The Mile High City: lower-income neighbourhoods a victim of success
July 14, 2016 5:45 AM   Subscribe

 
Similar to the narrative on The First Civil Right (from a few days ago), Gentrification is a part of the dark, ugly underbelly of American liberalism that we basically have no desire to actually confront.

The middle-class bohemian white people who are moving back into the inner cities and displacing people of color are not Republicans. They do not watch Fox News. They do not consider themselves "racist" yet they are, through their love of cheap urban property, the leading edge of neo-colonial violence against people of color.

White American liberals have a problem. They will happily post #blacklivesmatter on their Facebook feed, but also won't think twice about demolishing a Black church and replacing it with a hand-crafted microbrewery or bicycle repair co-op.

If you are a white bohemian urban liberal, please understand that your presence is generally not wanted or desired in communities of color. Nobody wants you to "improve" their neighborhood because the original inhabitants have heard white people talking about "improving" neighborhoods before and they know exactly what that entails. Please understand that your very presence is toxic to the life of that community, and that the money and privilege which you bring to the community will, inevitably, make that community inhospitable to it's original inhabitants.

Ultimately, you must chose to not be racist. You must chose to not behave in a racist or destructive manner towards communities of color. Please consider this before you move anywhere.
posted by Tyrant King Porn Dragon at 6:26 AM on July 14, 2016 [16 favorites]


That may be your view, but my view of the elephant in the room that is real estate economics is a lot more pervasive than that.

All economics is local; neighborhoods become impoverished when more money leaves a community than enters it.

I'm on a big history kick of my hometown now, reading about its development from the late 1800s to ca. 1950, and man is it both an ugly and fascinating story.

"Colored" people -- the Chinese community initially -- and undesirable whites were literally required to live on the west side of the SP tracks.

And of course banks wouldn't lend to non-whites to buy the oh-so-cheap acreage that my town had available to sprawl into (currently in extant the town is about the same size as Tokyo proper but well, well under 1M people).

There shouldn't be "black" neighborhoods any more, we should all be integrated as boring middle class Yuppie types enjoying the amazing productivity gains we've seen since the 1950s.

But we're not, since life for too many has been reduced to the bad ending of the typical Monopoly game.

Landlords of all stripes are the central problem here, not people making investments in living space in our communities. Places are to be lived in, not preserved!
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:43 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've been visiting Denver at least annually for about 30 years now. I will say that the pace of gentrification on the front range over the last decade is as stark as it is in DC or Oakland, the two other urban areas with which I'm most familiar.

But it really doesn't hit me as much in the inner city, which doesn't look that different in a lot of neighborhoods, as it does in the horrifying McMansion suburbs that now gird I25 all the way down to C. Springs, or out in Commerce City, which is where the gentrification is pushing people.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:44 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


There shouldn't be "black" neighborhoods any more....

maybe we should ask black people about that instead of just deciding that

There, in a single sentence, is the fundamental problem with your thesis.
posted by Tyrant King Porn Dragon at 6:45 AM on July 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


If you are a white bohemian urban liberal, please understand that your presence is generally not wanted or desired in communities of color.

My presence is not wanted anywhere—there are housing shortages everywhere, certainly everywhere that I can afford. Where exactly am I supposed to live? The town where I was born has 7,321 people and no jobs.
posted by enn at 6:49 AM on July 14, 2016 [35 favorites]


If you are a white bohemian urban liberal, please understand that your presence is generally not wanted or desired in communities of color. Nobody wants you to "improve" their neighborhood because the original inhabitants have heard white people talking about "improving" neighborhoods before and they know exactly what that entails. Please understand that your very presence is toxic to the life of that community, and that the money and privilege which you bring to the community will, inevitably, make that community inhospitable to it's original inhabitants.

A place for everybody, and everybody in his place!
posted by 2N2222 at 6:50 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


I came in here to ask about how to be a good ally to existing communities, while also trying to balance housing pressures, but, uh, I seem to have been pre-empted.

So, serious question: because of economic pressure, I moved to one of the outer neighborhoods in my city, analogous to the parts of Denver being discussed here. This makes me a gentrifier. I hate being a negative force on the neighborhood, so I try to stay involved and vote for policy changes that will help existing neighborhoods, but the problem I keep tripping over is this: there is no urban development policy that will stop gentrification in cities like this from happening. If you gave me a magic wand and fiat power over local and state government, I could not fix this.

If you leave it up to the market, you get San Francisco/Denver/NY housing conditions.
If you institute rent control, you create a bifurcated rental market rife with corruption.
If you require developers to build a certain amount of affordable housing as a condition of construction, you can only push the percentage so high before it becomes economically unviable because cost-of-construction is tied closely to cost-of-living.
If you slow growth, the neverending stream of new people will drive rents upward

As far as I can tell, the only way to keep existing communities of low-income residents in city centers is to try to recreate the conditions that created those communities. Those conditions were, largely, white flight and urban decay. I don't think anyone is arguing that we should abandon our downtown cores to urban decay, and now that people have discovered that city living is actually pretty nice, you can never get that genie back in the bottle. Meanwhile, encouraging people to live 50 miles from their jobs in leafy green suburbs is terrible macro policy, and I personally don't want to sit in traffic for 2 hours a day.

