‘What do you think of gentrification?’

Gentrification is a problem because it flows from historical discrimination, and the power dynamics tend to fall along those lines.

If everyone had equal wealth, or if wealth really were distributed according to merit, gentrification might just be some unpleasant but necessary feature of changing economies, labor markets, and urban life.

But instead what we have in the United States is a society where some groups have been robbed of wealth generation after generation, and others have been gifted that wealth and allowed to inherit it instead. So even if most de jure racism either is no longer on the books or can’t be openly enforced, we still have the equivalent of grandfather clauses operating all over the place.

In Seattle, it used to be the case that black people, Jewish people, and East Asian people were legally prevented in neighborhood charters from owning land or renting homes outside of a handful of areas. The Mann District where I used to live was called ‘Kosher Canyon’ because it was one of the few places ‘Non-Gentiles’ as the charters described it, could actually live in the city. It also flooded a fair bit because it was the valley between two large hills. But Jews were able to pass white and eventually buy their way to better neighborhoods, so then only black people could live there, and for decades they did, including influxes of Somali and Ethiopian immigrants. Because no one else wanted it, because the land had features that were something of a nuisance, they were allowed to live there and create lives with local businesses, a sense of community, and a shared history.

In the present, and now that land is more valuable because Seattle has run out of space in other neighborhoods. People who used to live in Capitol Hill because it was cheap and got priced out went somewhere that was still cheap enough for them to afford, but that drove up prices where they headed to. Poor queers and artists face a lot of discrimination, but if they’re white they also likely inherited some advantages like being able to get a better quality primary and secondary education, or even attend college. They might have better employment prospects, but they definitely get a different benefit-of-the-doubt when they call the police about something. Public services are different in a neighborhood with white people. Street lights get replaced faster, roads are widened or paved more regularly. They have more capital and a wealthier social network to draw on, and also they look and talk right when presenting their business plan to the bank.

Which is good for property values, but not great for the property taxes people have to pay if they aren’t earning substantially more than they were before the influx of new people. Some people might be very happy to sell out and make a tidy profit, but not everyone owns their home, and even those that do might not want to move. The difference between them and someone like the woman who inspired Pixar’s Up in Ballard is they might not have enough household wealth to be able to hold on to it as long as they’d like to, because of generations of theft.

‘Change isn’t good or bad; it’s just change’ — that’s true, but the issue is that you haven’t really solved any problems of poverty, you’ve just taken a leaf blower to it. People with power said, no, you can’t get wages. Or no, you can’t work any occupations that directly compete with white men. Or no, you can’t buy land here. Or no, we’re not going to allocate resources to your neighborhood; we’re going to ignore you as much as possible except to target you for arrests and fines. No, you can’t stop this Interstate from splitting your community in half and lowering all of the land values even further.

But now that that neighborhood might be worth something to someone else, especially white people, now you need to get the fuck out and find some other place to live. And if your job is downtown, hey, hope you have a car and money for a parking garage every day. Because the transportation network outside of the city is iffy, especially if you have to work late after the buses or train stop running.

Anyway, places that were full of drug addiction or crime or vacant buildings ought to be improved, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But it tends to happen in a way akin to colonization where you have waves of settlers coming in and using inherited advantages to push people out, then once it’s made ‘safe’, even wealthier people with greater power can come in. And gentrification is unlike other ways a neighborhood can change because it tends to happen rapidly rather than over the course of a generation, so there’s more of a shock associated with it than with other ways demographics can change. Like white flight from cities, it’s the people with wealth having the freedom to live wherever they care to but doing so at the detriment of people without that wealth and social cache.

So for a solution, you ought to be involved in programs that alleviate poverty generally, and avoid creating new slums somewhere. Dallas, Texas, utilizing all of its HUD funding to put all of those apartment complexes south of the Interstate and make sure they didn’t get too near the nicer, whiter districts and suburbs is not a good solution. Spreading out large complexes and requiring new apartments to set aside something like 5 percent of rooms for Section 8 vouchers would help spread out negative effects associated with poverty and help desegregate schools and school districts, by class and therefore also by race. I think it would also be feasible to have cities or counties directly rent out homes forfeited due to unpaid property taxes and the like. And finally, you need good, robust, frequent public transportation options so that people can have more choices about where they want to live and get around. If an hour commute is a radius of 30 miles, that’s a lot of the housing market open to people, wealthy and in poverty, to choose from and hopefully put a brake on some of the forces that cause gentrification to happen so quickly.

HUMAN 1
I think the heart of the problem here isn’t our particular micromanaging of the housing market, but the fact that we let market forces determine such a fundamental aspect of life at all.

If you have even a semblance of a moral compass you’ll think housing is a human right. But more than that, staying part of the community you’ve spent your entire life with is a right people should have. It’s crazy (read: a revolting feature of capitalism) that your neighbors are determined by purchasing power.

HUMAN 2
I don’t agree with this at all. Why should your ability to live somewhere be determined based on where you were born? That’s not fair to immigrants, people from poor/broken neighborhoods that got educated and got out or just plain not fair to anyone that wants to leave where they were from.

I agree with your previous statement that housing is a human right, but where your housing is situated should ideally be based upon what is ultimately best for society as a whole and having a scientist who’s time is literally the difference between curing cancer or not live 5 minutes from his work rather than 30 minutes is a much better alternative than having a Starbucks barista live 5 minutes from their job simply because they were born in that neighborhood.

HUMAN 3
Your criticism was pretty fair until I got to the part regarding what’s ultimately best for society. Who decides what’s best? The government? Market forces? Democracy?

In terms of solutions we should focus on the how to make housing processes more transparent and equitable to people already in the area and as people moving in.

HUMAN 2
The best metric we have is money. It’s far far far from perfect but it’s better than any other metric. The better our capitalist system, the better this metric would be.

I think the current system of real estate selection is fine. I think the biggest problem is actually problems within our capitalist system. Lack of 100 percent estate tax, lack of competition, too much cronyism, poor tax-laws, too much government regulation that is self-serving, etc… this all leads to a poor allocation of resources, but to me the solution to the real estate issue is to fix the inequality and inefficiencies within our capitalist system which then will produce a better result in the real estate market as well.

I’m a capitalist that believes in competition not free markets. Too much freedom leads to the reduction of competition because monopolies are the goal of every individual.

I’m saying if you have a problem with the current real estate distribution then you have a problem with the current wealth distribution in society because ultimately wealth dictates real estate distribution. Solve the wealth inequality problem and you solve the real estate distribution problem.

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adavidjohnson

A David Johnson, of many. The (poorly) recovering journalist of West Texas extraction one.

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