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The landscape has changed. A vandalized shell of a building is now a new coffee shop, a nice jazz club or a high-end clothing boutique. Places that were once known for drugs, crime and projects, now have city gardens and Whole Foods stores – and they now have white folks.

For the past decade, gentrification has been a hot-button issue, as our major cities give way to reinvestment and revitalization. Be that as it may, the question looms: Is there room for Blacks and low-income residents to benefit from the reinvention of our cities?

Places that were once examples of urban decay – Northern Liberties in Philadelphia, Mission District in San Francisco, Shaw in Washington, D.C., Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York, and Detroit’s Midtown– are now hip, cool and increasingly white.

“When it comes to gentrification, Blacks have no one to blame but ourselves,” said a high-level official in the NAACP. “No one told us to sell our homes or leave them abandoned or to stop paying our property taxes. We had the same opportunity as everyone else to hold on to what was once ours. So I say (forget) them. Negroes should have known better.”

As harsh as it sounds, I have to agree with him. When we move into white neighborhoods, we call it diversity. Yet, when whites move into our neighborhoods, it’s called gentrification. The complaints about well-educated white people buying up houses in low-income minority neighborhoods, making housing unaffordable for the original residents and forcing them out is more myth than reality. A number of studies have shown that gentrification is not so, well, Black and white.

Late last year, Daniel Hartley, a research economist with the Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland, released findings that gentrification is actually financially beneficial to the original residents of a low-income neighborhood. Hartley studied credit scores in the gentrifying neighborhoods of 55 cities and found the numbers went up for original residents, whether they owned property or rented.

And Lance Freeman, director of the urban planning program at Columbia University, studied urban neighborhoods nationwide and found that low-income residents moved out of gentrifying neighborhoods at the same rate as they did non-gentrifying neighborhoods. Freeman also found that gentrification opened up neighborhoods to college-educated minorities. In other words, well-educated African-Americans and Hispanics were just as likely to move to a gentrified neighborhood as well-educated whites. So how do we accurately define a gentrified neighborhood?

Kay Hymowitz, who writes about gentrification, looked at the Brooklyn neighborhood Bedford-Stuyvesant—the current epicenter for gentrification in New York City—and found the answer hard to identify.

The Black population dropped from 81.9 percent in 1990 to 64.6 percent in 2010.

However, the neighborhood’s Hispanic population grew slightly from 16.3 percent to 19.9 percent in the same time period. And while the number of whites moving in has soared, they still only make up 10.9 percent of the population; meanwhile, the number of college-educated Blacks moving to Bedford-Stuyvesant has increased.

The gentrifying neighborhood still struggles with many urban problems: poverty (30.7 percent of the population was below the poverty line in 2010), poor education (60 percent of students don’t read at their grade levels), and high crime (the precinct’s crime rates are among the worst in New York City). Not exactly winning numbers for a gentrified neighborhood. Most importantly, what’s wrong with the reinvestment and renewal of debilitated urban neighborhoods?

As neighborhoods gentrify, buildings will be sold, landlords will raise rents, and some people will be forced out. In an ideal world, Blacks would understand the marketplace, build their own grocery stores, coffee shops, state-of-the-art gyms and yoga studios and demand a serious police presence. In an ideal world, this would not be an issue.

We have been our own worst enemy. We chose to abandon our neighborhoods. We chose to move to the suburbs. We chose to let our communities end up in disarray. Thus, we can’t get upset when developers, builders or white folks for that matter, want to move into our neighborhoods, buy properties we once owned at bargain basement prices, rehab them, and sell them for astronomical profits.

Zack Burgess is an award winning journalist, who is the Director/Owner of OFF WOODWARD MEDIA, LLC, where he works as a Writer, Editor and Communications Specialist. Twitter: @zackburgess1

Photo by Ilan Corsica Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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8 thoughts on “The Myth of Gentrification

  1. FallMornings on said:

    AA Woman. I agree, it is refreshing to have an article like this. I hope BAW will continue to promote varying points of view.

  2. This is an excellent article and for once not about the tired celebrity life. However, it could use even more research. The City of Philadelphia has more sections then stated in this commentary that have totally turned around. The difference in Philadelphia is not all an eminent domain change but a need for better housing in a growing area with top notch School, Universities and Hospitals in close proximity. There are many more areas than Northern Liberties that have been revitalized. The Point Breeze section is up and coming and so diverse now but still has older Black homeowners residing in the neighborhood. These older Black owners have benefited from the gentrification and have no plans to move, which is smart. Old school generation have more pride in ownership and prioritizing what’s important. The property value in South Philly and spilling over into Southwest Philly and some parts of North Philly has excelled tremendously over the last years.

    The commentary is on point because I have friends and associates who had their homes foreclosed or used the short sale market to avoid foreclosure. And in each case these former homeowners spent money on clothes, cars, travel and entertainment. Times when I had bills to pay and had to tighten my budget, they never slowed down on frivolous spending. I do understand that some homeowners were affected by the economy but not in these cases. I never understood why celebrities and entertainers don’t always buy and pay off a home. Once it’s paid for and belongs to you thats property you own…enough said.

    Yes, losing property that we can afford is no one’s fault but our own.

  3. This issue is not all black people’s fault. A lot of this situation is because of wage inequality. Many, many black people intend to stay in their community, but white developers will try to force them out. I have been to meetings where the black activists are demanding 50% of everything goes to the black people who are still living there. I do not think it is right for white people to just come in the black neighborhood and take over without working with the community. It’s unfair.

    • Raleigh Delesbore on said:

      Sorry but it is all black peoples fault. the lure of life will be better, and crime will be non existent, and my neighbors will be more educated is BS.

  4. redbone1954 on said:

    I left my neborhood after 20 years of watching crackheads walk up and down the street I even tried to help with a solution to the problem nothing seemed to work. There are at least 4 liquor store with in a 6 block are and NO decent grocery stores. I moved out and do not regret it I sleep good at night not hearing sirens all night and now my grandchildren can play without the fear of being run over by a speeding car or even possibly shot yes the white people are moving back good for them I don’t care. For those that want to live there I say go for it I for one do not want to fight the fight anymore!

  5. I totally agree about Black folks maintaining their property and keeping current with their property taxes.

    However, just as White folks fled the neighborhoods back in the day rather than live next to us, we will no doubt be pushed out of our own hoods once the property taxes increase due to the influx of Whites.

    I have no intention of being pushed out of my hood just because Whites are moving back in.

    I could care less who my neighbors are–LIVE AND LET LIVE!!!!!!!

  6. African American woman on said:

    THANK YOU! This is first and only article on BAW that I’ve ever seen that holds black people accountable for their actions and holds them accountable for doing something about it. Im starting to feel hopeful for my people.

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