So, rather than accusing us happy-go-lucky yuppies of violence against communities of color, I would love to hear some actual solutions for this problem. I'll vote for them. I'll happily bear tax increases to make them happen. Just articulate a plan.
posted by Mayor West at 6:51 AM on July 14, 2016 [71 favorites]


I feel like there's several problems that get lumped together and they each have different solutions. Or at least, so I observe in a city where neighborhoods I used to know well have gentrified out of recognition:

1. Hipsters - people who seek out "new" (not to the people who live there) neighborhoods primarily for subcultural reasons. There are, IME around here, way fewer of these people than you think. It may be different in New York.

2. Rich people - the gentrification that I really notice around here is not driven by hipsters. It's driven by fashionable (not the same thing, culturally or economically) professional class people in their twenties and thirties who want luxury lofts, expensive restaurants, trendy bars, etc. The places that have really changed out of recognition in the past ten years pretty much all went from "small commercial area that has been this way since about 1980" to "luxury lofts" with no intervening stage.

3. Developers - let's put some blame where it belongs. There would be no luxury lofts without the city, the banks and the developers and the legal and financial incentives that make this stuff super profitable. The dumbest, shittiest yuppie doesn't bear the same responsibility as the city government with its kickbacks and cronyism.

4. Upper working and lower middle class people who are getting broker and need places to live - to me, this is the trickiest thing, because if you just can't afford to live where you used to, where are you going to go? If you can get a rental house for $1400 in a poor neighborhood and your kids will have a yard and you'll be on the bus line, or you can spend that same $1400 on a lousy new-build condo in a second ring suburb, spend a lot of money on commuting and have nowhere for your kids to play, what are you going to do?

To me, a lot of this is a political problem as much as a cultural problem. There's a cultural problem where white people think "oh, I will just seek out the coolest neighborhood and be all excited when the bodega gets torn down for a coffee roastery and brew pub", but I feel like this is dwarfed by the larger economic forces that create condos and luxury developments and push working people to seek out cheaper housing.

I end up feeling like the solutions are policy solutions that sharply limit developers, regulate landlords and property speculation and create wage floors and housing floors so that working people can stay in their homes.
posted by Frowner at 6:57 AM on July 14, 2016 [57 favorites]


Tyrant King, this is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I'm a fourth generation New Yorker; my family has deep roots in this city. But if I lived in the area of the Bronx where my parents grew up, and where three generations of my family lived, I would be gentrifying it - since in the intervening sixty years since my parents were born, it has gone from being a neighborhood of predominantly low-income Italians and Jews to a neighborhood of predominantly low-income Black people. Of course, I can't afford to live in the neighborhood where my parents raised me; they can really only afford it because they moved in when the neighborhood, like all of New York, was still cheap.

So where should I live?

There's no easy answer and no pat solutions. The best we can do is engage the questions, and try to do as little damage as possible to the fabric of the communities where we live in the process.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:59 AM on July 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


[A few comments deleted. Let's maybe take a look at the actual article rather than immediately jumping to the broadest possible version of the subject and having broad arguments we've had before. Also if your inclination is ever to say "but aren't poor black people the real racists," or anything that could remotely be interpreted that way, please stop and reconsider.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:10 AM on July 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


If you are a white bohemian urban liberal, please understand that your presence is generally not wanted or desired in communities of color.

I have to live where I can afford to live, that's not where I was born it's way too expensive (like 5x what I can afford). I'd dearly love to live in my home town. I find the above attitude a bit off as a "We don't want your kind here.". Well sorry but my ass needs somewhere to live too.

I find this comment in the article disturbing:

Residents of Swansea, Elyria, and Globeville, the neighbourhoods that make up north-east Denver, are receiving stacks of postcards on their porches with offers to buy their homes.

That strikes me as wrong, like they are praying on these people tempting them with money they sorely need but destroying the neighbourhood in the process. I wonder if that happens here in the UK; I'd like to think it doesn't to the same degree.
I'd like to believe that the gentrification I see happening around me (which I am part of) is a natural cycle of houses coming up for sale and more IT/Tech types moving in because that is what they can afford. Our house prices are horrifically high with many properties near where I was born now on the market for nearly £1,000,000. Nobody I know can afford to live where they were born, many of my friends now live 100s of miles away.
posted by diziet at 7:14 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


The questions I guess I'd start by asking would be "where do developers get their funding?" and "how are big landlords overseen"? There's a lot of sweetheart deals that make certain types of building ultra-easy and ultra-profitable, for instance, and make being a large-scale absentee landlord ultra-profitable. And there's huge connections (around here anyway) between city government, regulatory bodies and big developers - literally, people from one are sometimes married to people from one of the others.

You might not even need a lot of very aggressive market interventions on the "build this" side if you took away the incentives and protections on the developer/landlord side.

