RICHMOND VERSUS RVA- The Gentrification of Richmond
From Tobacco Row to Northside, From Churchill to Blackwell, there are changes going on in the neighborhoods of Richmond, Virginia. You have the style, heritage, legacies and families being mixed or some may say overrun by new neighbors. Those new neighbors come fully equipped with dogs, coffee shops, remodeled homes, natural grocery stores and a RVA window sticker.
From the tight side streets of the Fan to the hill tops of Church Hill, Richmond City planners and long term residents are experiencing urban re-development. Some prefer to call it revitalization. If you ask enough people, you will also hear the changes called gentrification.
The term Gentrification is like a dirty word and creates emotions when discussed in the open. Especially in the presence of long term residents. To mask the dirty word developers use words like jobs or opportunity. When they really want to prove a point they use word like crime and blight. Sounds good right? Where would you rather live in a place with crime or opportunity?
So yes, Gentrification is a loaded word. But how can it not be loaded when you can see how Church Hill is split in half and how Jackson Ward is becoming a stomping ground for the RVA urbanite. If you look around Richmond, especially in Scott's Addition, Shockoe Bottom and the Manchester area much of the revitalization we have seen includes, "urban" offices, restaurants, mixed use properties with expensive condo's interior and wonderfully renovated residential properties and roof top patios. Changes that come complete with zoning changes.
To people in the community that new office leased out to people who have never been to the community before and a coffee shop that serves $9.00 sandwiches they have never heard before, is perceived a bit different. It means outside investors have visions for the community that do not include their needs. It means the city is raising their taxes while providing tax credits to the newbies. It represents development once completed will increase their rent. It means people are using words like blight, drugs, violence and poverty to justify buying up the property for cheap. It means city plans with backdoor deals that will create a community for “them” and not us. Sadly, for the most part they are right.
It’s not always the case where investments exclude residents that live there. However, when an investor buys a home, renovates it and then sells it using the value of a property from another neighborhood to determine value, than that may be the case.
For example a home on the Northside of Richmond sells for $55,000 to an investor. That investor rehabs the home and to maximize profits they find a comparable property 1-3 miles away. Now, that 1-3 miles away is a home that was newly rehabbed in Brookland Park that just sold for $180,000. The investor leverages the $180,000 to sell their home for $160,000 making it the most expensive home in the community. The moment that home is sold, it creates a shift in the community. Other investors come and all of a sudden families who own or rent in a community where they once could afford properties in the $60,000 range will see a spike in their property value. This sounds good, but only if you could afford the increase. If you can't, you have to go.
We are seeing home prices jump in places like Highland Springs, Hopewell and Petersburg due to the increase prices in the Richmond area.
However, on the other side of that argument is how this new wave of investment can bring improvement to public safety, public parks, area schools and an overall increase in the standards of the community. These community improvements have to be genuine for community members to accept them. They cannot be seen as an improvement to support the interest of the "colonizer" who have no connection to the community besides the feeling of having an urban lifestyle.
Neighborhoods change. People move away and people move in. But there has to be fair and equitable distribution of the community’s assets. There must be way to move ahead without excluding the needs of the people.
Making Gentrification work
Provide opportunities for neighbors to invest in their community including home ownership.
Encourage neighbors to open up their own businesses in similar development projects or on streets that are being revitalized.
Guarantee a portion of any grant awards or seed money goes to local residents who are looking to start a business in the community
Mandate that all new housing projects have portions that are dedicated to middle and lower income families. Mixed income neighborhoods are practical and healthy as they provide residents with opportunities for housing and for social interaction that single income neighborhoods don’t provide. Richmond has begun using this strategy for much of their new development.
Develop relationships between old and new business owners. Find out how they can support one another in a symbiotic fashion rather than in a competitive or condescending manner. Encourage them to shop at each other’s businesses and to form an owners support group that helps to deepen relationships.
Ensure that neighbors are invited to learn about and weigh in on development projects that affect their neighborhoods