Gentrification Blues

A Process That Shuts Out and Is Not Inclusive

My late father criticized me when I moved out of the neighborhood where he and my late stepmother lived. “That building probably has graffiti on the walls,” Dad grumbled. Yet the rent in the new place was way less expensive than the rent I had been paying. My dad and stepmother could afford to pay the high price of living in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city. They relished rubbing elbows with the well-heeled. I had grown tired of dealing with the area’s elitist climate, and I wanted to live in an area with real people. I found a neighborhood where people leaned out of their windows to wave to their friends. Kids giggled as they ran down the street in packs to get to their next adventure. Mom-and-pop stores were the norm.

When my late youngest sister heard about my move, she declared, “Well, I prefer to live with my heritage!” We had grown up in predominately Black neighborhoods, and the multi-ethnic area to where I moved was unacceptable in her view. I had ended up living in Dad’s home after a falling out with my mother, while my sister opted to live with our paternal grandparents. There were few people of color in Dad’s neighborhood, and I became another rare Black face. My grandparents lived in the low end of the ‘hood, surrounded by all the negative issues that often were the top of the ten o’clock news. However, several years later, weary of having to deal with what we derisively referred to as the “ghetto, housing projects mentality,” my sister moved into my neighborhood.

No city neighborhood is perfect. The usual crimes took place on top of racial and cultural clashes due to the changing makeup of the area. Most long-term residents didn’t break and run. Instead, they welcomed the fact the area was increasingly resembling the United Nations. Their willingness to stay put helped keep the area stable and kept much of the social decay at bay.

One day, the neighborhood was declared to be “hot” by real estate developers. The changes gradually seeped in. My sister and I were strolling by a building that was popular due to its castle-like architecture. A new owner had bought the place and cleared out all of the tenants. A sign announced that condominiums were now available at some astronomical prices. “Who do they think can afford to live there?” my sister snapped. That building stayed empty for a long time.

But soon, other buildings were flipped over to condo status at an alarming rate. Area residents fought against the spreading gentrification. I attended several meetings and protests as well. But the real estate developers and local politicians had more power on their side. The upscale boutiques, trendy bars and restaurants, and other corporate businesses that allegedly better represented the new image of the neighborhood set up shop.

People began to disappear. I noticed that a lot of families in the church I attended left. Many were multi-generational families that had been priced out of the neighborhood. The area had been known as one of the main spots in the city where immigrants first landed in order to make new lives for themselves. Now the immigrants were being discouraged from having a presence. The organizations that advocated for that population as well as for other marginalized groups in the area were branded by the real estate developers as meddlers standing in the way of progress. Message boards and blogs on social media were filled with the rants of the new condo owners, most of whom openly wished that the “others” would get out of “their” neighborhood. When I asked if they honestly believed the area would be better if there were only White people living there, I couldn’t get a real answer. I was blasted with suspicion concerning my motives for continuing to live in a location where my type wasn’t being welcomed anymore, not only due to my race but also the fact that I wasn’t making a six-figure income.

I still live there, but I wonder for how long. The modest income I used to earn had begun to show strain when gentrification caused apartment rentals to go sky high. Being laid off from a full-time job right before the market crashed in ’08, and having to accept fewer hours and less pay since that time has put me in a position of struggling to hang on. The building my late younger sister used to live in is now a condo building. She made less money than I did, and she would not have been able to buy if she was still there. I don’t see people hanging out of their windows to greet their friends anymore. The kids have gone, as they had to leave when their parents could no longer afford to be in the area. The mom-and-pop businesses have expired along with everything else that made the neighborhood unique. We’re left with this so-called progress that has shut most of us out.

Hillari Hunter
Hillari Hunter

I'm an amateur boxing coach who likes to write about many topics.  In a past life, I was an unappreciated office support employee.  I have sung in church choirs and in nightclubs.  I'm speaking up and out more and using my age as an excuse.  

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Gentrification Blues