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The True Cost Of Moving Into A New Neighborhood, Sorry I Mean Gentrification . . .

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WHOA, that is a bold title. It’s also a really simplified snippet of an idea that is so much more complex. I’m sure there were some of you who were excited by the directness of it, and some of you who immediately felt your blood heat up a few degrees. I’ll start by saying this – I’m not an expert, a community organizer, or a city planner (though I did get a lot of research help for this post from friends who study and work within these topics). And, if while you’re reading this you feel like any of this is aimed directly at you, please know that I’m here to encourage self-reflection and critical thinking about some actions many of us (me included) may be engaging in. This isn’t an attack. Today is really about sharing what I’ve learned about gentrification, getting a conversation going, and sharing resources where you can keep that education going. So let’s jump right in.

WHAT IS GENTRIFICATION?

In the simplest of simple terms, gentrification is what happens when wealthy (and usually white) people purchase property in a low-income neighborhood, fix it up enough that other wealthy (and usually white) people want to live or invest there, and then increase property value so much that a majority of the original residents are pushed out. Now here’s a more eloquent and informed description. You know, the next level understanding:

Gentrification is a process of neighborhood change that includes economic change in a historically disinvested neighborhood by means of real estate investment and new higher-income residents moving in – as well as demographic change – not only in terms of income level, but also in terms of changes in the education level or racial make-up of residents.

UrbanDisplacement.org

BUT, gentrification is much more complex. Like so many things in our world, if you start pulling at this one little thread called “gentrification” you’re going to find it’s just one thread in a horribly knit sweater of racial injustice, redlining, white flight, capitalism, and political corruption all tangled together. WHEW. But, it is a really important topic for us to educate ourselves about, especially in the interior design field where many of us are renovating or “house flipping.”

In fact, I’ll go first.

ME, MYSELF, AND GENTRIFICATION

Pasadena, where Mac and I bought our home back in 2018, was once home to the Hahamogna Tribe of Native Americans. I think it’s important to start there, and just acknowledge that the land now known as Pasadena is stolen Indigenous land. But in more recent history, North West Pasadena is a historically Black neighborhood.

And it still is, with the addition of a large Latinx population. The majority of our neighbors (at least the ones we know) are Black and Latinx.

Mac and I are, without a doubt, “gentrifiers.” We were able to afford a house that cost half a million with the help of family money, and are raising the value of the home by renovating it with excess wealth (trust me, it doesn’t feel excess when I’m looking at our bank accounts each month). If we ever sell this home we will want to at least make back the investment we put into it, which will necessitate us selling it for more than we bought it. But just increasing the value of our property, even without selling it, increases the property value for the houses surrounding us (meaning that houses around us can sell for higher prices, and all our property taxes go up). All of these things spell out gentrification.

SOME QUICK HISTORY

A few of you might be saying “It sounds like gentrification is a money issue, not a race issue.” Well, gentrification is a money issue, but money is ALSO a race issue. For total transparency, Mac and I are both white (I’m white Latina). To understand why gentrification is a race issue there are three topics we all need to understand.

REDLINING

First up is something called redlining. So what is redlining?

“For decades, many banks in the U.S. denied mortgages to people, mostly people of color in urban areas, preventing them from buying a home in certain neighborhoods or getting a loan to renovate their house.”


Khristopher J. Brooks

And why would banks do that? Because the US Government agreed to insure the loans that these banks were giving out, but the banks could only give them to people the US Government felt confident wouldn’t be a financial risk. So they literally color coded maps, outlining entire neighborhoods in red where the US Government thought residents would be “too high risk” to receive loans. I’ll give just one guess as to who those people were.

If you guessed “literally anyone non-white, but definitely Black and brown people” you would be correct. So, redlining plays a huge part in what created these de-invested neighborhoods that are just now becoming gentrified. That’s not to say that BIPOC communities weren’t able to develop and prosper even with the government and banks working against them. White people have just always done their best to tear them down. Look up the Tulsa Massacre, or Bruce’s Beach if you live in Southern California. (Speaking of, has anyone else watched Watchmen?!).

So redlining meant Black folks were largely unable to get loans to buy homes, and even when they were, it was to buy homes in already Black and brown neighborhoods that were deemed low value simply because the people living there were deemed, by lenders, realtors, and the government, as inferior. And what happens when you can’t buy homes? You can’t build . . .

GENERATIONAL WEALTH

This is a BIG one when it comes to homeownership. At its core “generational wealth” is wealth that is built, maintained, and grown by families over several generations. And it should come as no surprise that the majority of generational wealth in America belongs to white families. One of the main ways that wealth is accumulated over generations, especially by the not-crazy-rich but middle class and upper middle class people, is through buying homes. Generational wealth has everything to do with the exploited labor of enslaved people in America’s earliest days, discriminatory practices such as redlining in more modern history, and the underpaid labor of immigrants right now.

That’s not to say that your family hasn’t worked for that generational wealth. But it’s important to keep in mind that, if you and your family are white, the color of your skin has 100% made it easier for you to create and maintain that wealth over the course of history. It may have even played a part in the initial creation of that wealth. To learn more about generational wealth and race check out this article (it’s meaty, but important facts we need to understand!).

The truth is, Mac and I would not have been able to buy our home without the help of generational wealth from our families. A large portion of the money we used for our down payment came from our parents and grandparents. I’m extremely proud to say that the largest amount came from my grandparents, who are both Guatemalan immigrants. But they had to work ten times as hard to build it, and be ten times as careful to maintain it. When my brother is ready to buy his first home, it will be Mac and my responsibility to provide him with help for his downpayment using equity from our home, in order to continue the passing of generational wealth.

Note: I wanted to add a note based on some of the comments – I’m not assuming that all white families have generational wealth (or any wealth). There are many white families and individuals in our country that live below the poverty line, or even just pay check to pay check without any family support. White privilege does not equal financial privilege (or conventional beauty privilege, or male privilege, or health privilege, etc.). However, it is important to recognize that for someone who is white, or perceived as white, the color of their skin is not one of the reasons why they do not have wealth.

WHITE FLIGHT

Again, I’m not an expert so I’m going to try and boil this down to a basic explanation. White flight is a phenomena that occurs when neighborhoods become “too diverse,” and the white residents move to areas that are still majority white. The biggest example of this our country saw was in the 1900s, when white residents of urban cities began moving out to suburbs in large numbers due to the increasing populations of BIPOC in the urban cities. Read this article to really get into the details of White Flight (and why it’s happening again).

And while you might think that “white flight” is the opposite of “gentrification,” just like with redlining, it’s important to understand the historical context of why modern neighborhoods are more or less desirable. What else makes a neighborhood more or less desirable? Things like how well funded a school district is, how much public recreation space there is, or how much access to fresh food there is – all of which are things that BIPOC neighborhoods have been historically denied. “Less desirable” neighborhoods mean lower property values, which in turn means cheaper property. Cheaper property upfront means more money can go into the property renovation, which means a higher resale value. And that means that only someone wealthier can move in. See the pattern?

WHAT IS GENTRIFICATION DOING?

Now that we’ve got some historical context, let’s talk more about what the effects of gentrification actually are. If gentrification means re-investing in areas and revitalizing them, why is it viewed as a bad thing?

Currently, cities like LA are investing in their neighborhoods with big-dollar projects intended to bring amenities to more people in the form of rail lines, sports stadiums, new parks, or shopping centers. Sounds great, right? Let’s take a closer look at one example:

The upcoming Crenshaw/LAX rail line will go through four predominantly Black neighborhoods (Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw, and Hyde Park). Already, just the start of construction of this line has caused rent to go up and resident displacement to begin because living close to a railway is a great option for commuting (check out an interactive map of gentrification along LA transit lines here). The sad irony is that the very transit investments that could help the livelihood of low-income people (who are much more transit-dependent) actually leads to their displacement by wealthy (often white) people who don’t necessarily rely on public transit.

What does the displacement look like? Oftentimes, landlords aggressively and illegally force residents out. Moving out of one’s neighborhood sucks! It causes dramatic negative effects from kids having to switch schools mid-year, to longer commute times, to destroying a family’s networks they rely on for social and emotional support, childcare, and more. Not to mention the extreme toll that stress of housing uncertainty can take on a family (can rent be paid that month, will an eviction notice come, can a new apartment be found on short notice?).

Sure, gentrification on one hand helps some existing homeowners. The value of their homes go up, meaning the equity they can take out of their home or the resale value of their home increases. If they choose to sell, they’re likely selling to newer, wealthier (and often whiter) residents, like Mac and I. And they can generally make a decent profit and move even further out of the city where that money goes further. But if they choose to stay in a neighborhood as it gentrifies, their property taxes are still going up, even if they haven’t made a single improvement to their home.

Note: Someone kindly pointed out that Prop 13 in California does protect neighboring homes from increases to property tax!

As property values go up, and the desire to live in an area increases, existing renters become at risk of being priced out of their apartments or rental homes in favor of new residents who can afford higher rent. Or for the demolition of existing buildings to make way for newer, fancier accommodations.

And thus begins a cycle. As residents either “willingly” leave to capitalize on their property value or are forced out due to financial constraints, existing store and restaurant owners lose their customer base. Especially as new businesses that the newer residents prefer to shop at move in. The local Latinx market (which provides culturally important ingredients) now has to compete with a shiny new Trader Joe’s. A Black-owned restaurant that has existed for decades is slowly losing its clientele as new residents instead go to Chipotle, poke restaurants, or Starbucks. And as more wealth moves into a neighborhood, the schools become better. But the children who are benefiting from it aren’t the kids of the families who have been suffering due to underfunded schools for decades.

It’s important to remember that when someone new moves in, someone else had to move out.

And listen, this all sounds awful, and if you’re anything like me, you’re probably pulling your hair out and screaming at the computer “WHAT CAN I DO?! DO MY NEIGHBORS HATE ME?” I can’t speak for your neighbors (or mine), but the people interviewed for this article, published by the Los Angeles Times back in 2015, said they aren’t hostile towards new residents who are gentrifying their neighborhood. They just want to be included in the come up and protected from being displaced. The article hit me like a gut punch because it’s talking specifically about my neighborhood. (If you’re ever in NW Pasadena, you gotta hit up Perry’s Joint for THE best sandwiches.)