Also, what I'd like to know is how council housing in the UK worked/works. It seems like at least until Thatcher, it was pretty possible to house many, many ordinary working people fairly well in council-owned housing. Everyone always says that's not possible, but it was possible in a fairly capitalist Anglophone country for at least thirty-some years.

~~~
In terms of the gentrification that I've mostly observed here in MPLS, it hasn't worked in a clear-cut "here is a POC neighborhood, white people move in and ruin it" way, partly because of the racial background of the city. I am a little worried that this will happen in North, though, just based on having heard a lot of chatter about nice houses there.

Near where I live, there's been a lot of gentrification, and it has happened because the two big employers in the area worked with the city to refurbish and/or rebuild whole blocks in order to attract professional employees to the neighborhood. (Not, like, attract blue collar employees who also work there.) There has also been road building so that suburban commuters don't have to drive through the poor parts of town to get to work.

There's a really odd couple of blocks of very fancy housing that's all turned in on itself - the driveways and alleys are so constructed that nothing is very accessible from the street unless you know where you're going. It's like it has an invisibility field - I was doorknocking there once for a neighborhood give-away and it was so weird, also people were very hostile.

But again, the point is that this came about because the city and the big employers cut a deal. No deal, no weird blocks, no knock-on gentrification. Some of the people who live in that area are ER doctors and other essential hospital personnel with lousy schedules. I find it hard to blame them for wanting to live close to work, even though I think the means by which this has been accomplished should never have been used.

It's also tricky because, since this is after all a liberal (for good and bad) city, there's been some positive stuff for working people too - there's more grocery stores (regular ones, including one that has decent produce but is cheaper than Cub; I'm not talking about bringing in a Whole Foods) and some other housing and commercial stuff that supports poor parts of the neighborhood.

What I have observed is a snarl of really complex stuff, partly, I think, because this part of town is itself really complex - it is multiracial, and I can tell you from personal knowledge that it has for at least the past twenty years varied tremendously in income and demographics block by block.

I had a job for a while that involved literally walking every street and knocking on every door - I have walked this large neighborhood in its entirety twice and most of it much more. You'd be on one block, and it would be mostly boarding houses, legal and illegal, for immigrant workers. Then you'd cross the street and it was striver working class people, and then the next block would be very heavily old hippies.

It's really tricky, and for this reason, for around here, I support policy solutions and wage/tenants'/low income homeowners rights and financial plans.
posted by Frowner at 7:19 AM on July 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


[Another couple deleted; as always, a way to make this go better is to not make it specifically about the actual families/children of the members in the thread.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:33 AM on July 14, 2016


I did some reporting a while back on the rates of family homelessness in parts of Queens, NYC, which is rapidly gentrifying, and it was something insane like a 90 percent rise in student homelessness in just the past couple of years. In some neighborhoods it was 169 percent!! Those families either double up with friends or family of are funneled into horrible family shelters all over the city: basically removed from their neighborhoods and then hidden. So, good to keep in mind that more visible changes, like businesses closing, is not the only damage.
posted by tgan at 7:36 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Also, I am very much in favor of taking the decision out of individual hands as much as possible. History suggests to me that individual moral suasion does not work well for long-term large scale stuff. Personal history suggests this to me, too, because I gave up on some stuff that I qualified for when I was younger and all my peers were giving up on it too for moral reasons - and I am the only one who stuck to it, and I've taken real financial and employment hits because of it. But back then, we all believed we'd stick to it.

Regulate rent increases, find a way to have real, stable publicly administered housing (we've got a couple of apartments for Native people here that are nonprofit administered that seem pretty nice), regulate landlords, tax appropriately, offer housing and rent grants, maintain infrastructure equally city-wide, build all the public transit, not just the kind that serves the rich...make it so that the default option is justly administered housing.

Individuals are weak and face many pressures. Some people are selfish, entitled assholes, but you'll always have enough people who are under legitimate pressures that mere moral suasion isn't going to work.

I've got a homeless friend staying with me right now, actually - she has lacked appropriate medical care for a long time and her other housing option was such that, due to distance and transit options, she could not get to the kinds of jobs for which she is qualified.

It's a tricky thing - looking at her, since she's white and young and has a fashionable hairstyle, you would assume that she is from a middle class background and is just slumming it. This is not the case.

It occurs to me that cracking down on discrimination by landlords and changing what kinds of credit/financial stuff landlords are entitled to check would also help. Almost all of my friends who have been homeless (which is a few, by now - mostly couch-surfing kind of homeless but also street homeless) have stopped being homeless either because they were able to live with a partner or because they had some connection to a solidly housed person and could live in their garage or spare room. That is, even when they could literally have paid rent, the barriers to renting were such that they simply could not get in that way at all.
posted by Frowner at 7:46 AM on July 14, 2016 [20 favorites]


For a terrifying version of the "It's the government and corporate developers working together", check out this article on the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati here. Basically, P&G realized they needed a trendy, downtown neighborhood to attract young employees, the city gave them the neighborhood which had actively been neglected (the article points out that part of this was due to residents and activists rejecting city involvement, for good reasons) and said "Here you go!".

There are some great examples of what not to do in there (my favorite is tearing down basketball courts to make way for dog parks--very clearly prioritizing the wants of the gentrifiers over long term residents). And it's also an interesting study of what Itaxpica points out-- there are layers of history there, as evidenced by the name (there were massive settlements of German immigrants there) and part of the tension comes from people wanting to preserve the (really quite stunning) architecture and revive some of the brewing history and how that runs up with the more immediate concerns of the residents there.
