle to upper class affluent whites, what these communities once represented are no more. Reasons such as eroding roads, and subpar infrastructure, governments are selling a dream of urban revitalization only to those who can afford it. Sadly, instead of creating that same revitalization for those already living there, and giving them livable wage jobs, they are being forced out, and segregated into even more poorer communities, with the same problems that existed prior to their exile; disenfranchised tax base, and underperforming schools, that exacerbate the problems even further. To answer the question posed throughout this research project, gentrification is about renovating aging neighborhoods, and unfortunately the research has also shown that in order to achieve this revitalization, and wealthier tax base, you replace the poor black community members with affluent white citizens.
While proponents of gentrification would call this race baiting, the ever-changing landscapes of these communities prove the contrary. One would be hard pressed not to see the proof when examined closely, and that is these urban communities are being displaced, and no longer urban. With this being said, the choice for correcting this urban obliteration remains with the politicians and local government. Understanding that the social-costs supersede that of monetary costs, they must decide if preserving the unique fabric of the community is worth it, or is it easier to just bulldoze down communities. John Betancur (2011) in Gentrification and Community Fabric in Chicago had this to say about the costs of urban gentrification, “The situation seems especially challenging for racial minorities who, like European ethnics, developed place-based social fabrics for self- help, incorporation and advancement but, unlike them, were deterred by the challenges of race and, most recently, urban restructuring via gentrification” (p. 383). Understanding these costs are what matters to these displaced community members, keeping their communities together, and providing that same revitalization, along with jobs is what is needed. While moving in the affluent is the quick fix, ultimately, relocating the poor and disenfranchised is not going to make that problem go away, and eventually it is going to rear its head and it will have to be addressed.
Betancur, J. (2010). Gentrification and community fabric in chicago. Urban Studies,
48(2), 383–406. doi: 10.1177/0042098009360680
Coleman, C. (2015, May 13). Here’s definitive proof gentrification is racist, as told by a
participating brooklyn landlord. Retrieved 21 May 2015. Retrieved from http://newsone.com/3114333/gentrification-is-racist-brooklyn-landlord/
Edson, A. (2001). Race, poverty & the environment. Reclaiming Land and Community:
Brownfields & Enviromental Justice, 8(1), 30-30. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41554318
Gibson, D. (2015, May 12). ‘I put in white tenants’: the grim, racist (and likely illegal)
methods of one brooklyn landlord. Retrieved 21 May 2015. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/05/grim-racist-methods-of-one-brooklyn-landlord.html
Harris, D. R. (1999). ‘Property values drop when blacks move in, because...’: racial and
socioeconomic determinants of neighborhood desirability. American Sociological Review, 64(3). doi: 10.2307/2657496
Lester, W. T., & Hartley, D. A. (2014). The long term employment impacts of gentrification in
the 1990s. Regional Science and Urban Economics, 45, 80–89. doi: 10.1016/j.regsciurbeco.2014.01.003
Musgrove, G. D. (2014). History in a time of gentrification. Journal of Urban History, 40(6),
1155–1160. doi 10.1177/0096144214536863
Prince, S. (2014, January 1). African americans and gentrification in washington, d.c.: race,
class and social justice in the nation’s capital. United Kingdom: Ashgate Publishing.
Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com