Even Mac and I are seeing gentrification happening, though we’ve only lived here for two years. The house across the street from us was completely flipped last year, and is now being rented to a young white couple who drive a Tesla. The house across the corner from us recently sold for somewhere around $800k, and now there’s a newly built McMansion down the street with a “For Sale” sign up in the yard. I was speaking to our neighbor a few nights ago, who’s lived in her home for 16 years, and she was telling me about all the people who have moved out over the years. And yea, she sounded sad.

Here’s the really simple question I have (that I’m sure a lot of you now also have, especially if you’re looking to buy your first home) for a very complex issue: Where am I supposed to live?

Mac and I weren’t able to afford a home in a neighborhood that had already undergone gentrification, like Highland Park. And we definitely couldn’t afford a home in an upper class neighborhood like Los Feliz or South Pasadena. North West Pasadena is where we could afford a home (and barely at that).

WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT GENTRIFICATION?

As individuals, it can be really difficult to act in a way that tries to solve a problem that is wildly big and complex. But here’s what you can do:

  • The biggest thing you can do is buy a home in a neighborhood you are ready to become an active community member of as it IS, not just how you hope it will be in 5 years. And plan to live there long term (you know, as far as anyone can plan ahead).
  • When you’re looking for a home, research the history of that neighborhood and possibly the home itself.
  • Once you move in, invest your dollars. Now that you are part of that community, you need to support that community. Shop at the local stores instead of driving out of town, eat at the local restaurants instead of franchise chains, and donate to local organizations that are making a difference in the lives of your neighbors.
  • Get involved in local politics, and make sure that you’re advocating and voting in favor of legislation, laws, and elected officials who support anti-displacement policies, tenant protection laws and affordable housing policies (like this one), prioritize community reinvestment, protect existing businesses, and care about their school districts. It’s likely you have more time privilege than a neighbor who is a single parent working two jobs to keep paying rent on their home (especially now that the school districts are likely getting better and they want to keep their children within the district). Use your time to get to know your City Council member, what committees they sit on, their positions on affordable housing and tenant protection, how much campaign funding they receive from luxury developers, and whether they advocate for anti-displacement strategies. Attend city hall meetings, read about legislation your city is voting on, and email your representative. Advocate for the community you moved into!
  • When your neighborhood gets new investments, find out what developer is building it & if there are any anti-displacement strategies coming. Many politicians receive campaign funding from developers who, frankly, don’t have an incentive to build affordable housing. Some cities have begun implementing anti-displacement strategies like providing financial incentives to developers to build affordable housing, giving grants to small businesses located near new rail lines or changing zoning codes to allow more apartments (higher density housing – meaning more room for affordable housing, versus low density housing which is big expensive houses with large yards all spread out) in all neighborhoods.
  • Learn from and support local organizations fighting for affordable housing and tenant protection with your time! (Check out Inclusive Action and Investing In Place if you live in Los Angeles.)
  • Get to know your neighbors! It sounds so simple, but I think it makes a huge difference. If you truly want to be a better neighbor and part of a community, you need to know the people around you and be aware of their issues and concerns. For example, in North West Pasadena one of the biggest concerns is over-policing. I speak Spanish, and I use it all the time living in a neighborhood with a large Latinx community, but don’t let a language barrier stop you from saying hello 🙂

SO WHAT ABOUT HOUSE FLIPPING?

For a lot of us design-obsessed folks, there is nothing more fun than the idea of buying a property, making it our design playground, and then doing it over and over again. Some people love it SO much that they’ve turned it into a full-time hobby or career. But if house flipping is your jam, it’s important to be cognizant that house flipping is part of the cycle of gentrification. I’m not in a position to tell anyone that finding a piece of property that has good bones and just needs some love isn’t the right investment. But I think it’s important to remember that buying a house just to resell as an investment within a few years, versus buying a house to live in and become a part of a community are two different things. And if you’re white especially, recognizing that the very act of reinvesting our largely unearned wealth can maintain white supremacy – because white wealth (and I’m not talking billionaires here, my wealth is included in this) came at the expense of Black wealth (whether we are willing to face that reality or not).

This should be at the forefront of our minds as we start seeing rising rates of home foreclosures. It means many “cheap” properties will be hitting the market, but only due to new homelessness, caused by COVID related financial hardships that have not been appropriately handled by city, state, and federal governments. And by now I’m sure you can guess which populations are being disproportionately affected by these COVID related financial hardships and home loss.

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I barely have any of them. There is still SO much work I myself need to do to keep educating myself and supporting the communities I am a part of. But with gentrification, just like with other important topics, it’s vital to start the conversation, and see our part in it. If you want to learn more, I highly suggest listing to the podcast There Goes The Neighborhood, watching this short documentary, and reading this awesome article. These are California-based resources, but many of the same issues apply to gentrification all over the country (and world).

So, who’s ready to chat about gentrification? I know there are likely going to be some strong opinions. And there are probably a lot of factors or important issues within this conversation that I missed. But, like I said, this is how we start the conversation 🙂

Fin Mark

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Simone

Did not expect an article like this here. Thank you!

Rusty

I DID. Just one of the many, many reasons EHD is getting betterrrrrrrr!
The post is definitely related to design, home, beautification of property, etc.
The greatest thing is … it makes us THINK about these things in a new way, it ooens our minds a little and, if we choose to improve ourselves and our ways of being a human being … we can do the eork and make a difference no matter wherewe live in the world.

Rusty

Gah! Sorry re typos. I can’t feel my fingers at the moment… danged numbness.

Susanna

Sorry, but I think you’re bit over your skis here, and “wealthy” is going quite a bit of pejorative heavy-lifting and stereotype perpetuation here given that gentrification does not exclusively rely on wealth moving into a neighborhood.

Evy

Could you expand on this a bit with the the idea of “wealth” as a pejorative? I do see some simplification of the issue (for example, leaving out other ethnic minorities, association of wealth with race) but I assumed that it’s because the author is writing from her own perspective of the neighbourhood.
Is there another major factor besides wealth that contributes to gentrification?

Julie Levak-Madding

I’m a San Francisco writer (and advocate) who has been researching, writing about, and living through this issue for many (many) years, and it isn’t possible to cover every angle in an accessible piece that the lay public will take the time to read, no matter what your expertise may be. Thank you for such a well done, educational piece.

I especially appreciate that you broached the topic of flipping, which has become mostly a predatory practice in this economy, and it’s ripe for critique and intervention. One of the more grotesque outcomes of the flipping craze is the current surfeit of ghost residences—lovely, finished properties that house no one but exist merely as a commodity investment with an exceptionally high rate of return. There are currently three ghost properties within a block of our home.

Please keep doing what you’re doing. I’m grateful that I don’t have to sacrifice principles to read my favorite design blog.

Elizabeth

Thank you for writing this!!

Jenny W

I’m a Canadian follower, and I thought that this was a very concise and informative article. I love following along for the beauty of your designs, and I also appreciate the discussions you create when you choose to write an “uncomfortable” (for some) narrative on timely issues such as this, and previously one that asked reader’s opinions on gun control. Well done!

Anom

Hmmmm…digesting, excited to read the other comments, and clearly a very complicated conversation – thanks for starting it. On a somewhat unrelated note, “ When my brother is ready to buy his first home, it will be Mac and my responsibility to provide him with help for his downpayment using equity from our home”… does this seem crazy to anyone else?? Your brother must be more responsible than mine Lol. Is this more common among Latinx families?

Ev

Hi there! My mother gave me $12,000 5 years ago when I was 23 for a down payment on my house, without it, it would have not been able to buy a house until much later. Because of that, I have gained plenty of equity in my home, and when we are ready to sell the house in the next couple of years, we will return the 12k from the profits and my mother will use that cash to do the same for one of my other siblings.

The money came from her inheritance from my grandfather, whose parents were immigrants and died when he was a child, so again an example of people ‘earning’ their generational wealth, however, would my grandfather have had the same opportunity for a career accounting job at Shell oil if he was a non-white immigrant?

Lane

I think it’s because she received money from her family, so she might give back at least some of it to her siblings to ensure it’s spread out fairly. I don’t know, but this is what happened when my cousin bought a condo from his mom. He had to give a quarter of the value to his mom and two sisters. Essentially he paid 75% value.

Jana

I think this is super common among immigrant families in general, but tbh, this is how generational wealth is built, you know? By families using their wealth to help their family members, and then those family members passing that on.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

Yes, exactly. I personally don’t have that but previous generations of my family did.

I’m still privileged to have grown up in a fairly safe and stable community though. That is a result of generational wealth.

karen

Sara,
I am certain this article took a long time for you to research, write and edit.
It’s a conversation definitely worth starting. I am sure you’ll be spending the day combatting comments with further explanations or perhaps you’ll learn something new. I know I’ll be checking back.
I hope we see more articles like this in the future.

Margaret

Thanks for writing this. It’s an important topic and one I didn’t know too much about. Like you said, we have to start having these uncomfortable conversations and educating ourselves so we can do better.

Jamie Langley

Thanks for writing this; I enjoyed reading it. You taught me a lot, and I agree it’s something we need to talk about.

Dez

My biggest problems with all of these conversations that we have these days is that we assume that all Black and Latino people are poor, and all whites people are rich from generational wealth, and the assumption that America is made up of only White, Black, and Latino people. I’m Asian, and it so often seems that we are excluded from the conversation. My parents bought a house (I’m 16) using money that they worked hard for with no support from any family. They both come from an impoverished background but worked insanely hard so that we could have what we have. But just because the houses around us are smaller/ probably worth a bit less (these homes are owned by mostly white people btw), does that mean we should not have bought the land? I think the major problem with gentrification is that there really is no concrete solution. We do shop locally and have a great relationship with our neighbors, but besides that, there is not much else we can do except for maybe look out for laws that help. And maybe this is a broader position on all of the different conversations that are happening, but we… Read more »

Roses

I don’t think the author was making those broad statements about socio- economic status and race. There are plenty of pot white people, but their struggles are not a result of structural systems put in place to keep them poor. There are also wealthy BIPOC but they had to struggle very hard to overcome those systems developed to keep them disenfranchised. This article is meant to shed light on how challenging and devastating gentrification is to communities mostly POC when they have been Systematically kept out of other spaces and had to to make the most out of a tough situation until one day wealthier usually white ppl decide they now want that space too. In short when they are pushed out where are they to go? Options are slim and security is flimsy because who is to say that if they relocate to a new area in 10 years more ppl won’t come knocking and push them out again?