posted by damayanti at 7:53 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


When we bought our house in early 2015, the hefty house evaluation from our mortgage company called our area "a neighbourhood in transition." It is, this is true. Instead of displacing poor people of colour, we're displacing working class whites. Kingston is a weird city to experience gentrification in. The main economic drivers are the university (which is predominantly white and upper class), the hospital system, and the military base (which is across the river and has its own established enclave of plain ole suburban housing). Really really good jobs are scarce on the ground here and manufacturing/blue collar work has taken a hit. Kingstonians "rediscovered" the old neighbourhoods on the east and north side of Princess Street (the neighbourhood on the west/southern ends were always old money and expensive) in the past five years, so a lot of houses have been eagerly snapped up by young families, DINKs (like my husband and I), as well as older well-off retirees. Of course, we still have the original residents still around as well as the rowhouses that were turned into apartments and are still cheap.

Three blocks away from me is a busy stretch of road that is a mixed combo of houses, vacant storefronts, as well as a few businesses like a tile store and a porn shop. The city wants to revitalize this corridor and so far, the loudest voices are like us, the people who moved in. (Unsurprisingly, the call is for bike lanes, restaurants, shops, a microbrewery, parks, etc.) A beautiful little jewelbox of a coffee shop just opened up last month where an old laundromat used to be. It's the only cafe of its kind in our neighbourhood. I am pleased to see it, but am pretty sure once you get an indie coffee shop run by a fresh-faced young couple, the flag is down and we are off to the gentrification races.

I have conflicting feels.
posted by Kitteh at 7:56 AM on July 14, 2016 [6 favorites]




Oh, I used to live in Denver when I was a kid. Well, Aurora. I remember our neighbourhood was just a plain ole middle class one. We lived across the street from the elementary school we went to, and around the corner was the high school. We rented a good-sized house because we couldn't afford to buy.
posted by Kitteh at 8:16 AM on July 14, 2016


There should be major tax disincentives to flipping residential real estate. That would help stem the tide of predatory buyers who then do a shitty refab job and sell to the richest sucker.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:27 AM on July 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


Residents of Swansea, Elyria, and Globeville, the neighbourhoods that make up north-east Denver, are receiving stacks of postcards on their porches with offers to buy their homes.

This has been happening to us (San Francisco) for the last three years or so. It's slowed down considerably in recent months, though... we wonder what that means.

I can't disagree more with Tyrant King Pron Dragon. We're a mixed race household, and comments like TKPD's ("If you are a white bohemian urban liberal, please understand that your presence is generally not wanted or desired in communities of color.") always seem to leave out the reality that we exist. And we have kids. Where are they on the spectrum of gentrifiers, our kids?

We've also been trying to get in on the business of developing affordable housing. We gave up on turning a long-abandoned building on Market Street into 8 units of city-registered affordable housing, but the permitting process went on so long (and cost so much money), that we had to bail out--the building owner seemed all too happy to leave it a boarded up piece of garbage until he got the right high dollar offer on it and we felt like we were fighting a battle he fully intended us to lose. Two years later, we bought a two unit house with the intention of adding on two more units and registering all four as affordable housing. The owner (who lives next door) chose us because she loves the idea. And yet, here we are, more than a year later, still trying to get through the permitting prcess with the city to do something the city says it wants to do: create affordable housing, especially by adding density to single family housing-scale neighborhoods and properties.

So, no, we're not "demolishing a Black church and replacing it with a hand-crafted microbrewery or bicycle repair co-op." I don't see those things happening on the scale of individual home/business owners. I see big development companies demolishing things, but they put in franchises and Nieman Marcus. The breweries and bike shops are coming from small biz wannabes (like us) approaching businesses that have lost their clientele and want to move, or who have property they've put on the market (the last one of these in our neighborhood was a bookstore that closed up shop--unless Amazon and ebooks are gentrifiers, you've got a hard job pushing your argument there).

TKPD's definition of gentrification is a muddled version of the real thing. It's willing to overlook real situations in favor of pushing a damning, sweeping narrative.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:27 AM on July 14, 2016 [32 favorites]


We've also been trying to get in on the business of developing affordable housing. We gave up on turning a long-abandoned building on Market Street into 8 units of city-registered affordable housing, but the permitting process went on so long (and cost so much money), that we had to bail out--the building owner seemed all too happy to leave it a boarded up piece of garbage until he got the right high dollar offer on it and we felt like we were fighting a battle he fully intended us to lose. Two years later, we bought a two unit house with the intention of adding on two more units and registering all four as affordable housing. The owner (who lives next door) chose us because she loves the idea. And yet, here we are, more than a year later, still trying to get through the permitting prcess with the city to do something the city says it wants to do: create affordable housing, especially by adding density to single family housing-scale neighborhoods and properties.

See the prior YIMBY thread. As an architect I've worked with lots of folks, including small to mid-sized businesses and non-profits, who wouldn't consider themselves 'developers' but are astonished to learn when they try to do development how expensive and time-consuming (and financially risky!) it can be. While there certainly are stories of backroom deals, my experience is much more that any little item or neighbor objection can delay or cancel huge projects - which means that only the most stubborn, obstinate, bull-headed developers have any recurring success at actually building new projects.

I don't know the right solution, but if the supply of housing is finite and we make it particularly hard to add to the supply, it is to be expected that those who already have more wealth will outbid those who have less for what is available. Not buying or moving into a place you can afford as a moral imperative is unlikely to work on a broad scale. The real challenge is that the capital gains of the increased value in these neighborhoods is going to long-absent landlords far more than to the neighborhood residents - so that even as the change happens they have less stability to push back, not more.

