|Consequences of Gentrification|
|Friday, 29 May 2009 14:35|
By Rosemary Ndubuizu
“The root of gentrification, gentry, derives from the Old French word genterise (a variant of gentilise), meaning the people of noble birth. Sociologist Ruth Glass coined the term in 1964 to mean the influx of wealthier individuals into cities or neighborhoods who replace working or lower-classes already living there.” - Wikipedia
“Gentrification reinforces the idea of cultural supremacy. Because of this, we at ONE DC choose not to use the term.” – Rosemary Ndubuizu
On March 10, ONE DC organizers, Jessica Rucker and I participated as panelists in a Howard University panel discussion entitled, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Consequences of Gentrification. Close to 50 people were in attendance as ONE DC panelists, Councilmember Jim Graham, and displaced Capers resident, Rose Oliphant, discussed the complexities and consequences of “gentrification”. While the discussion began with a decidedly academic tone, Jessica, Rose and I attempted to shift the conversation from a detached, scholastic dialogue to one which underscored the adverse impact displacement - the outcome that always accompanies “gentrification” - has had on long-time, low-income communities of color.
To be sure, our intent was not merely to critique the result of “gentrification,” but to challenge the series of events that have led to its outcomes in the first place by confronting the prevailing notions for displacement – specifically, that people always move and in this instance it happens to be low-income families; poor people are bad, prone to criminal activity, and don’t have a right to stay in the city; it’s important to increase a city’s tax base with affluent residents. Each of these rationalizations is misleading and doesn’t address the explicit policy or institutional inattention that has led low-income communities to be susceptible to “gentrification”.
Following the civil unrest in 1968, the District allowed and in some cases encouraged local businesses and home owners to leave certain neighborhoods, causing an exodus of tax revenue and a disinvestment in essential services. As deplorable as this was, it wasn’t the extent of DC government negligence. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s many property owners did not pay their property taxes or adequately maintain their rental housing units, allowing many to fall into disrepair and become eyesores and slums. These units were occupied primarily by low-income residents whose repeated request for redress went unanswered. In an appalling display of indifference, DC did not pursue the prosecution of many of these landlords.
Now, in an effort to attract ‘higher income’ families to the city, these same property owners are renovating long-neglected apartment complexes and landlords who own project-based Section 8 housing in DC are deciding against renewing their Section 8 contracts. To make matters worse, public officials are promoting policies that do not reflect the needs of the long-time community residents who have endured the lean years of disinvestment and neglect.
For instance, DC’s current policy on affordable housing states that the city will subsidize the creation of new housing for families making at least $59,000 a year (60% Area Median Income). This ignores the fact that the District’s median income is approximately $55,000. Further, the median income of DC’s African Americans – who comprise 62% of the city’s population - is $35,000 a year. Adequate, safe and affordable housing is hard to come by for most families with maximum incomes of $35,000. DC’s affordable housing policy further exacerbates what is already a full-fledged housing crisis for low-income people of color. It is one reason there are over 25,000 people on DC’s Section 8 waiting list, all of whom are in immediate need of affordable housing. These families don’t have the political muscle and legislative leverage to marshal support for policies that address their housing needs.
During the panel discussion, this fact was underscored through anecdotes shared by Rose Oliphant. She provided accounts of the subtle ways that some DC officials and real-estate developers have tried to circumvent the rights of displaced families to return to renovated apartment complexes, in the name of ‘redevelopment.’ Ms. Oliphant discussed how residents were misled and lied to by real estate developers in order to get them to leave their long-time homes. And, she explained how families have been denied the right to return to their homes because the District, in many cases, has allowed developers to charge exorbitant fees to residents who can’t afford them and has not enforced the acceptance of Section 8 vouchers.
While the students attending the discussion asked critical questions and were deeply engaged in what turned out to be a thought-provoking dialogue, the socio-economic inefficiencies of gentrification seemed to be lost on DC council member Jim Graham. In an insightful popular education exercise, Jessica Rucker demonstrated the paradox of council member Graham seeing no harm in “gentrification” considering his lifestyle is inoculated from the rising cost of living by his $125,583/year salary. In contrast, she highlighted how there are very few Howard University students that can study and afford to live off campus on the often meager wages they earn – wages comparable to those earned by some of DC’s low income residents. Based on the crowd's response, many in attendance found this exercise incisive.
It is our hope that Howard University students continue to raise critical and timely questions. Moreover, we hope they become part of the solution by organizing with low-income communities of color to fight for the right to remain in the cities people of color have built, lived in for many years, and continue to maintain.
|Last Updated on Friday, 22 January 2010 23:11|