LouAnn

“There are plenty of pot white people, but their struggles are not a result of structural systems put in place to keep them poor. ”

That is absolutely wrong. Of course there are structural systems put in place so that the rich get richer and the poor (of any race) stay poor.

Lily

The structures that keep the poor poor and the rich rich definitely sees no race or creed sometimes but the numbers (and history) overwhelmingly show BIPOC are the ones that bear this weight.

Lee

23 million whites live in poverty. 8 million blacks live in poverty.

It’s important to look at poverty rates, not poverty numbers. White people comprise a much larger portion of the population, so of course our numbers are higher.

According to the US Census (https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2013/acs/acsbr11-17.html) the poverty rate for White Americans is about 11%, and the poverty rate for Black Americans is just over 25%. The race with the highest poverty rate is American Indians at 27%.

The data is several years old, but I think it’s safe to assume it hasn’t change wildly since this was released.

Just thinking that same thing. Black people only make up like 12% (or something similar) of the American population. So, their poverty rates are much higher than White people.

Lane

It’s important to look at poverty numbers just as it is important to look at poverty rates. For one, those are statics and they are meaningless for those that end up on the wrong side of statistics. It impacts their every day life. Two, poor whites vote Republican because they are afraid they will have even less when they vote democrat. They think the government will take from them to give to Black or Latino poor. That is what GOP is feeding them, and they are too scared not to believe them. It may be irrational, emotional, jealousy. But the cause is not as important as the effect it has on them. So the systemic changes have to be color blind to have buy in on both sides of the political spectrum, and real power. Currently, this movement is alienating close to 23 million whites. Look, I’m on the right side of things, but I’m very empathic and I’m listening closely to what they are saying. To solve the problem for Black Americans, we must alsotry solving problems that White Americans have. Not do what they think they want, but truely address the issues they have related to food, shelter,… Read more »

Yanina Markova

So I think we owe poor people a lot better than they are getting so I am all for policies that help poor whites as well. However what you are saying – that from a practical viewpoint we have to cater to poor whites and not “alienate” them with the current conversation about race is incorrect. Poor whites don’t vote. So from a purely practical political viewpoint it doesn’t actually matter if they are “alienated.” They just don’t vote in enough numbers. When poor whites do vote they vote Democrat. So what you are saying is wrong on several levels. It’s a persistent myth that Republicans appeal to poor white and working class. The Republican base who feel alienated by us trying to fix racist policies of the past are doing okay financially. Not poor. And “race blind” policies often have these “accidental” requirements that end up excluding Black folks so we have to be very careful about “race blind” policies.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

Poor white people do vote but thank you for at least drawing that distinction and refuting the nonsensical narrative.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

Uhhh… I’m a working class white person who very much does not vote Republican.

You do understand that we’re a lot more likely than people with more money to grow up around people of other races, yes?

Kindly don’t stereotype us or blame us for what was really suburban white people getting Trump elected.

It’s also important to look at where and how people are living. Here in Alaska our population is about 25% Native Alaskan. Many people still live in communities that predate colonization and subsistence harvesting is common- not just because of income, but also cultural ways of being. In Alaska, changes in natural resource use and allowing outside companies to create environmental impacts (ie. logging, mining) for profit can turn a functional community into a desperate one. The big project that holds attention statewide is the proposed Pebble Mine. (massive open pit for copper) Most of the effects to Alaskans are negative including salmon impacts to many Alaska Native communities that rely on selling salmon and/or harvesting for their own family freezer.
We are still trying to keep land and ocean ecosystems functional here BEFORE they are wrecked.
Just one more reason to go for salvaged/recycled materials and/or drop off your old cabinets and copper pipe at places that will repurpose!
It’s all cyclical.

isabelle

Quick google of statistics from 2018:

White Poverty Rate: 8.1% (15.7 million people)

African American Poverty Rate: 20.8% (8.9 million people)

Hispanic Poverty Rate: 17.6% (10.5 million people)

Native American Poverty Rate: 23.7% (600,000 people)

Deb N.

Right, but what is the white/black percentage of people living in the US? Isn’t it something like 60%/12%…

Ursula Willis

This is a misleading statistic, because there are more white people than Black people in America, however if you did it percentage wise, then 20% of Black people live in poverty, vs 12% for white people.

Nicole

In my SoCal city, there is still language in deeds that prohibit Blacks, Latinos, and Jews from owning property. 2020!

kw

Nicole, that type of language is horrifyingly common in older deeds. It is now illegal under Federal law (the Fair Housing Act of 1968), but there’s actually no way to excise that language from the title record, since the title record is made up of historical documents. You can, however, record a new document in the land title records that recognizes the deed covenant is illegal. Some states, like Washington State, have a statutory process for doing this. Although that does not physically remove the covenant from earlier deeds, it would in most states prevent that restriction from appearing in documents when the property affected by the covenant is sold in the future. Alternatively, you could recognize and repudiate the covenant as suggested here: https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/143831/A_12%20Racially%20Restrictive%20Covenants%20in%20the%20US.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

Deb

Where were you able to access that information? I live in SoCal and I’d love to discover what the deeds in the city I live in say!

kw

You would have to review the microfiche records maintained by your County records office. You could also try contacting a nearby university with an Urban Planning program to see if there are any students that have or are studying this. For example: https://depts.washington.edu/civilr/covenants.htm; https://belonging.berkeley.edu/rootsraceplace/raciallyrestrictivecovenants; https://www.mappingprejudice.org/what-are-covenants/.

kw

^students or faculty

Azure

I grew up in Santa Barbara and our home’s deed said “Orientals” couldn’t own the property. We are Chinese.

Emma

I want to add something that’s missing here, that I was aware of, but not really knowledgeable about until recently- red lining and racially restrictive covenants were legal until the mid 1900s– this kept bpoc out of desirable neighborhoods and stopped them from gaining that wealth. By the time the laws changed, that generational wealth had been established. Also, heavily non-white areas have sometimes been the target of unfair sales and eminent domain (look at the history of central park, dodger stadium & the freeways in la)- why would bpoc trust and buy into this part of the american dream when it was constantly pulled from underneath their feet? Not to say anything of how quickly properties have appreciated in the last few yrs as incomes are chipped away at in various ways (many of us have to worry about retirement and healthcare and childcare costs and higher ed costs in a way our parents didn’t), so it’s not really comparable to look at our parent’s situation 15 years ago. FWIW, I’m a highly paid professional, married to another highly paid professional, and the only way we could buy our house was to also get a loan from our parents.… Read more »

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

This is incorrect.

Most poor white people are ethnic white (Irish and other non Anglo, non French, non German, non Dutch, etc ethnic groups) whose poverty is very much due a structure designed to keep them poor and lower than “pure” white people entirely based on their ethnic background. This is especially true on the East Coast. It’s why the Irish, Italian, and Russia mafia exist. Even Polish people had organized crime once upon a time.

The difference is that eventually these groups all came to be seen as white and accepted as white. That is where white privilege comes into it. The only privilege these groups had prior to finally being accepted was not being enslaved. That’s a major privilege but one that very much did not protect ethnic white people from being intentionally held down.

Sam

I’m also Asian & while I’ve also seen Asians largely overlooked in these conversations, I think it’s important to acknowledge as Asians that we have different histories in this country than the Black, Latinx, or Indigenous communities & that many Asian Americans unfortunately don’t understand Asian American history and the ways that we have benefitted from the work of Black and Latino civil rights activists. We should talk about poverty in the US among people of all races, but it is also important to see how our legal system has specifically targeted Black & Latino communities. We discuss how gentrification & displacement affects Black & Latinx communities because the government has specifically bulldozed their communities in the past (see Chavez Ravine in LA or the neighborhood where Lincoln Center now stands). But as Asian people we need to be aware of our own histories so that we can advocate against displacement within our own communities while simultaneously advocating for other communities of color. Having these discussions don’t take away from the hard work your family has done or suggest that all people of a certain race have the same level of wealth, it simply allows for more nuanced conversations and… Read more »

YES, SAM, YES! ahhhh, so glad you left this comment. it’s everything that was in my brain yesterday, but that I didn’t have the time or energy to write out (or the eloquence). I’m American of the Asian Indian ethnicity. Everything you have said is so true. I was just reading about this this a few weeks ago. Asians have benefitted from the work done during the civil rights movement. We need to acknowledge and support that.

Azure

I do think that leaving out Asians when you are talking about Pasadena is an oversight. My Chinese grandparents tried to buy a house in Pasadena as newlyweds and were told they couldn’t because of their race. They got some kind white friends to buy it for them and then sell it back to them. Then when they moved in, 20 neighbors signed a letter saying that if you were good citizens, you would move out of this white neighborhood.

Emma

While this was horrible, I would urge you to look at the deeds of land prior to 1950, they often had explicit language barring bpoc, and not necessarily other minorities. That may seem like a small difference, but it is an important difference between not being able to do something AT ALL, and being able to do it & feeling uncomfortable and threatened.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

Great point.

Asian people around here all lived in the hood until very recently. They’re just very smart with their money, so they move up with each generation.

Ursula Willis

This is a part of the “Model Minority” myth that Asians are exceptional because of how they’ve been perceived as the “right” kind of immigrants.

Ev

Really great read this morning! I consider myself to be educated on what gentrification is and its effects, however I still learned a lot and gave me some good food for thought.

We flipped our neighbors home this year in an increasingly less modest neighborhood, and it wasn’t lost on me that I was removing an affordable home from the market and replacing it with a high dollar home. It made me feel guilty but I knew that if I didn’t do it, someone else would have since every flippable home in our neighborhood is competitively purchased by a flipper. I don’t know if here really does need to be protections in place to keep people in their homes, and affordable housing is an extremely difficult but important challenge to solve. This post helped me articulate what I’ve been feeling — and I appreciate that!

Ev

*obviously I meant to say that I know there really needs to be protections in place! the i dont know part was meant to say i dont know what the answer is for me personally and choosing to continue to flip or not.

Maryann

I know this does not apply to every community but in the last two cities we have lived in, there are property tax protections in place. Here in NE Florida, for example, your property taxes can only increase up to 3% annually. My brother has lived in his house for almost 40 years and pays a fraction of the taxes we pay for our house, bought two years ago. He has made cosmetic and functional updates through the years but his square footage has not changed, which would trigger a increase in property taxes. The resell value of his house is high but he can still live in his same neighborhood due to the property tax protection in place.

