Understanding the Gentrification Processes in our City
Story 1: In establishing Bridge Ministry of Acadiana in 2003, we went door to door listening and learning the dreams of our new neighbors. The first response we heard was, “What have you all come to take away from us now?” We had no clue what our new neighbors meant. It has taken years to understand “what’s going on”.
Story 2: One of our original Bridge children called, “Mr. Nelson, I want my child to go to Bridge.” I was more than excited to hear this from her. Further in our conversation I told her the neighborhood needs her back and asked her to consider moving back into the neighborhood, which she quickly responded, “Mr. Nelson, I can’t afford to live in that neighborhood!”
What?!?! This young lady cannot afford to live in one of our city’s most generationally under-resourced neighborhoods?!?! What is causing housing to be unaffordable in our neighborhood? What’s going on?
Story 3: A few years ago, I attended a Bridge Neighborhood Association meeting. The members were talking about trying to increase their membership numbers. Members said they had been asking residents in the neighborhood to come and join the Neighborhood Association, but none came… none joined…. none seemed to care. As a result, their membership numbers have never increased. When I looked around the room, I realized that all the Neighborhood Association members were actually homeowners. I realized that this was a Home Owners Association, not a Neighborhood Association! Who owns the houses in our neighborhood?What’s going on?
Gentrification: To understand “What’s going on” I found that among other things I had to understand the dynamics of ‘gentrification’. “Gentry” is a name that refers to anyone from an upper socio-economic class and is the root word in “Gentrification”. Gentrification is the process of restoring and inhabiting neglected urban neighborhoods by middle-class or affluent people.
Landed-Gentrification: Alongside the “Gentry” is the “Landed Gentry”. The Landed-Gentry refers to a portion of the Gentry class who own land and make a living from property rentals. “Landed-Gentrification” herein refers to the process of buying houses in urban neighborhoods by the gentry for rental purposes. (Note: “Landed-Gentrification” is a newly made-up term used for this Bridge Note).
Gentrification and Landed-Gentrification Differences:In the Gentrification process the Gentry live in the neighborhood, while in the Landed-Gentrification process the Landed-Gentry live outside the neighborhood. This sets up differing motivations. The Landed-Gentry are motivated by their rental cash flows, while the Gentry are motivated by the neighborhood they now live in.Their motivation is an important distinction in that home owners living inside the neighborhood care more about their neighborhood’s integrity than those owners living outside the neighborhood. The pitfall of the Landed-Gentrification process is that the original residents will be displaced to other areas of town and lose their social connectivity (ie, social capital). The potential pitfall for Gentrification is the possibility of displacing the original residents, when there is no intentional care and respect towards them.
The Dynamics of Gentrification: The beginning of Gentrification is quickly and easily seen. The restaurant and grocery store landscapes begin changing, food deserts give way to whole food markets, rent increase notices begin appearing in mail boxes, black residences decrease and white residences increase and become younger, black owned businesses disappear, police patrols increase due to the increase in citizen reports, basketball courts are replaced by dog parks, construction increases, increase in eco-friendly cars, less graffiti and more urban art, street walkers change to dog-walkers and joggers, coffee shops and cupcake shops begin appearing, etc. Property values increase.
The Dynamics of Landed-Gentrification: How does one know when the Landed-Gentrification process has begun in a neighborhood? One can rest assured that Landed-Gentrification is and has been taking place when the “We Buy Houses” signs begin appearing in a neighborhood. Landed-gentrification happens very quietly and unobtrusively like the “frog-in-the-water” metaphor. It is hard to see at first by the neighborhood, but it is surely felt. Relational issues in the neighborhood begin going downhill. The neighbors begin saying, “Something has changed, it was not like this in the past!” “Something is going on?” “Joe sold his house and moved out.” Neighbors begin knowing each other less and less. Houses are gobbled up, “For Rent” signs pop up, and there is an increased loss of neighborhood ownership. And as the neighbors lose their ownership, the issues associated with poverty increase, neighborhood trust goes down, crime goes up, whole families and role models move out. As the Landed-Gentrification process matures, one will see more vacant store fronts, pay-day loans, seedy motels, idle men, nail salons, seafood restaurants advertising “We Accept Food Stamps”, dollar general type stores, and many store front churches. Schools go from bad to worse. And recently we see Police Cameras on utility poles. If ‘triaged’, the Landed-Gentrification process moves a neighborhood from green to yellow to red relatively quickly. Ironically, home prices and rents are increasing!
