Beyond the Rhetoric
Harry C. Alford
Gentrification as defined by Wiki-pedia: “Gentrification is a process of renovation of deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the influx of more affluent residents. This is a common and controversial topic in politics and in urban planning. Gentrification can improve the quality of a neighborhood, while also potentially forcing relocation of current, established residents and businesses, causing them to move from a gentrified area, seeking lower cost housing and stores. Gentrification often shifts a neighborhood’s racial/ethnic composition and average household income by developing new, more expensive housing, businesses, and improved resources. Conversations about gentrification have evolved, as many in the social-scientific community have quest- ioned the negative connotations associated with the word gentrification. One example is that gentrification can lead to community displacement for lower-income families in gentrifying neighborhoods, as property values and rental costs rise; however, every neighborhood faces unique challenges, and reasons for displacement vary. However, the correlation between the shortage of affordable housing and subsequent displacement that results in gentrifying neighborhoods is not a debated fact. Displacement begins as proprietors take advantage of rising market values and evict long-time residents to rent or sell to the more affluent. Some strategies to combat displacement include low-income af- fordable housing and tighter housing regulations surrounding evictions.”
The above is the subtle, polite description of a phenomenon that goes on in our urban areas. No place seems to be immune. I first started noticing signs of government forced gentrification when we had just started the National Black Chamber of Commerce. A local chapter in Danville, IL which is about 200 miles south of Chicago and on the southern Indiana border was complaining about the introduction of the crack cocaine business coming to town. The culprits were “gang bangers” out of Chicago moving in. Why did they decide to move to Danville? It was the idea of the Chicago Housing Authority. They were getting rid of some of their “problems” by offering Section 8 vouchers to public housing residents. The vouchers were only good for the Danville area. Smart. Persuade some public housing tenants to move into their own single-family home in a nice, quiet town versus the overwhelming “Hood” in Chi–town.
I would later find that this tactic was being used by the housing authority of Washington, DC. Section 8 housing vouchers were being distributed to inner city residents with the requirement of moving to Prince Georges County and some were designated for Frederick, Maryland – a good hundred miles out of town. Push them out and lure the up and coming high income couples via 2% mortgages offered through the Community Reinvestment Act. Take cheap and often abandoned property in a designated zone and build cute, modern city style abodes, condominiums, and upscale apartments. Soon property values will skyrocket to the liking of the banking and realty industries. Here come the white folks y’all!
When we moved to Washington, DC in 1994 it was 83% Black. Today, it is 47% Black and shrinking in a nonstop, continuous motion. The Howard University/Shaw district was thriving with Black small businesses. Today, you must look hard to find a Black owned restaurant or business of any kind. Condominiums are starting to approach the $1 million range. It took less than 25 years!
The above is happening throughout the nation. But the “Poster Child” for this movement is without a doubt San Francisco – that beautiful city by the Bay. When I was growing up in Ventura County we would drive up and visit relatives in San Francisco. The city was about 30% Black and had thriving Black neighborhoods like the “Fillmore” area. Then, one day in the 1970s they came in with bulldozers and started leveling buildings and gutting the “Fillmore” via imminent domain. The Black population of San Francisco quickly dropped to 18% by the 1970s and now, today, it is below 3%. That 3% is predominantly living under the poverty level and is being pushed out to extinction. They first pushed the Black masses to Oakland. Now, the gentrification is happening in Oakland. Where do Black folks of modest means go? One thing is for sure, they are getting the hell out of these gentrified areas.
The rich stock of Black churches is becoming extinct in San Francisco. The congregations have been scattered out beyond the urban areas and these “Houses of the Lord” are beginning to disappear along with the Black owned businesses and residents.
In DC the diminishing “Chocolate communities” are going “Vanilla” at lightning speed. In some of these changing neighborhoods a home or condominium could go up for sale and will be sold within a few days. The transition is lightning fast. Banks, realtors and developers are making bonanzas while once stable Black communities have been lost to subprime mortgaging and boardroom conspiracies. The benefactors are those eligible for those secret 2% mortgages and the new “Masters of Gentrification.” This isn’t supposed to be America.
Mr. Alford is the Co-Founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®. Website: www.nationalbcc.org. Email: [email protected].