Serene

This is a good point. In San Francisco there is a legacy Proposition that keeps tax rates low for people that purchased their home in the 70’s. This was to protect against displacement. However, those homes are now worth over 10x what they paid but their property taxes are still incredibly low. This has been a problem because those lack of tax dollars have been contributing to the perpetual underfunding of public schools and other tax-dependent services. This law dis-insentivises landlords to rent their spaces too. We have many empty storefronts simply because landlords can afford to keep the space empty (very low taxes) and instead wait for a tenant who can pay premium market-rate rent.

p.

Yes, and it’s not just San Francisco. Under California’s property taxes law (Prop 13), if you inherit property, you also inherit the property tax rate. And if a property you inherit doesn’t cost you much in taxes, there’s little incentive to sell it. This is another aspect of generational wealth and contributes to California’s housing crisis. This LA Times article provides a good explanation: https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-california-property-taxes-elites-201808-htmlstory.html

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

I disagree that this is a problem. It’s exactly what we need on the East Coast.

I wish we had that. I really do.

Sequoia

I don’t think Prop 13 is necessarily a problem though. I’m one the few black people whose family is from San Francisco, my grandmother was born here. My family still has property in the areas of the city they were allowed to purchase (wide swaths of SF were redlined). These homes appraise for over $1M but my family are still working class. No one makes more than $70k p/year (in one of the most expensive cities in the country) and being taxed at the new rate would force them to sell homes they can otherwise afford, and move out of communities we have been building and existing in for three generations (four now that I have a son). Communities where we were left to fend for ourselves. Having to then turn around and sell your home because the existing “white” neighborhoods have run out of space, effectively makes us generational caretakers and not full residents. There will always be people who exploit systems with positive intentions but we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Especially in SF where taxing businesses with over $10 million in profit (not revenue) would fill the coffers of the school system for… Read more »

Rusty

In Australia, rates (we pay rates to our local councils for services like rubbish collection, roads, facilities, local swimming pool, etc.; rather than a land tax) are massively different depending on the area. Our rates are approximately 4 times what my brother pays for a much larger property in a much less desirable (and less “white”) location.

Rusty

Oh, and schools are funded by boyh the State and Federal Governments and have nothing to do with the local city/council/shire.

Emma

I appreciate this conversation, this is something I think about a lot. I moved into my neighborhood as a student because of the cheap rent, proximity to downtown, and riverside park. This area was historically poor (interestingly enough, although my city is diverse, the traditionally poor communities in this area were white, mostly Irish immigrants, although in more recent years a large Asian community also came in, along with other people from marginalized groups). I then got a well-paying job after graduation and bought a condo in the area because I have come to really love it. My condo is in a nice building with amenities and was more expensive than the average property around here. Lots of people have since figured out that this is a great spot to be, causing a slew of fancy new builds, cute coffee shops, cocktail bars, yoga studios and restaurants. It’s a massive gentrification cliche. I feel really conflicted about the fact that the people who used to live here about being pushed out. Rentals are being converted to condos or rents are raised significantly, and taxes go up even for those who are fortunate enough to own already. The pawn shops and… Read more »

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

The important thing to remember is those pawn shops and check cashing places replaced mom and pop businesses when the area declined. So it’s actually not just low rent retail that gets replaced. It’s a whole cycle that started with loss of retail.

And if you really want to help, try to strengthen the actual community’s voice and influence within their own community. Speak out against gentrifying the community organizations. And fight for affordable housing and protection for longtime residents.

Remember that you moved into their community.

Lane

Those issues are so complex. In my mind the only way to solve is how Europe does it. So lowering the real estate tax burden, and ensuring things like education, libraries, parks, police, > 75% of healthcare are paid from income taxes. To that we should add maternity leave and short-term disability leave. As it is now, middle class and lower class pay a lot more taxes and healthcare costs (as a proportion of their income) than wealthy. Having that burden causes people to go bankrupt, less stability, lower quality education. People unfortunately don’t understand that each and every dollar earned depends on the infrastructure, national stability, built roads, schools that support workers. It’s all so connected. I don’t see this being fixed anytime soon, just like people dont see why we should nationalize healthcare benefits. We could still have some options like paying more/buying supplemental insurance to cover private rooms. And that doesn’t prohibit some doctors to be completely private if some people want to buy healthcare out of pocket. It’s just too interconnected. I’m afraid people in the USA are too much about ‘me’ to change that, even if it means they are worse off

Abbie

Hi! As an American who lived in Amsterdam, The Netherlands for 4.5 years, I can say from my personal experience that gentrification is definitely a big problem there (and in other big cities like London and Berlin). I lived in an apartment in a predominantly Arabic/Turkish/Muslim neighborhood my last two years there, and it was the most rapidly gentrifying part of the city at the time. While there were some things done well there (affordable healthcare, strong tenant protections), the schools were worse in the predominantly non-white/non-Dutch neighborhoods like mine, and flippers were pushing out families that had been in the area for decades. It’s important to keep in mind that “Europe” is quite big and encompasses many nations and cultures, and it is more difficult for non-white immigrants to build and maintain wealth than for white immigrants like me (even though I was just a grad student).

Lane

It’s true. Things are getting worse everywhere.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

The thing people tend to forget about Western Europe is that it’s highly white European and its great societal safety nets only exist due to global imperialism and the continued ownership of the companies extracting the most wealth from the third world as well as interference in their politics.

The US is guilty of the latter two things to a smaller extent

Lisa

I love love love this article! I am a gentrifier in Washington DC. When we had kids, we purposefully wanted to move to a mixed neighborhood where my kids see Black people everyday and have best friends of all races (my daughters school for example is 70 percent Black). Wealthier, and yes often white, people moving into historically Black neighborhoods absolutely has the negatives you describe, but I think such purposeful integration is necessary given the times we’re in if we want our kids to be better people than we are. Given that, I completely agree with the steps you describe to try to be part of the community.

Abby

love the term “purposeful integration” and agree with Sara’s tips above on how to do that 🙂

Jennifer

It is interesting because until last year I was also a gentrifier in Washington, DC. We moved into a neighborhood not far from where we were already living because we could buy a house that we could fix up ourselves, and actually afford it. Not a small amount of the inspiration to take on such a project came from blogs like this one! But to be honest, after living there for five years we were done. Packages and plants were stolen off our porch, our house was broken into, we found people doing some rather unspeakable things in the alley behind our house, and there was constant trash and litter on the street (which I picked up regularly). To top it off, there were a string of shootings (many around 2 -5 pm – very much school pick up hours) that left us feeling like the neighborhood was just not going to be safe to raise our family in. I was so relieved when on the 4th of July this year I did not have to stay up past midnight trying to figure out if the blasting I heard was gunshots or fireworks like I had the previous summers. I… Read more »

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

You all moved into their community though, Jennifer. Nobody made you.

Lisa, that’s all fine and good but only if there are things in place to protect both renters and longtime owners from your gentrification. Otherwise, you’re basically just colonizing in a watered down way.

Emily

This is really well done. We’re about to move from one majority white neighborhood to another and I feel really gross about it, especially as a parent. It’s not like we were seeking that out but the city we live in is v segregated when it comes to real estate/neighborhoods. We did consider shopping in a largely black neighborhood (where several white friends live), but I couldn’t get past the idea of gentrification, so that felt worse? Plus some of those friends aren’t really investing there (ie live there but send their kids to private school, so it feels like they’re taking advantage IMO). We actually strongly considered a suburb that would’ve brought much more diversity but is overall much more affordable so wouldn’t have felt like gentrification.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

This is where my being working class works in my favor.

If I move into a diverse area, I don’t have the generational wealth or power that makes me a gentrifier to that extent. I’m an invader but the only thing I bring with me is my white skin.

The problem for me is that it is damn near impossible to find a diverse middle class area that is stable and decent. My best bet is to raise my future kids in a diversifying suburb that won’t go as downhill as working class areas that diversify do. I do not want them being exposed to the possibility of getting shot or stabbed for getting into a fight/disrespecting the wrong person. Nobody should be exposed to that growing up.

It really doesn’t have to be either or.

Amy Smith

One thing to look into is land tax vs property tax as a home owner in a historically undervalued neighborhood who is fixing up their own home. Its something I have been really interested in as it does several things…..
-It stops those who buy and hold to wait for the neighborhood to ‘change’ from those who may want to put something great on the land right now and better the environment instead of a blighted property sitting there for years that was purchased cheap.
-Equally taxes those with a parking lot on their property or a building spreading the burden of taxes —The best thing a land tax does is not punish those who invest in their property and contributes to that gentrification when investment happens and property tax rises.
Also in terms of under funded schools the fight for this has been happening for a long time – schools funded by property taxes is actually unconstitutional as its based off the wealth of residents and creates the wide disparities we see. I have not dived deep into but something to fight for!

Cris S.

Amy – I don’t know a lot about this, but this is interesting to me, because yes, a property tax essentially punishes those who improve their home. But on the flip side, would it mean that I pay the same in land tax as someone who puts a several rental properties on the same space and profits much more from it? I honestly don’t know anything about how this works. But as someone who has benefited greatly in my kids’ schooling because of our suburban property taxes vs those in our nearby city, I think something needs to be done. My special needs children, especially my son, have had huge supports – individual aides, small classroom populations in the typical kid classrooms he attends, and a very small and targeted classroom for other parts of the day and school provided occupational, social, behavioral, physical and speech therapies. But the same kid – with the SAME federal laws governing services via an IEP – where we used to live in the ‘inner’ city would get very very little of that. And that is awful.

Totally agree with this comment. This was an issue in Detroit for a long time (I don’t know if it still is since the city has been changing a lot lately) as far as people just buying and waiting and not doing anything positive with the property. And YES YES YES to the part about property taxes funding schools. Ug. It’s gross and so wrong. This hasn’t personally affected me negatively because I live in a “good” area with “good” schools, but I totally see the disparity and can see that it is a problem for others.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

Land tax basically encourages gentrification even moreso because it disproportionately harms those who don’t have the money to fix up their property.

There really are no economic strategies that curb gentrification. The only thing that does is protection from it.

Lee

What this piece and many progressive leftists fail to remember is that while the poverty rate for blacks in the U.S. is 20% and the poverty rate for whites is 10%, what that means — numerically — is that 8 million blacks live in poverty and 23 million whites live in poverty. So the actual number of white people living in poverty is three times the number of blacks living in poverty. And that explains why large numbers of poor white people get so enraged when middle class and wealthy folks make assumptions about their “privilege.”

