A Home for All, Not Just Those That Can Afford It: How Gentrification Has Given Way to a New Generation of Community Organizers

First coined by sociologist Ruth Glass in the 1960s, gentrification has been part of the lexicon for those working in both economics and the affordable housing sector. Gentrification as an idea has changed over the years. For Glass it was the process wherein middle-class workers moved into the working-class neighborhoods of London, resulting in the working-class being pushed out of their homes and places of business because they could no longer afford to live and work in the same places they had before. The middle and upper classes brought with them higher incomes and different ideals that didn’t allow for those in the lower class to compete. Basically, first came displacement, then came high end offerings that only those with money can afford.

In the United States gentrification has taken hold in urban and rural areas alike. In the 1990s only 9 percent of low-income census tracts within the top 50 U.S. cities experienced an upward economic transformation, while in the 2000s that figure jumped to 20 percent. It has been argued by those who view gentrification as a positive process that it is a natural progression of our neighborhoods. We argue that gentrification is a more complicated topic involving, crime, race, gender, sexual identity, displacement, social movements, economic shifts, and public health care.

Tenants, their unions, community organizers and lawmakers from all over the country have fought to end gentrification. Community members have fought to keep their buildings, such as the case in the 1970s when a building in the Lower East Side of Manhattan was saved and turned into a land trust. Congress passed the New Markets Tax Credit program, which incentivizes development in distressed census tracts. After Hurricane Katrina, BIPOC community members fought to keep their homes by advocating for inclusionary zoning. In 2013 Philadelphia launched the Longtime Owner Occupants Program (LOOP), a real-estate tax break for longtime residents to protect themselves from rising property taxes. Those advocating against gentrification look to these wins as a way to move forward our communities to include a wide range of socioeconomic classes.

In Missouri, both neighborhoods in KC and STL have struggled with gentrification and the white washing of communities that comes with it. Mark Groth wrote a 5-piece series in NEXTSTL that discusses the history and current status of gentrification in the 79 neighborhoods that comprise STL. He discusses how mailers often show up in a residents mail box that offer cash for their house, which he considers to be the first step in the gentrification of an area. It is his opinion that community action needs to start before this happens. In Kansas City gentrification is seen in the form of neighborhoods pitting themselves against one another; often without realizing it is happening. Specifically, the Westside neighborhood has seen a rise in this phenomenon. Lifelong resident Paul Rojas has seen his property taxes go up 450%. In this specific area, residents are worried that they will lose what makes their part of KC unique, with city council members claiming it is a form of ethnic cleansing.

What is the solution? How does one move forward in promoting movement and mobility for all rather than the select few who can afford it? Anti-gentrification.

Anti-gentrification is a movement wherein a community recognizes that there are two types of movements; voluntary and involuntary. They focus on the latter, the forced movement of people because they are priced out of their neighborhoods. To counter the multibillion-dollar gentrification movement they focus on best practices.

Community land banks are one way this can be done. According to Juliana Broad, an independent researcher and writer, a 2017 study in the Journal of Urban Affairs found that CLTs provide a number of community wealth-building opportunities, a fact illustrated by the more than 200 CLTs across the nation and their current-day resurgence. CLT has a strong history of giving BIPOC the opportunity that their wealthier white neighbors have always had – a chance at mobility.

Within that same vein, tenant opportunity to purchase is another way to make gentrification a thing of the past. Home ownership is often touted as the best way to create generational wealth. This process is happening all over the country with individuals taking advantage of city laws that give them the ability to purchase a home if it is up for sale. This is a basic way to make sure that our marginalized neighbors have their basic needs met.

Making sure that communities maintain their anchor businesses and organizations is another step in anti-gentrification. Hospitals, colleges, universities and banks all offer stable jobs which allow for people in their surrounding areas to work and live in the same place. The neat thing about this process is that people who would be at risk for issues that plague those in poverty would be able to seek help from the same place they work. Stable housing breeds a healthy population.

What do those seeking anti-gentrification momentum want to move away from? Rising housing costs, neighborhood changes, cultural displacement, and divestment. Empower Missouri is on the side of those doing this work. We know that these policies will do more harm than good in seeing our neighbors housed, healthy and ultimately, thriving.

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