I wish I had more answers. I spend a lot of time thinking about these issues. (I'd love to be able to be a homeowner in my chosen city at some point too. As a middle aged single professional should that be an out of reach dream?) I don't know that the YIMBY movement is the answer, but I think it is a move in the right direction.
posted by meinvt at 8:39 AM on July 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


Visited an old pal in Denver, a retired Prof at Univ of Denver, now dead, many years ago. He wrote me not long after about some one buying house next door and tearing it down to build megahome. Said the guy, fairly young, had three cars that were worth more than my friend's home...this sort of thing has been going on for some time and will continue to do so. The originals gentrifiers were those Spanish, English, French, coming to the newly discovered American continent. It has been happening since and will continue to do so. Wring you hands. Bitch about the people pushed out. Talk about the wealthy. I have no answer for what is clearly taking place world-wide.
posted by Postroad at 8:42 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think it isn’t as simple as “white people aren’t welcome here”. I think “white people who come in and act with the implicit assumptions of colonialism/white supremacy are not welcome here” might be more accurate.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:44 AM on July 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


"If you are a white bohemian urban liberal, please understand that your presence is generally not wanted or desired in communities of color."

I try to imagine this statement with the words white and color swapped out for each other and what the reaction would be.

While the motivation may be different the result of this would be segregated communities like they have in South Africa.

Gentrification of my parent's (formally) all white neighbourhood has been going on for ten years. I could never afford one of the new bigger houses that now dominates their desirable street.
posted by Gwynarra at 8:53 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've been following Denverite since it was linked in the local digital journalism thread, and they've been doing some good work on this. Here's a good long read on the neighborhoods affected by the NDCC. They've also been covering the affordable housing fund that the Denver City Council's been working on. (And the developers don't think they should have to contribute to: “We are no more responsible for the demand for housing than an asphalt contractor is responsible for the pollution caused by the cars that drive on the road.”)

I don't know. I'm in a place financially where I maybe could afford to buy, but it's such an intimidating mess that I'll probably stay here on the sidelines, paying too much in rent for a one-bedroom not far from the Dayton Street light-rail station in a weird 4-block peninsula of Aurora that juts into south Denver, no doubt established years ago for the same sort of bullshit taxing and zoning reasons.
posted by rewil at 9:34 AM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


The main take away I get from these things is "let's keep everyone in their place". And I often suspect that hidden underneath it all is the fear that if these people leave their neighborhoods then they might have to move in to someone else's.

As far as poor POC being tempted by all that corrupting money "they so desperately need", and destroying the community that other people are concerned about, I feel those full grown adults can make their own decisions about what's best for them and theirs without my guidance.

"Those people are fine there, they like it like that, I've talked to several of them that told me so. They don't need that money, what would they do with it anyway?"
posted by bongo_x at 9:57 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


I feel like it's probably impossible to integrate a bunch of white people, especially white people who have more money (even if "more money" is "regular blue collar work instead of irregular service industry work") into a neighborhood without changing it - even if you assume the best of those white people as individuals.

Again, I think there's a bunch of stuff tangled up.

Research about communities of color shows clearly that there is benefit for people of color in simply having stable communities of color qua communities. I surmise that this maps onto other coherent working class/white-immigrant-group/etc communities to a degree, probably depending on how marginalized people are. (Plus, I mean, this is what actual people will tell you if you ask; it's not just a matter of mute numbers.)

When you read about redevelopment breaking up social support networks during sixties urban renewal, that seems to have hurt people's wellbeing even if they were moved to good housing.

So if there's a lot of white people coming in, that's going to make changes that may not be good changes, even if the white people are legitimately seeking affordable housing and are legitimately good people.

And of course, you have to wonder. I know a lot of white people and I am white myself, and I feel like any mass of white people is going to have plenty of people with actively dubious behaviors and attitudes about race, even leaving out well-meaning but ignorant people - and I bet a lot of us are well-meaning but ignorant. It isn't like landlords have a "do you understand the working of this neighborhood" test before they will rent to you.

I think TKPD is pointing out something that is real.

The social positions of white people and people of color are not equal-and-opposite - saying that white people practicing segregation is the same as people of color trying to preserve communities of color doesn't make sense, because the history of white communities and the lived experience of being a white person are so different from the histories of communities of color and the lived experiences of people of color. In white-dominated countries, white people are in positions of privilege and always-already have these powers of exclusion and control - not because of Magical Inherent Whiteness but because of the material history of power and oppression.

I feel like there's a tension in all this - privileged groups benefit by integration, but integration is sometimes materially bad for marginalized people. (Women benefit from women-only settings, for instance, but men benefit from gender-integrated settings.)

It's reasonable to say "there's a real problem where everyone has to live somewhere, and really-existing social pressures that are bigger than individual white people are grinding down on communities of color" (or substitute in "on working class communities").

And late afternoon dreaming hotel is also pointing out that it's not like every household can just be divided according to racial groups, either. Also, not every household neatly fits race/class narratives.

But at the same time, there's something real that TKPD is naming. Something real is lost when a neighborhood gets broken up after it used to have, for example, businesses run by and for people of color, bars and restaurants that are run by and for people of color, schools where most of the teachers were people of color, just the whole experience of being in a place where people of color are central and valued.

We live in a society where white people are already central and valued. It is not difficult to shop at white-owned businesses or to see white community leaders. I think there's a lot of tricky historical and conceptual stuff needed to understand how communities of color come into being and fit into the rest of their cities, but that does not mean that they can just be treated as some random historical thing that doesn't matter.