When you start talking about “generational wealth,” HUGE numbers of white people do not have any such generational wealth.

Abbie

Hi Lee! Yes, poor people come in all colors and races, and there are policies put in place by the very wealthy to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. I hate that this happens, I think it is one of the biggest things wrong with the world, and I want to fight for policies to level the playing field.

At the same time, there have been laws in place in the US that actively and intentionally made it hard-if-not-impossible for Black people and other people of color to build and maintain wealth (things like redlining, Jim Crow, taking land from and genocide of Native people, chattel slavery), and these policies were not used against poor white people. As I’ve heard it said concisely, racial/color privilege doesn’t mean that your life hasn’t been hard, it just means that your race and/or the color of your skin isn’t something that makes it even harder. A podcast I’ve loved listening to lately is “1619”, and maybe you’ll like it too!

Susan

History is not that simple. When the Irish, who were white, flooded into the US in the late 19th century, they met a wave of exclusionary practices, including “No Irish” signs in the windows of housing sources, job sources, and stores. The same thing happened to other white people, including Italians, Jews, Poles, etc. I grew up in New England, which has many French Canadian immigrants, including my late grandfather, and there was plenty of discrimination against “Canucks” well into my childhood. Then the first black family moved to town…. My point is that many human beings hate differences and feel threatened by them, and because of that they discriminate against anyone who is not just like them. I think we can strengthen our bonds across races, ethnicities, genders, disabilities, sexual preferences, religions, etc., if we stop the narratives that claim falsely that this group or that group was not discriminated against. Discrimination is a shared history for many of us. I feel this shared history most as the mother of a disabled adult daughter, who has been disabled since birth. You would not believe the number of people who point, stare, or ask rude questions about a person’s disability.… Read more »

NA

Susan, thank you for this incredibly important reminder that our advocacy and work to make this world less racist and more equitable needs to be intersectional. I have had several conversations with friends recently who felt so frustrated by the national response to COVID, where workplaces started making accommodations left and right to allow people to work from home, drastically changing the structure of institutions and societies…when disability activists have been advocating for these accommodations for SO LONG. We cannot consider ourselves advocates for equality if we’re not participating in and committing to conversations and action around disability, sexual identity, citizenship, and other key characteristics that we use to discriminate and marginalize humans. Also, in terms of race/history, I recommend “White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890-1945” by Thomas Guglielmo, “How Jews Became White Folks and what that Says about Race in America” by Karen Brodkin, and “How the Irish Became White” by Noel Ignatiev. These are great books that really tell us how the boundaries around whiteness (which like race, is a social construction) have changed over time to incorporate certain groups.

Susan

Thanks for the support and reading recommendations. You are so right about how the work from home movement goes where people with disabilities, pregnant women, and parents have wanted employers to go for so many years.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

You are incorrect. Everything other than slavery and genocide on American soil was in fact used against ethnic white people.

We weren’t considered white until after WWII.

Mutmainah

It’s not so much about the “total” numbers as those percentages compared to the racial makeup of the US. Black people comprise approximately 13% of the United States population and white Americans are around 73% (citing from the US 2010 census) so even with the stats you’ve provided, you can see that in the US, poverty disproportionately affects Black people. But I’m sure you could have put that together yourself 😊.

Ellen

As someone else mentioned above, class structures in the US absolutely impact poor White people and make it harder for poor White people to get out of poverty, especially in the past few decades as inequality has worsened and economic benefits are designed to accumulate to those who already have wealth. HOWEVER Black people and people of color face these same class structure barriers to well-being and wealth creation AND the additional barriers of systemic and individual racism. White people who experience poverty are absolutely harmed by that poverty. But, White people who experience poverty still benefit from being White in the US. Privilege is not meant to say that someone is unworthy or hasn’t struggled in their life. It is meant to help capture the impact of systems and institutions and acknowledge that those systems and institutions are set up to help some people and not other people. Basically, it’s meant to move the focus from just thinking about damage done by individuals when we talk about and think about racism and other forms of oppression. That’s why people talk about multiple forms of privilege. Class privilege acknowledges the benefits that wealthy people experience. And for instance, a Black… Read more »

Serene

THIS. Being poor is systemic in this country, and it impacts white communities as well. Progressive people need to remember this because it is exactly what the POTUS is playing into.

BW

I think most if not all people remember this, it just may not be the focus of every conversation.

I understand what you’re saying, but white people also have no been intentionally left out of government help to the give them a leg up. You should read up on how FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s affected Black people. It’s really eye-opening. Also, segregation created disadvantaged resources for Black people, so they were starting from way behind for no other reason than skin color.
Poor white people and poor black people may both be poor and have no generational wealth, but poor white people still have an advantage over poor black people because of discrimination due to skin color. It’s true that Black people have to work twice as hard as White people to get half of what they have. I’m speaking of this from the point of view of a privileged Asian American person looking objectively from the outside. Just my 2 cents.

oops, *have NOT been” (grammar correction first sentence)

Jana

…but you should be looking at per capita rates, not total numbers. That’s the ONLY accurate way to talk about the wealth gap.

NA

The only time I think it’s remotely okay to talk about total numbers instead of rates is when we talk about how whites disproportionately vote against policies around welfare and healthcare that directly improve their lives. Numerically more white people in this country would benefit from healthcare4all and a social safety net than would black and brown people, yet they still vote at higher (rates) against that benefit 🙂

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

A lot of you are very much misinformed on the topic.

Ethnic white people were absolutely deliberately kept out of the white power structure until after WWII. If you don’t know that, I suggest reading up a bit more.

The white poverty level was also astronomically high until the New Deal and GI Bill. This was almost entirely made up of ethnic white people.

On top of that, the Irish as well as groups from places like the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Republic absolutely not only had their land stolen -if they ever had any- but also faced genocide and ethnic cleansing as recently as the ’90s.

My Irish ancestors had their land and wealth stolen by the English, and my French and German ancestors were most likely poor villagers or travellers.

A lot of you really need to read up on the complexity of “white” history.

And NA, I don’t think you actually know what you’re talking about. The GOP’s strongest base is not people who need social safety nets. It’s people who don’t.

KT

Thank you for this, Sara!

I think that people in every industry should be doing this– spending time complicating and questioning the ways in which their “business as usual” is predicated on and perpetuates white supremacy.

I know I’ve been working to interrogate the ways in which I have benefitted from white supremacy and the ways in which the work I’m hoping to do is capable of harm. A better world is possible.

Melkorka

Thank you so much for this informative and engaging post on a really tough topic. I think it is so awful how effective these intentional policies have been. Personally I am really interested in learning about Racism in planning policies (as in urban/city planning) that have been instituted even in rural towns like the one I currently live in. If anyone knows of any books or media about the topic please share. I want to examine our local planning policies (in a very very white rural area) with that critical eye so I can challenge this horrifying reality on a local level as well. I think policy wise we should consider imposing property tax stabilization the way do on rentals for long term community members. In my small town there is an extra tax fee on any house sale above the median value, that is used by our town to buy property development rights from farmland/ open land in order to preserve the agricultural character of the area. There could be policies enacted similarly that get devoted to fund for community preservation/investment. We should be encouraging longterm -invested personal ownership in communities as policy. The value of having community members… Read more »

Alison

It might not be exactly what you’re looking for, but I believe the book “The Color of Law” covers a lot of housing policies historically that were discriminatory (in addition to many other topics).

Melkorka

Thank you! I knew I had seen this recommended before – I will add it to my reading list.

sophie

In addition to “The Color of Law”, I also recommend “Not in my Neighborhood”. It’s specifically about the history of racist policies in Baltimore, but the same strategies have been used throughout the country. It also gives you a really good understanding of the succession of racist policies (the policies may change over time, but the intent behind them to exclude Black people from opportunity and wealth creation is a constant), and how policies initially targeted to exclude Polish, Irish, and/or Jews were/are used longest and most devastatingly against Black people.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

Yes, sophie. Exactly. This is kind of what I was trying to point out is it did not start with black people in the East Coast. Black people just moved en masse to areas that were originally white ghettos. There were some free black communities but they were very small and already very established. There were also slaves in the Northeast up to the 18th and early 19th Century but not on the scale of actual slave economies like those of the South or the rancho society of the Mexican southwest. The system was in place in the Northeast for black people to come up even with the interference of slum clearance and redlining but that disappeared with the loss of industry. That’s why the racial wealth gap in industrial communities is still so big. If industry never went away, black people in the Northeast and Midwest would be right now on the level of white people in the post-war era. Those industrial jobs were highly unionized and paid very well. Clearly many people do not know this aspect of history. They seem to think all white people were maybe poor but never faced any systemic racism that kept them… Read more »

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

That is an excellent policy, Melkorka!

Thank you for sharing it.

This is my area of expertise – I’ve been on our local Planning & Zoning commission for a number of years – and this is 100% accurate and well-written. This is an extremely accessible way of explaining really complex issues, and I will save this link to give people who need a quick primer. Thanks for writing this so well.

Nicole

Going to piggy back here on community involvement. One main reason of knowing your neighbors is that you can help them out during hardships. You could do it in the form of having a community fundraiser and whether or not the recipient wants to be known or not could be up to them. But you could initiate the gathering of the funds to help your neighbor keep their house.

Most people are too ashamed to ask for help but fostering relationships and creating trust they may open up to you. And dropping some money on their door step (unknowingly), May just be what they need. Never underestimate the power of a community willing to support one another during tough times.

Claudia

Beautiful thought! Building communities <3

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

I grew up in a community where we did for each other no questions asked. I miss it a lot living in these very much not community oriented suburbs. A person’s house burnt down, and nobody thought to raise money.

Cheryl

I wish more neighbors and neighborhoods would mingle and actually get to know each other outside of a narrative they see on the news. I was fortunate to spend 13 years of my early adult life in NYC, living in a true melting pot. My neighbors nowadays talk about people of color as a separate species almost, they have no friends other than white people just like them. Change begins in the heart of every individual. I love the thought of knowing our neighbors, of all kinds and all walks of life.

K

Thank you for writing this, Sara! I am so glad you jumped into this topic on the blog, and I hope to see more on topics like this! I really appreciate the time and research that must have gone into putting together this post. I learned some new things for sure.

Christa

Sara, thanks for writing this well considered post and giving us all your perspective, along with some ways we can help.

