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What Does Gentrification Mean Anyway


Defining gentrification is much more complicated than one thinks, and it isn’t just a New York City, Washington D.C or London issue. It is happening right here in Richmond

Who knows what gentrification means anyway? Does it mean revitalization, or does it mean displacement? The word gentrification is a newer word originally coined by Ruth Glass in the 1960’s. It is a process that is the grandchild of housing issues such as white flight, blockbusting, redlining, mortgage discrimination and segregation. When thought of in that context it is easy to see how some people view gentrification as a word that’s connected with racism. That connection is what creates the real debate, that connection is what turns investors defensive, realtors blind and locals enraged.

Whether we like it or not gentrification is a result of inequity, oppression, privilege and greed. It is a direct result of policies that created inequality in community resources, property values, home ownership. Gentrification can’t occur without profit potential. Yesterday's disinvestment is today's return on investment and after repair values. Buy low and sell high is the golden rule, ain't it.

For gentrification to happen it needs higher income people, investors and at times municipalities all on the same page. It needs them to relocate and invest in low income urban neighborhoods that have low property values. In turn, they are investing in the same communities that have been historically devalued due to housing policies such as redlining, mortgage discrimination and more. They are the same communities where blacks were forced to live and became isolated due to racial steering. Racial Steering refers to the practice in which real estate brokers guide prospective home buyers towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race.

The result of steering with the combination of redlining was devastating to home values. Redlining is the practice of denying services, either directly or through selectively raising prices, to residents of certain areas based on the racial or ethnic composition. This toxic cocktail turned communities of potential into communities of concentrated poverty. In Richmond areas such as Church Hill, Jackson Ward, Highland Park, Ginter Park, Northside, Blackwell and more were subject to redlining.

Even the United States government had a hand in promoting poverty. The Federal Housing Authority or FHA was openly denying mortgages to people based on race. Banks, insurers, appraisers and realtors followed their lead. This allowed whites to leave urban areas and move into more prosperous suburban communities with government assistance while forcing blacks to stay put. In time jobs and home values left with them. Even black of middle income found themselves in communities without resources. Gentrification became possible when communities of color were not only kept poor but made poor.

The reuse of current commercial and residential property for modern day use sounds nice and makes sense. The lovely contemporary homes you see in Richmond’s Manchester look great, but they are not built on a good faith real estate market. Gentrification is not neighborhoods becoming new. It is not communities being revitalized and it is not neighborhood improvements especially when people who live there can't afford it. Most of all it is not a natural progression of a community. It is not a order of how things work.

Gentrification is much uglier. It is much more sinister. It is familiar yet we try and ignore it.

Gentrification is where outside investors change a community to suite their financial needs by having the ability to buy low and sell high due to historically racist policies that purposely devalued black and brown communities.

Gentrification is the elderly being forced out. It is not being able to afford to live in the community you grew up in. It is outsiders taking your community without giving you eye contact. Gentrification is a talking point.

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