posted by Frowner at 10:02 AM on July 14, 2016 [17 favorites]


I think how you move into a place is what matters.

If you look at community that serves minority groups and is considered "not the place where white people live" and you are white, then look at the place as somewhere to integrate into, not a resource to extract.

If you can do that and be cool I doubt you'll have any issues at all.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:15 AM on July 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


Annika Cicada, I wish it were that easy. But there is a 'pace of change' issue here as well. If a few percent of a community changes over in a year perhaps the culture is preserved or evolves gradually to integrate the newcomer. When 10% or more of the community is replaced by new people each year, then the new culture becomes much more about how everyone deals with the newcomers and a lot less about what was there before.

This isn't just about neighborhoods, it is true of any group. And, I really doubt most people who ultimately live in these places think of their home as resource extraction (home flippers might, that's a specific symptom that is worth addressing regardless). But, they do bring their lifetime learning of biases and expectations about how the world works. Good effort and intent helps a lot, but it can still be submerged in a flood.
posted by meinvt at 10:41 AM on July 14, 2016


It's really not hard to learn how to carry whiteness in a way that creates space for non-whiteness. Uncomfortable at first, yes. Giving up the hostile reaction that reads like "I just can't go anywhere, then, can I?" is necessary. Put down the defensiveness, learn to recognize what taking up too much space looks like, then reduce the amount of space you allow your whiteness to occupy...on all levels.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:45 AM on July 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


The issue is less how one carries oneself, I think, and more that rent goes up when white people move in.
posted by jpe at 10:47 AM on July 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


As someone who lived in Harlem for 7 years and recently moved to Denver (although not to one of the communities listed in the article) I have a lot of complicated feelings about this. I also work with a lot of low-income people and our social worker is increasingly spending her time trying to help our clients find a place to live and a way to get from there to their jobs.

In general, I tend to agree with Frowner--that the problem of how to keep communities accessible to their longtime inhabitants and overall how to keep a mix of income levels in the cities--ultimately has to be shaped by local government and policy. Because water runs downhill, and asking people as a population to deliberately make choices that disadvantage them and their families is unlikely to result in mass uptake. My spouse and I moved to Harlem not because we wanted to be "hip" or because we wanted to gentrify the neighborhood, we moved there because it was one of the few neighborhoods in NYC we could afford that didn't involve more than an hour's commute to our respective jobs. We tried to be good neighbors, but obviously we changed the place just by being there and patronizing certain businesses at the expense of others.

We moved to Denver, my spouse's hometown, in part because of NYC housing pressures. Even in Denver, the middle-class neighborhood where he grew up as the child of a civil servant and a SAHM is now out of the price range of our two-professional family, so we bought a house in a nearby neighborhood that was historically more lower-middle-class. I'm not ashamed of those choices; we made decisions that were right for our family, but I'm conscious that we're part of the wave. I do think, though, that some intelligent city planning that acknowledges the need to increase housing density in the urban core will be needed to mitigate the market forces at work here.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:54 AM on July 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


The issue is less how one carries oneself, I think, and more that rent goes up when white people move in.

Thanks for saying that and resetting my perspective.

I wouldn't move into those parts of town under "market driven" city-level solutions to housing. But that's just me and that don't do a hell of a lot to help anyone.

And city government looking for as much income from Property taxes really makes me wonder how incentivized city governments are to controlling growth and speculation.

Thank you again.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:06 AM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think that Frowner, and Mayor West, are 100% correct: this is not something that can be solved on an individual level by exhortations to Be A Good Person. It's going to have to be solved at the government and developer level. I am with Mayor West in that I would pay more taxes to ensure that there is more safe, affordable housing.

We can't bring back crime, grime, and white flight - now that cities are nice places to live, more people who love urban amenities and shorter commutes are going to move there. (People of color were left behind in the decaying cities in the first place because the GI Bill suburban homes were only for white veterans.) I do think it would be nice for people to stop crapping on the suburbs in the same breath they denounce gentrification. We're not all sheeple, you know! We wind up here for the same reasons that people move to cities - we want an affordable and decent place to live. And it's not as if there are whole swaths of affordable suburbs just waiting for people to move in. Suburban neighborhoods close to jobs and transit are pretty damn unaffordable for the most part.

To paraphrase Jane Austen, it is a fact universally acknowledged that all people need a place to live. Shelter is non-negotiable. Right now, it's the devil take the hindmost, and people are scrambling to find places they can afford without an hour commute (as The Elusive Architheusis notes in their post). I don't think most people are moving into cities, cackling wildly and rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of displacing poor communities of color. (Though I don't doubt developers do!) I recall an article on, I think, The Atlantic Monthly website saying that job growth has been concentrated in cities - so most people who move into cities like Denver are following the jobs. You can't ask people to live where there are no jobs, though this is what gentrification is asking of poor people.

tl;dr: individual action and "moral suasion" (thanks for introducing me to a new phrase, Frowner!) isn't going to make any difference. It's what we need government for.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:29 AM on July 14, 2016 [11 favorites]


I try to imagine this statement with the words white and color swapped out for each other and what the reaction would be.

I bet it's hard to imagine, because, in the original sentence, we're talking about the real world, and in the swapped sentence, we're talking about something that does happened or existed.

These "let's swap races in the sentence" thought experiments are rarely valuable.

Listen, I live in a working poor neighborhood that has a large black presence. I always have, because that's usually the only place I can afford. A lot of so-called black neighborhoods are majority white or have a large white population, and we all manage to get along without ruining things for each other.