I work for developers that specialize in restoring old apartment buildings – usually with leaking roofs, leaking plumbing, dangerous wiring and rotted floors. Cities rely on development to repair neighborhoods where infrastructure is failing: streets, sewer lines, building safety. There is not enough public will or public funds to pay for these things. This has to change. We have to get involved politically on local and national levels to balance the wealth in this country, pay better wages, and make a space for our poorer people to rise up.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

Jobs. These safety nets are government programs are merely a weak substitution for the jobs people raised themselves up on for generations.

Margaret

Great article. Thanks for writing it, and for doing all the work that went into it. Re generational wealth (and the people who don’t think they benefited from it) another factor that pushed a lot of white people into the middle class in the middle of the last century was the GI Bill following WW2; a free college education for veterans, plus the booming economy in America while most of Europe, and Asia, were still rebuilding from the war. Also guaranteed home loans for vets.
This was certainly true for my family of origin. My grandfather was a factory worker, my father, thanks to the GI Bill, was an attorney. Even though I have been estranged from them for many years, and have always worked low-paying healthcare jobs, I still benefit. I graduated from college with no student debt, and was able to take off do to volunteer work in Europe. Even though I identify as working class, I still have a middle-class background, education, and life experiences.
This government-funded upward mobility was limited in most places to white veterans.
Yes, really.

Alison

Yes, thank you for bringing up the GI bill! Such a huge factor in which families were able to accumulate generational wealth through education and home ownership. For those who want to dive into this topic – https://www.history.com/news/gi-bill-black-wwii-veterans-benefits

Margaret

Thanks for including the link. My computer skills would make a Neanderthal blush.

NA

Also relevant to the GI bill convo is Karen Brodkin’s book “How Jews Became White Folks and what that Says about Race in America” — she makes a strong case for how the GI bill and other governmental policies shifted the narrative around class and race for Jews in America.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

Not just Jews but all ethnic whites.

Rusty

Interesting and disgusting side-note: Australian Indigenous people fought in the wars, returned to nothing andwere not even considered citizens of their country until 1967!!!
WTF!?!
No benefits for them from bring veterans.
Makes steam come out of my ears! 🤯

that is awful. i’m not in australia, so i’m not seeing that on a regular basis, but i’ve read a little about it. they basically got the same rotten deal that the native americans did here. it’s sickening. 🙁

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

Yes. This point right here is why non-white people were not able to rise up with formerly poor white people after WWII.

Even worse, their stable rural and non urban communities were destroyed in the name of “Progress”.

There is one such place not far from me called Horntown that no longer exists and has been almost entirely forgotten. It’s now broken up into industrial land and what were exclusionary suburban rowhome developments.

Tarynkay

Great point about the GI bill. But go even further back- between 1868 and 1934, the US government gave away about 10% of the total land in the US through the Homestead Act. Technically African Americans could and did claim land through the Homestead Act, but it was overwhelmingly whites who benefited. Here is a brief but compelling link about this: https://aeon.co/ideas/land-and-the-roots-of-african-american-poverty

Rosabella

Thank you for the link to the article. However, even this brief but well-written piece fails to address a key issue: where did all the land that was “given away” through the Homestead Act came from. How many native American communities were stripped of their lands and thus rendered deliberately poor and homeless?

Tarynkay

Yes, absolutely that is integral to this issue. I agree it was not addressed in the article I linked. The US government gave away land that already belonged to indigenous people. They did this with the express intent of displacing those people and colonizing the whole country. This was not a hidden agenda at that time. If you start reading up about this, you will see flyers advertising “Indian land” and urging Americans to go and claim it. This land forcibly taken from indigenous people and given to mostly white Americans effectively jump started the current and continuing generational wealth gap.

When people today start expressing fears about the government redistributing wealth, I always wonder what they learned in history class. Forcible redistribution of wealth is what this country has done from the very beginning.

Tanya

Great to see this article and how you as a team continue to think critically about racism and your role in it from the vantage point of your profession. I hope this continues beyond this current moment as it support the change we need in this country.

I also second many of the comments about alternative policies that may support investment in communities.

I’m so grateful for this article and this conversation. Thank you thank you thank you! This is something we’ve grappled with as a family in a gentrifying Boston neighborhood and definitely don’t feel like we have the answers.

One overall part of our family’s philanthropic philosophy is that the causes we give to should relate directly to the impact we have on the world and the impact the world has on us – we are particularly responsible for supporting our local homeless population because our moving into the neighborhood exacerbates homelessness.

Laura

I so appreciate this conversation, Sara! Your very simple question of “so where am I supposed to live?” is exactly what I’ve struggled with on the topic of gentrification. I’m a white 30-year-old who grew up in a middle class household, and I benefited greatly from generational wealth. My family was by no means “wealthy” but they were well-off enough that I left college with minimal student loan debt (insane that 25k is minimal, but that’s another convo) and received a financial gift from my parents and grandma when I was ready to buy my first home. MAJOR PRIVILEGE. I moved into what would certainly be considered an “up and coming” neighborhood, but like you and Mac, it was all I could afford. Where I’ve landed so far in trying to answer your question is this: I think it’s natural that 30-somethings buying their first home would gravitate toward a lower-cost neighborhood. What needs to be adjusted is the demographic of 30-somethings who actually CAN afford to buy their first home. My best friend is Black. We have very similar taste and I could 100% see her owning a home in my neighborhood. But she can’t afford to buy a… Read more »

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

I’m glad to see you are really trying to understand this.

There are for sure individual things we can all do (especially gentrifiers) but we also need to collectively fight for an end to offshoring/outsourcing (can be done simply through boycotts) and affordable housing as well as protection for longtime renters and homeowners alike. Not landlords though imo.

Sally

I have struggled so much with this too – I grew up middle class white in the Bay Area and watched major gentrification take over all around me in deep, obvious and painful ways. The burb where I grew up is some of the most expensive real estate in the US, no way could I afford a reasonable home there, or in SF, or anywhere within 2 hrs commute of SF, even though I had grown up always planning to stay. I lived below the poverty line in SF, saved for years, got a better job and finally bought a house just before turning 40 all by myself, with zero outside help, in a smaller city in a different state and my neighborhood is definitely blue collar. I feel like a CA asshole. I love where I live and am more fulfilled than ever before in my life in ways I never thought possible but I never wanted to be someone contributing to this problem that is so disastrous for communities. Appreciate this discussion as I think about this issue all the time.

Teresa

This was a well written article and has piqued my interest in a topic that I have never really thought much about. Thanks!

Kari

Gentrification is so complex, I’m grateful that it’s being addressed here, but of course this only scratches the surface. Like the author, I have been an unwitting agent of gentrification in my city. My husband and I got married young, meeting in the city, but both originally from out of town. I had been living in our city for a year and wasn’t interested in living anywhere else. Barely TWENTY ONE (dear Lord, we were so young), my husband was ready to buy a house (no family money given to him, but he was able to save up for a couple of years rent free at home) and we started looking together. We found a duplex in a poor neighborhood that had an amazing view and was walking distance to the newly revitalized downtown area. Our families thought we were crazy and strongly cautioned us against buying in the neighborhood. We pushed forward through a ton of obstacles. Why? I can’t underline this enough: we loved the neighborhood. We loved the people and the culture and had no plans of changing it. I just didn’t realize at the time that by simply being two super young white LANDLORDS, we were… Read more »

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

I’m glad you’ve come to this realization, Kari.

Many gentrifiers never do. They basically exist inside an echo chamber that doesn’t allow the voices of the actual community to penetrate it.

Thank you for being willing to put your personal experience in service of others, in public like this.

Lindsay

Sara, thank you so much for this article! My partner and I are moving to Indianapolis and just bought our first home there. When we were looking around we were having the exact conversation you were: where do we live? We could afford to live in the suburbs, but we are city people. We could afford to be in white neighborhoods, but we don’t want to live our lives surrounded only by people who look like us. At the same time, we recognize the importance of keeping some BIPOC spaces protected from whiteness. We ultimately bought a home in an area that is being gentrified. Interestingly, it is historically a poor white neighborhood and has become more mixed with gentrification. We still feel ambivalent about it, but are resolved to do what you suggested in regards to being full members of the community and seeking opportunities to our privilege to advocate for justice. This is long and I could keep going. I am really grateful for you sharing your perspective. I am sure there will pushback, but I could not be more supportive of this and more articles like this! After the murder of George Floyd, EHD promised to do… Read more »

Alin

Hi Sara, Thanks for starting this conversation. Gentrification is driven by the housing affordability crisis. We need to build more homes, period. And we also need to to talk about integrating predominantly white neighborhoods too. There is plenty of research that shows that low income children who grow up in economically diverse areas have much better odds of breaking out of the cycle of poverty than children who grow up in predominately low income areas. In many ways, the redlining maps of the past are preserved through land use and zoning policies. Formerly-greenlined neighborhoods are often zoned for only single family homes, which keeps property values high and prevents more dense housing from being built in desireable neighborhoods that have good schools. NIMBYs fight any new housing on the grounds that it will “change the neighborhood character” which is often a polite way of saying that lower income people might move in. These folks often reject even modest increases in density, like allowing ADUs or duplexes or small infill developments that could house more people. If we want to house everyone in our society, we need to build more affordable homes and we need to build them everywhere, not simply… Read more »

Denise Thadathil

Well done!

BW

I personally hate the look of the luxury high rises going up in so many cities and think that ADUs, small multi-family properties, and other modest infill would do so much more to “maintain the character” of a neighborhood, but NIMBYs gonna NIMBY *shrug*

NA

Hey Alin! One thing that I think of when I read things like “we need to build more homes” is the history of the water crisis and land use change in places like California, which truly is not capable, from an environmental resource perspective, of inhabiting as many people as currently live here. The book Cadillac Desert is a great history of water policies throughout the US, and the ways in which we have depleted our natural resources by exploiting indigenous people (even in the very recent past ~1970s), rerouting rivers, damming rivers, etc.

This isn’t to negate the need for affordable housing, in any capacity. I am a strong supporter of affordable housing, wealth redistribution/taxation, etc. but I also want to always take an intersectional approach and consider the ways in which affordable housing // any conversation on housing and infrastructure can also contribute to environmental racism.