Land-Gentrification & Government Partnerships: Who are the landed-gentry today? Basically, they are Section 8 and Slum Lord investors. The Section 8 Housing Choice provides Federally subsidized housing for low income people by forming partnerships with the Landed-Gentry who own the rental units and are guaranteed monthly income. The subsidized voucher amounts (ie, rental cash flows) are set by HUD through the Section 8 Housing Choice program. The established rents are set higher than market values, so as to attract investors to these neighborhoods. These subsidized guaranteed cash flows raise the cost of real-estate and subsequent rents. This subsidized housing partnership creates a Faux-Real-Estate-Market and Slum Lords follow on their coat-tails. (Note, Section 8 investments perform best in poor under-resourced and most fragile neighborhoods where property is acquired at low costs.
What’s Going On in the Bridge Neighborhood:In studying the ownership of the Bridge Neighborhood a few years ago, I discovered that 66% of the housing in the Bridge neighborhood is currently owned by outsiders. It is not Gentrification that is occurring in the Bridge Neighborhood, but Landed-Gentrification.It is no longer a true real-estate market. As a result of flooding a fragile under-resourced neighborhood with subsidized housing, lower-income people cannot afford to rent or purchase a home there, and the Neighborhood Association does not grow in numbers. The loss of neighborhood ownership raises the cost to our city for police and fire protection, schools, hospitals, etc., etc…
When there are fires, abandoned unsafe houses, or when homes fall down in the Bridge Neighborhood, no one rebuilds. As a result, there are many abandoned lots. I have counted about 65+/- lots, where homes can be built in the Bridge neighborhood. These 65 abandoned lots currently produce no tax revenue, and are a liability to the city.
Re-Neighboring Opportunities and Solutions: Is it time to stop the decline and tilt the Bridge Neighborhood back in the right direction? If so, it will require a multifaceted approach. Bridge’s The Church Academy has begun reversing our children’s past educational declines, which is a good thing. Bridge Ministry of Acadiana gives family and neighborhood support by building capable and caring relationships (i.e., increasing social capital). These relationships create and build a sense of community where edifying resources begin to flow again. Bridge is also beginning to address health and housing issues too.
As to government subsidized housing partnerships, there should be federal legislation in place that restricts the flooding of fragile under-resourced neighborhoods with these Landed-Gentrification type partnerships, which are not caring, right or just to the neighborhood and larger community. As to the Bridge Neighborhood, it can be re-neighbored with the building of 65+/- homes on these existing abandoned lots. If this re-neighboring occurs, the neighborhood’s ownership will be increased to 50% and neighborhood wealth increased, which at some point will attract businesses and jobs again. This re-neighboring of the Bridge Neighborhood at present can be done without displacing our original neighbors. Bridge Ministry and The Church Academy School in the neighborhood now form the relational platform for revitalizing the Bridge Neighborhood. Along with spiritual transformation, a good school, healthy living and family support, the increasing of homeownership in the neighborhood will attract young role model families who are both capable and caring.
Isaiah 65:17-25 paints the vision of a New Neighborhood by describing safety, security, neighbors who build and live in their own homes, good long healthy lives, meaningful and satisfying labor that produces enjoyable fruit, and their children are blessed by God for generations. In this New Neighborhood there will be wholeness, peace, and joy (shalom). Isn’t this generationally blessed shalom what we all so deeply desire? So does the Bridge Neighborhood.
They’ll build houses and move in. They’ll plant fields and eat what they grow. No more building a house that some outsider takes over, No more planting fields that some enemy confiscates, For my people will be as long-lived as trees, my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work. They won’t work and have nothing come of it, they won’t have children snatched out from under them. For they themselves are plantings blessed by God, with their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed.(Isaiah 65:21-23, MSG).