If you're not a ruiner, you're fine. You're presence will not especially be noticed or complained about. Don't be a ruiner.
posted by maxsparber at 11:44 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ultimately, you must chose to not be racist. You must chose to not behave in a racist or destructive manner towards communities of color. Please consider this before you move anywhere.

There's a sort of damned-if-you-do / damned-if-you-don't aspect to all of this. If young, middle-income white couples move to suburbia, then they are guilty of "white flight" and fleeing the cities.

If they move to lower-income, minority neighborhoods in cities where they can afford a place, then they are guilty of "promoting gentrification".

And if they move to old-line, "white", urban neighborhoods ... oh, wait, never mind - they don't do that because they can't afford a place there.
posted by theorique at 11:51 AM on July 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think that Frowner, and Mayor West, are 100% correct: this is not something that can be solved on an individual level by exhortations to Be A Good Person. It's going to have to be solved at the government and developer level. I am with Mayor West in that I would pay more taxes to ensure that there is more safe, affordable housing.

I again refer back to the YIMBY thread because I strongly feel this is all related. The research shows that the best way to control housing costs is to allow for more development. Casting developers as the bad guys doesn't help. Yes, some of them are. I've had contact with some awful ones. But, absentee landlords can be even worse to a city. Most developers are just people trying to make a living (yes, and profit) by building projects and selling them in some form. Most want to be told what they can do to get everyone to support their work. Mostly they get told to go to hell.

It particularly is the case that in established white neighborhoods there are strong community organizations that can mobilize against any development (remember, change is bad). This quickly pushes developers away from trying to provide more density and housing there, and towards areas where there won't be the same level of organized community resistance from people who can spend their evenings, weekends and even weekdays attending meetings, mobilizing with neighbors, etc. Neighborhood boards appear to encourage this sort of gentrification of dis-empowered people's homes for that reason.

I don't want my remarks to be dismissive of any of the other points being made. This is a complex issue, but it is systemic to a whole set of societal issues - the biggest being the disparity in capital wealth between different groups. It takes incremental dogged work to try to find good solutions. And if that work becomes a new source of delay for meeting people's housing needs, then the price just goes up again.
posted by meinvt at 12:42 PM on July 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


[One deleted, again folks please skip the "it's racist against white people" or "what if the positions were reversed" thing, it ignores important context and it's just never a productive direction to take things.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:58 PM on July 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


East Austin is sooooo cool! Oh, wait. Denver just got discovered.
posted by buzzman at 1:24 PM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Everyone that lives in America lives on gentrified land.
posted by banshee at 1:40 PM on July 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


Denver has terrible zoning and little incentive to change it. Apartment buildings can reach only 5 stories (which is +1 from a decade or so ago) and there's a lot of "hem hem keeping out undesirables" talk when people suggest raising it. But garbo enclaves like The beauvallion slide through zoning exceptions with little problem.

If we keep acting like every highrise building is going to turn into a warzone and suppress high density low cost housing, this kind of scenario is the only outcome. Even my small property in Lakewood just appraised for $500,000. The gentrifying force that I've seen isn't families/ tech bros/ hipsters, but developers scraping properties and putting up 6 townhomes or small apartment complexes where a single family unit stood and then charging crippling rates for the privilege of buying/ renting.
posted by boo_radley at 1:55 PM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Taking apart communities to be chic is not very cool. Some of these places go way back, and not everyone (regardless of color) likes boutiques and suburbs. I've watched for several years, once again, as developers have overrun a unique area. I wonder if these people will even experience irony as they tut-tut and lament the homeless.

PEOPLE NEED A PLACE TO LIVE. LEAVE THEM ALONE YOU BASTARDS
posted by Twang at 2:24 PM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have a lot of problems with the idea that somebody "shouldn't" live somewhere. I understand that sometimes rich people can "afford" more, but rich people also get to make choices about how they spend their money and they get to decide that they'd rather save it for their kids' college education or pay for their parents' nursing homes or whatever. (And kind of beside the point, but most "rich" people doing the gentrification are not actually rich. They still feel pinched for money and possibly live paycheck to paycheck. Those rich people who actually don't worry about money are living in gated communities.)

I live in a neighborhood that has been gentrifying, though without the racial issues, just economic ones. The thing, though, is that everybody is just trying to get the most they can for their money, because everybody has limited money and they want to get the most for it. That's what happens when you have a society that revolves around money and then don't give everybody enough of it.

I guess this is my long, rambling way of saying: I think the problem is more about income inequality. Or maybe some population segments' inaccessibility to (cheap/free) education. And that if we made rules that paid everyone enough, then none of this would be an issue because housing prices wouldn't be so disproportionately high compared to median income.

There's also a lot of disincentive for affordable units, especially for small time landlords. For example, the IRS requires that you rent at a "fair market rate" in order to take certain deductions. So even if I were otherwise willing to accept 50% market rate for a unit or to not raise rent for 10 years, I wouldn't, because I might also get dinged from the IRS. And if I do ever need to relocate the tenant, the local laws require that I pay more fees if the tenant is considered "low income".
posted by ethidda at 3:15 PM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Denver has terrible zoning and little incentive to change it. Apartment buildings can reach only 5 stories (which is +1 from a decade or so ago)

Depends on what zoning district a parcel's in. Denver's got zoning districts that allow a fairly wide variety of heights for multifamily residential buildings even before you get to requesting variances.

Doesn't matter where it is, though, the rent's going up and fast, and there's no incentive for anyone to build apartments aimed at middle or lower income tenants when they can build "luxury" units with pretty much the same amount of capital.