Anyways, big plug for the book Cadillac Desert. It blew my mind and has really impacted the way I think about land / water / environment / politics / racism / capitalism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadillac_Desert

Alin

I’ve not heard of this book and don’t know anything about water use policy because its not a big concern where I live. I’ll check it out! In the long run, I believe denser housing is greener housing. We need to build housing near transit and amenities so people don’t need to rely on cars to get around. This is why NIMBYs are such a problem. If they block development in their exclusive enclaves close to the city, it just means more sprawl because people will keep moving further out until they find a home they can afford.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

I disagree. NIMBYs are only a problem when they aren’t actually from the community. “NIMBYs” from the community fight against gentrification.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

I see so many people claim we need to build more when building more and more market rate housing merely makes gentrification even worse. It’s akin to saying we can end the drug problem by having more supply. The demand is the issue, not lack of supply. I’m glad you at least understand affordable housing needs to be built in every gentrifying neighborhood but the fact is increasing density merely increases gentrification. Housing prices and rent go up an insane amount in gentrifying neighborhoods. We’re talking from at most $50K houses on average and $500 a month rent throughout the entire city of Philadelphia back in the day to houses going for almost a million less than a decade later and $500 a month getting you a place in only the worst areas of the city. This is despite an insane amount of supply dumped into an already very dense city. The absolute most an average city native can afford is a $50K house and $500-700 a month in rent. At absolute most. Building all the supply in the world won’t make any market rate housing or apartments affordable to working class or poor people. It’s a cop out argument… Read more »

Alin

Agree to disagree. You seem to acknowledge it is a supply/demand issue. But unlike drugs, you can’t decrease the demand for housing. I mean, I guess you could outlaw people owning more than one home or AirBnBs and that might make a tiny dent, but in general our population is growing and people need to live somewhere, therefore, the demand is going up and there is little we can do about it. If demand goes up and supply remains the same, then prices go up. The only way to stop price appreciation is to increase supply. It is basic economics. Many desire to live in places with amenities and well-rated schools, so we need to build more housing in those areas, including affordable housing.

Sophia

I am a law student. One thing my Property Law professor talked about (he had worked in landlord/tenant law) was how few people facing eviction have access to attorneys.

Access to free/low cost legal representation for those facing eviction or other landlord tenant issues is HUGE and is another, additional angle we can come through to support our communities. If interested, try Googling “Eviction Legal Aid Chicago” (of course with the city or county where you are!).

Also, it sounds like maybe this was already consumed/considered, but if not, some may be interested in the book THE COLOR OF LAW by Richard Rothstein. It was required reading to enter my law school and it totally and vividly opened my eyes to the pervasiveness of redlining, white flight, etc.

Also EVICTED by Matthew Desmond. I have not finished this full book yet, but it’s so good and informed.

I LOVE that these conversations are being prompted. Please continue! I have so, so much to learn.

Ok I just shared a lot!!! Please share in return if anyone wants to!! Thank you for writing and sharing!

Sophia

For example, according to Lawyers’ Committee for Better housing:

“ Between 2010 and 2017, Chicago saw an average of 23,000 eviction cases filed per year. In those cases, 79% of landlords had attorneys, while only 11% of tenants did.

Without an attorney, the likelihood that an eviction order will be entered against a tenant is about 62%; with an attorney, it’s about 45%. In other words, by having an attorney, tenants decreased their odds of getting an eviction order by about 25%.”

More info:
1: https://eviction.lcbh.org/reports/legal-aid-attorneys-make-the-difference

2: https://www.pewtrusts.org/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2017/10/27/how-free-legal-help-can-prevent-evictions

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

The media also basically tilts the narrative against longtime tenants and community members, which needs to change.

Elisabeth

THANK YOU for this piece.

Alison

Thank you for this article. This is such an important topic to bring up that is very relevant to your community. I love the local links you included in the article and mentions about your specific area of LA. I think it’s really important to look within our own towns and cities how this has played out and continues to disadvantage folks. I moved to Kansas City eight years ago (from MN) and first had my eyes opened up to the extreme intentional segregation here in an anthropology class that focused on historical redlining locally. KC is a prime example of one road (Troost) dictating where whites or Blacks could live… and frankly, the remnants of this are still so obvious today. Home values to the east of this line are not worth what they are to the west. Educational funding is obviously based on home values, and no one wants to move their kids to a “bad” school on the “east” side of this divide. I am simplifying all of these to the extreme – so if anyone is curious, please google more about it! For being 30% Black (census data), we are still extremely divided. I think a… Read more »

Brittany

Thank you so much for this article! Very informative for me, and the start of great discussion and education, and a great use of this platform.

Rusty

Sara … So. Well. Done! (Please excuse any typos as I can’t feel my fingers as I type this on a touch screen). I used to freelance writing as a consultant and many projects were simplifying complex topics or technical information into user-friendly versions for laypeople or youth. You have done an truly amazing job, with such a complex (and, let’s face it, confronting) topic! So. Proud. Of. You. Yes, there are those who will defend and say it isn’t so, but … it is what it is and is needs to be named and called out. I came from a middle class, white (in fact ex-American) family, growing up in Australia. My parents were business owners and doing well in a new country. Then, bankruptcy!! Boom! Due to unerinsurance and a massive fire, we had nothing. We lost everything, including our home and had to move thousands of kilometres away for my father to get a job. I became a poor, white, transient kid who ended up going to 6 schools! Long story short, I worked my butt off, and now live in an affluent suburb in a very nice house. Thing is, even since I’ve lived here, the… Read more »

Cassie

My husband and I are looking to buy our first house and I’ve been struggling so much with these issues and figuring out which neighborhoods we want to look in. Thank you for this perfect timing!

THANK YOU for writing about this. You guys are totally rocking out on helping to educate people on what’s actually going on and why. Seriously. I’m very into social consciousness/justice and also very into design and making everything pretty, and this blog scratches both of those itches so well. LOVE you guys! I think this is so important. Growing up in an affluent suburb as the child of Asian immigrants, I totally used to think that everyone just needs to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and everyone has the same opportunities, and if my immigrant parents could come here with nothing and prosper, anyone can. Well, that was my naive young adult brain coming from a very sheltered and privileged world view. Now at 40, I see things way more for what they truly are. As far as black/white goes, the current state of racial and social inequality is this way because that’s the way the system was set up. Go watch 13th on Netflix if you really want your eyes opened. Go look up Black Wall Street while you’re at it. It’s all completely unfair and infuriating and horrifying. As far as non-black/white immigration goes, there are countries… Read more »

Rusty

” this blog scratches both of those itches so well”
YAAAAAS!!!

Reehana

Loveley, I think this is something SO many children of Asian immigrants grow up hearing from their elders, at least in the Desi community. It really plays into the Minority Myth though. But in my opinion, even though we may face some discrimination based on being Asians/Brown, we still benefit far more from White privilege than we suffer the consequences of White supremacy. I think this distinction is lost on a lot of elders in the community because they had to work so hard for what they’ve achieved, but it’s this kind of erasure that needs to be addressed within our communities.

NA

Also want to add to this discussion that Desis were able to immigrate post 1960s because of the legislation changes that were a direct result of the Black-led Civil Rights movement!

https://www.facingsouth.org/2017/02/how-civil-rights-movement-opened-door-immigrants-color

Reehana,
Absolutely. I call it Brown privilege, but I think I’ll change that to Desi privilege. And we need to acknowledge that as the commenter below you stated, “Desis were able to immigrate post 1960s because of the legislation changes that were a direct result of the Black-led Civil Rights movement”

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

See, and this itself is the result of white supremacy. Our white supremacist society decided you all were “acceptable” minorities compared to black and latinx people, which is in no way your own fault. It just shows how pervasive white supremacy really is. Things like this make me ashamed to be part of the dominant racial group. Even though my people had nothing to do with it, I’m still a part of the power structure that causes and reinforces it.

I’m sure you know all of this but I wanted to make a point to point out my own culpability in this the same way you are.

Cris S.

And increasingly the legal ways into our country, even for the highly educated, are being blocked. I work for a top rated MBA program and we have no idea if students will be allowed into the country, or if they are but we have to hold classes virtually because of COVID, if they will be allowed to stay and take classes that way. It is hurting educational institutions across the country, and ultimately the companies here that would hire them post-grad.

Sophie

Nice job, Sara. It’s SO rare to see gentrification and displacement acknowledged in home blogs and websites. (I still in 2020 see words like “discover” and “pioneer” and “up and coming” used to describe people moving into gentrifying neighborhoods, which is incredibly disrespectful and racist.) I appreciate this article and Would love to see more of this.

Excellent article. I feel so helpless in this area. My first house was in the ‘burbs but in a very diverse middle-class area. I loved seeing people from so many different background at local stores (well, local chains, there were very few non-chains). I mean, we had a bright pink and yellow Buddhist Monastery behind out house (right next to WalMart…ha)! Our neighbors on one side were from Eastern Europe and a black family on the other. Second house was in a very small enclave of mostly very nice historic homes owned by white people sitting in the middle of a much less wealthy area. There’s a VERY WEALTHY private school in the enclave that most families send their kids to. Being part of a diverse community was so important to me, as was restoring a historic home. I bought “the worst house in a nice neighborhood” and restored it to be worth more though I did intend to live there for years and years (and still cry about selling it). Most of my neighbors restored older homes to make their forever homes. But, because the enclave is so small, our higher property taxes didn’t have as big an impact… Read more »

Wendy B

This is exactly why I love EHD. You write about topics I love and also topics I care about, with just the right amount of modest wokeness. Thank you for keeping it real!

Jillian

Yes yes yes. Thank you for initiating the conversation on here. Would love to see a post on here next from a Black or brown expert, designer, or flipper with knowledge about this, to delve in with even more nuance.

Wendie

It is so great to see a design site having this conversation. No doubt you’ll get some pushback and even threats of followers leaving, but keep up the good work! Dismantling systemic racism is something that needs to happen across the board, in all sectors and all of our hearts and homes.

Kim B

To Sara and the whole EHD team, huge kudos to you for taking on such an important subject.

Kara

Specifically commenting because I want this article to show lots of interaction via comments–I think it’s the most important article a home design blog could write! All interior designers and stylists should be well versed in this. It’s such a complex topic, and I think you did a nice job making an introductory post for your readers who are overwhelmed by the complexity and therefore didn’t know where to start. Another commenter mentioned wanting “purposeful integration” when purchasing their home, which really speaks to my desires, too. Reflecting on everything that has happened in our country in 2020, I really feel like if everyone became more community-minded and purposeful and intentional about the choices they make (buying a home being one of them and then being an active member of the community in which you bought your home being another), then it would make huge headway in solving so many of our issues. I saw a tweet yesterday that talked about how feeling guilt/shame about how you’ve benefitted from white supremacy is unproductive; instead focus on the changes you need to make to change the system. I think this applies to gentrification as well. I’m sure a large percentage of… Read more »

ellie

Thank you for this article! It is well written and the commentary has been excellent! I live in a mixed, mulitcultural city. We have seen gentrification take place in many parts of the inner city because it was necessary to begin to take down homes that were occupied by poor people but that were no longer safe to live in. Roofs falling, windows shot through, molded walls and ceilings, rat infestations, etc. I get the “wealth” conversion, but sometime, that’s not the root of change. How do we protect these poor owners and improve the local communities, but still keep it affordable for these families to live there? Where should these material, financial and labor resources come from? As members of the design community, you are familiar with costs. Government (federal, state and local) funding is limited, just like our own personal bank accounts are limited by what we earn. The general answer is reform, but if we want to make real changes, let’s define reform and come up with concrete answers. How do we truly help the poor, disadvantaged communities in a way that they can stay in the cities but not pay the costs of improvement? None of… Read more »

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

So I wanted to point out here that these are literally the exact arguments they made for slum clearance back in the day and still make for modern urban renewal projects.

If you’re improving things for the community then improve things FOR the community rather than over the community, which leads to gentrification caused by interference.

Kylea

Thank you for writing this! I count my blessings that my family was able to help me with a downpayment as well, even though it was a loan that is a privilege. The small city that I live in has been having a housing crisis due to people gentrifying old apartment buildings that were affordable into air bnbs and our vacancy rates have plummeted. I feel very blessed to have great small businesses in the area where I live and those are the places that I really think make it a great place to live.

Lucy

A bit disappointed here (also, I’m a city planner), but please know I do appreciate the stretch to this topic!! A lot of comments about all the great research etc. that went on here, but would have loved you to include interviews with experts, or people of various backgrounds who have grown up around gentrification. This reads like a Wikipedia article to me, although I appreciate the tie in at the end to flipping, where you have real expertise. I think your work might have been more meaningful if you’d reached out to someone like Walter Hood for an interview. Or your neighbors (if you know them). Or city planners specializing in housing issues. Housing is not my wheelhouse or I would volunteer myself! (And yes, I did note that you asked your friends for help). Find five professionals or neighbors and ask “what is the most important thing someone looking to flip a house in a gentrifying neighborhood should consider?” I would read that article in a heartbeat.

NA

I’d pushback on this a little — I think it’s incredibly valuable for individuals in professional and personal spaces to be willing to engage on topics outside of their comfort zone, and learn to start talking about things around racism / capitalism / exploitation without being a scholar. I say this as a sociologist who studies race, inequality and health disparities — while I DO have the language to speak academically, personally, and professionally about racism and inequality, it can feel intimidating and overwhelming for the people around me. I’ve had to do substantial work to actually translate academic “expert” research on race and health, race and XXX, so that it is accessible and understandable to non-experts in my community. The perspective and weigh-in from my non-academic peers has been SO beneficial in this process, because I often get bogged down in all the technical, research details or just all the nuances. And while nuances and complexity are so important and necessary to recognize, we can’t expect everyone to be willing and able to 1) understand/interpret/digest complicated academic material or technical jargon and 2) dive deeply into the complexities of all the systems of exploitation and racial capitalism. So I… Read more »

Lucy

I refreshed hoping someone had thoughts on this! I agree, technical and complex language is not going to serve anyone who is new to a topic. I suppose I think of it more like, if you are not a professional in a topic, you have a great opportunity to invite in and give voice to those who do have the experience, and not from the perspective of those exacerbating the problem. For example, and to leave out professionals, I have heard multiple Black community activists speak on gentrification in an accessible way in my own local community. It’s hard for me to imagine the EHD team wouldn’t be able to share this space with someone other than a self-identified gentrified.

This has been a great reminder though that not everyone knows the things we know, and we all start somewhere, even if it’s Wikipedia!

NA

Totally agree (I also need the regular reminders that not everything has exposure/language/knowledge about the same things as me, because I can become really siloed in my world!). I can imagine that both push the dialogue and effort forward in different ways — getting vetted, straightforward knowledge from community leaders/professionals who are skilled in communicating to broad audiences, and seeing someone you consider a peer, or community member, or somehow similar to you (white, bougie, loves design, has a cute house) taking a leap to begin difficult conversations outside the “normal aka white supremacist” conversations folks are used to.

marta

I am surprised reading this article…There is no expertise, only shaming…I think everything is easier..you buy where you can and you are not guilty..politicians are responsible for improving life conditions.

Andrew

It is pretty inappropriate that in this attempt for Em to paint her brand as socially conscious she features a rich white woman to talk about a gentrification; a problem that displaces and affects PEOPLE OF COLOR. Acting in solidarity doesn’t mean offering spaces for privileged white women to shamelessly talk about how they participate in oppressive practices then urge other whites not to follow their lead. This is another example of white tears being more important than BIPOC’s actual struggle. I won’t be visiting this blog and will be unfollowing after this tone deaf portrayal of solidarity.

NA

Hey Andrew! Speaking here as a BIPOC who studies race and inequality as a Sociologist and spends a lot of time working in all-white spaces trying to push the trash white folks around me to be better advocates and anti-racists. I hardcore feel the pain and frustration of white tears and rich white women / corporations / everyone just seizing on this moment. I also have been thinking (more in the outdoor sports / climbing / skiing white world where I do most of my advocacy) about what I want the white folks to be doing RIGHT NOW. Here’s where I land. White folks need to be co-conspirators — not just allies — and protect, finance and support BIPOC, who acutely know and understand racism and inequality, understand strategies for change, what true liberation entails. Being a white co-conspirator means being brave, not safe. We need to shift our paradigm away from racist systems — which requires centering the perspectives of BIPOC in all of our spaces and supporting BIPOC efforts for liberation. White folks need to take purposeful action to demonstrate a commitment to ant-racism. Ultimately, these actions (while they may create discomfort), are critical in uprooting structure, policies… Read more »

Jane

NA & Andrew, I hear you both loud and clear. Thank you for the thoughtful comments!

Displaced

NA, you are the most privileged person I have ever known. You are also the whitest brown person in the United States. You thoughts on who should be advocating/speaking/taking up space come from a place of financial privilege, and academic snobbery. The reality is most people of color do not think like you because most people of color have actual struggles and face actual adversity and financial uncertainty. Sure to you, you think it’s ok for your white, privileged, generational wealth benefactor, gentrifying friend to take up space to speak on this issue. In reality it’s like reading an op-Ed from a cop on police brutality. Sarah is a gentrifier and her work enables and perpetuates it. She goes out of her way to paint herself as an ally in her community but the reality is most of the original members of a community who see these young, white, wealthy people move into their historically colored neighborhoods absolutely despise them. Forget about the abuelita who helps her learn Spanish or that she just LOVES the sandwiches from the local eatery. She’s taking up space. Let’s hear from the colored, former residents of her community who have been displaced by Macs… Read more »

NA

Hey — I agree 100% that I benefit from upper middle class privilege and elite education that I had access to because I am not black, my parents immigrated here willingly instead of being kidnapped from their countries and brought here as slaves. I’m sorry that wasn’t more explicitly stated. Your experiences and feelings, I’m assuming you’re speaking about your experiences, are valid. By no mean did I intend, as a dark skinned yet still upper middle class, college educated, able bodied, neurotypical, cisgender heterosexual, US citizenship holding person, to belittle that and I’m sorry for the harm that clearly caused. I can understand the comparison between gentrifiers and cops and how violent it is to give that narrative a platform.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

I agree with you, Displaced, but I think it’s also very important for these privileged people in privileged spaces to bring this stuff up on top of also bringing in the voices of those on the receiving end of it. There needs to be a real dialogue and understanding in order for gentrifiers to realize they need to start being more respectful of those who were already there and advocate for protections. I’m not a POC but I very much am on the wrong end of gentrification so I’m not speaking as an outsider here. I see it all the time, the major wealth gap and the way that produced such huge differences in life experience and perspective on either side of it. My being white allows me to blend in outside my area and be in the privileged white spaces where I can get to know these people and come to find common ground. I think using these spaces online and in media is a good start towards giving POC like you that same opportunity of not being “other’d” right away by the very type of people affecting your community. But that’s also just speaking from my own admittedly… Read more »

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

I wish I could upvote this 1,000 times.

This is exactly what I seek to do and have most of my life, and no that doesn’t make me anything other than somebody who does the bare minimum.

Sophie

I agree that it’s essential to seek out and share the perspectives of people who are directly harmed by gentrification and displacement. I ALSO think it is necessary for those of us who benefit from these processes (especially those of us who are white) to examine our own participation in these systems. We have to listen to others, and also need to speak out about our roles in these systems and ways to directly support our communities (which the piece includes).

S

What I think is really polarizing here is that Emily has done the things in this article, several times. Renovated a home in LA then sold it for over $1M, bought another house and renovated (after initially stating the plan to live with it as it), then bought a *second* house and totally renovated that. This is also just her personally owned properties, not even mentioning the Portland project.

Rachel S

Hi Andrew, for future discussion, please consider avoiding the term “tone deaf.” Many, including my hard of hearing mother, consider it to be abelist. In your comment’s context, “ill-advised” or “thoughtless” would be great substitutes.

Donna

I rarely comment but I’m so grateful for this article as someone who recently became a first time homeowner, trying to make personal decisions while weighing the very real, very fraught, and very real issues of wealth, class, and as my favorite podcast Codeswitch always puts it, “housing segregation in everything”. My experience of the real estate market (in the LA area) was full of all-cash bids over asking. While I certainly want to make my own space pretty/functional, (and that’s what brought me to EHD in the first place),the practice of flipping feels particularly loathsome, along with its attendant HGTV/DIY industrial complex (of which this blog is certainly complicit). (Wasn’t one of the last posts about trying to dress up a McMansion?) Which is why I so appreciate that you wrote this post, Sara. It’s specific, thoughtful thorough, and honest.

AnonymousWorkingClassGuy

I love Codeswitch. The People’s Party with Talib Kweli also delves into some serious topics like that, as well as some others I am blanking on.

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