My rent's only (ha) gone up 15% in the last four years. I wish the Guardian would stop reporting on the Denver housing market -- what if my east-coast-dwelling landlord sees this and realizes he could boot me out and get at least another $200/month, without bothering to put in air conditioning or replace the terrible carpets or anything?
posted by asperity at 5:04 PM on July 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


PEOPLE NEED A PLACE TO LIVE. LEAVE THEM ALONE YOU BASTARDS

I think the long term solution is to encourage much more high density housing and discourage single family homes. Right now the incentives go the other way. The mortgage interest tax deduction has got to be the worst piece of policy when it comes to home ownership and housing this side of CA's prop 13.
posted by Justinian at 6:10 PM on July 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Even if white people were perfectly susceptible to that messaging, telling white people not to be ruiners might make them better neighbors, or marginally more mindful about deciding where to live, but it wouldn't solve gentrification.

Potential causes of gentrification include: decades of racist policy like redlining and urban renewal that preferentially damaged, destroyed, and impoverished Black neighborhoods; white flight to car-centric suburbs fueled by both racism and temporarily cheap gasoline; Reagan-era "tax revolts"; shifts in the job landscape and increased geographical clustering of industries; a severe crunch in terms of urban housing supply; and present-day income inequality that is drastically higher than any time since the 1930s.

As I said before in the YIMBY thread, even city governments are really hard pressed to make effective changes here. To actually really solve these problems would take aggressive action by cities, in combination with co-operation with their suburbs, state governments, and probably the federal government. That's part of why this is so difficult.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:18 PM on July 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


This is a basic double bind, and in the UK at least generational warfare perpetuated on the young (something the UK is full of right now). Young people don't generally move to a neighbourhood of London because it's hip. We've great public transport, so there are two basic questions: "Can I afford to live here?" and "Is my commute going to be hell?"

You want a third question. "Is it a Harry Potter style literal cupboard under the stairs?" or how about "Is the bed in the kitchen with an adjoining toilet?" or "Do you have to step over the shower to get to the toilet?" (That last for $1,350/month).

That is the sort of choice even moderately affluent young people are having to make in London right now because there simply aren't enough houses or flats pitched at a price 20-somethings can afford to rent. It's not an attempt to break up communities or even insert into them; it's an attempt to get roofs over our heads. And this dates back to Margaret Thatcher - who implemented the "Right to buy" (anyone who had lived in a council flat for a certain length of time had the right to buy it from the local authority, and the local authority was banned from turning round and investing this in new housing stock). Also Ken Livingstone was keeping a lid on it by making developers build a set proportion of affordable homes - guess what one of the first things Boris Johnson got rid of as London Mayor was...

And we get sneering articles from people who bought houses back when they were incredibly affordable and bought houses on teachers' salaries that investment bankers can't now afford (literally) about how the young shouldn't live in certain areas.
posted by Francis at 7:20 PM on July 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


I've considered moving to Colorado, because pot makes lupus so much easier to live with, for me anyway, and pot is legal there, and not here, but watching the house prices in areas with well rated schools has been astonishing. And I feel the pain of the people getting priced out; because of all the gentrification in my area, the tax value of my house has doubled in 5 years, and now almost half my mortgage payment is just property tax.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:25 PM on July 14, 2016


I've considered moving to Colorado, because ... pot is legal there, and not here

We all desperately hope every other state will legalize it as well to ease some of our housing pressure. Or at least all of us who're renting do. I can't even use the stuff; I'm subject to randoms and smoke makes me stabby. I am available for speaking engagements in other states about how the sky hasn't fallen post-legalization. Rates are negotiable but accommodations must be non-smoking.
posted by asperity at 7:59 PM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


This thread was fine until all the gentrifiers moved in.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:54 PM on July 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


If living in Colorado has taught me anything, it's that these victims of gentrification need "NATIVE" bumper stickers to ward off newcomers.
posted by Monochrome at 4:18 PM on July 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm white, live in Denver, have thought about buying a house in one of those neighborhoods, previously worked in one of those neighborhoods, knew all about these development plans, and had no idea about any of the negative aspects of this beyond a vague "gentrification is unfortunate, but what do we do about it?" I personally found the article lacking, as it left me with basically the same vagueness about the problems. Fortunately many of the links from that article have better information. We Are North Denver has a good perspective direct from residents. North/East Denver Change Looks Critically at Development, Gentrification makes it clearer the notification problems are largely a translation failure (i.e. the city notified everyone in English, even though many of the residents speak Spanish). And North/East Denver Change works to solve some of the problems, by providing a bi-lingual overview of the development plans, including timelines and likely impact on individual neighborhoods.
posted by scottreynen at 6:03 PM on July 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ugh, I hate the white liberal bohemian framing, but I also don't agree that this is entirely a policy problem, although I'm pretty sure policy is going to be the only way to make any inroads on it.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:06 AM on July 16, 2016


One of the ironies of gentrification is that it is - literally - desegregation of neighborhoods. So, on the one hand, we have the Federal government explicitly promoting ethnic and racial integration via efforts such as the AFFH Rule (Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing), and on the other hand, we have community and grassroots efforts opposing desegregation via gentrification.
posted by theorique at 6:13 AM on July 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


If we were really getting desegregation, we'd also see increases in people of color living in the whitest neighborhoods. At least in SF, what we see instead is that Black people are becoming a smaller and smaller fraction of the city, period.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:19 PM on July 16, 2016 [1 favorite]




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