op-ed: don’t just talk about gentrification, do something about it

October 28, 2016
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Gentrification is considered to be a primary and imminent problem affecting the Black community. The sentiments of the Black community are that the greedy, avaricious, and rapacious “yuppies”, hipsters, and the top “1%” are “exploiting” the communities that they grew up in. Everyone’s entitled to their individual sentiments and emotions, but not everyone is cognizant of the hard facts and evidence. Gentrification typically happens in major cities with a large amount of urbanization and commercialization. In these cities, there are typically sections of town that are cosmopolitan and contain corporate jobs mainly designated for white-collared workers who typically live on the outskirts of the city. Typically, in the major cities, outside of the cosmopolitan parts of town are impoverished neighborhoods that are predominately African American and Latino; these parts of the city are designated as “ghettoes,” and are inundated with intra-group criminality, homicides, poor education, retail locations primarily owned by other ethnicities, unemployment, and distressed properties.

By Baruti N. Kafele, AFROPUNK contributor

In the real estate industry, criminality in communities unequivocally leads to the depreciation of property values, which makes them affordable for investors in the real estate sector. The inner city ghettoes in major cities are a byproduct of the “white flight” from these cities due to the race riots of the 1960s, which catalyzed the vandalism and looting of white residential and commercial properties. These riots ensued in Jersey City, NJ (1964), Watts, California (1965), Newark, NJ (1967), Detroit, MI (1967), Chicago, Illinois (1968), among others. The “white flight” made many of these inner city communities predominately Black. On the other hand, the Hart Celler Act of 1965, also known as the Immigration and Nationality Act, repealed previous legislations that implemented relative quotas on the number of immigrants of each national origin that could immigrate to the United States. The Immigration and Nationality Act led to an influx of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, East Indian, Filipino, Arab, and other immigrant groups who formed their own designations or communities within these major cities. Many of them formed businesses in the Black communities shortly after the “White Flight” of the 1960s, mainly from buying businesses from the white retail owners. The suburbs and bucolic areas were more affordable, and the opportunity costs were less, because they didn’t have to experience looting, rioting, beatings, or any coercive action that would impede their livelihood or commercial endeavors. Also a lot of us complain about the racial sentiments of the “White Flight”, but we fail to discuss the fact that it was the “Black Flight” that caused the transfer of homeownership in the Black communities to immigrant groups and eventually to investors who are now “gentrifying” the Black communities. The “Black Flight” that began in the 1970s and continues today was caused by Black occupational and economic advancement, primarily due to policies like Affirmative Action, which was a political catalyst of Executive Order 11246, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII established Equal Employment Opportunity commission and mandated employers to hire a certain percentage of African Americans in high paying positions or they would face injunctive relief and punishments that includes fines and imprisonment. Therefore, the Black communities complain about gentrification without realizing that no one put a gun to the homeowner’s head and coerced them to sell their homes or that 55% of the robbery arrests are African Americans and robberies are sufficient to cause families to move to safer communities.

On the other hand, there are municipal governments that create incentives for gentrification, like tax abatements and subsidies, in order to socially and economically recover and revitalize cities that are distressed and/or in budgetary deficits. I believe that zoning laws, rent control, laws regulating minimum lot sizes (which only allow one to build properties on lots that are relatively large thus enhancing the cost of development), and other regulations cause investors to invest in cheaper markets that happen to be the inner cities of America. On the other hand, municipal governmental regulations erode the tax rates of cities and counties, which leads to either higher taxes that its citizens can’t afford or the mitigation and alleviation of quality services that governments provide. Consequently, this turns a city or section of a town into a “ghetto.” Therefore many cities and counties have begun to deregulate to incentivize investments and developments that will catalyze effervescence, vibrancy, or “gentrification” in communities.


The term gentrification is defined as the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper-or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses. The term gentrification derives from the verb gentrify which means to renovate and improve so that it conforms to middle-class taste. It also means to make someone or their way of life more refined or dignified. Etymologically gentrification derives from the word gentry which means “of the gentle birth” which denotes the gentry class in the UK, which was of nobility. Hence, according to the etymology of the word, gentrification is supposedly a process that benefits the “gentry” or upper classes at the expense of lower class communities. Also supposedly according to the definition of the word, low-income families are displaced. Contrary to popular belief, there’s only a 1.3% probability of displacement in New York City households due to gentrification. Further, as a result of the job opportunities that are created from gentrification through infrastructural developments and community improvements, displacements only account for 6-10% of all moves in New York City. The same trend is true for cities like Philadelphia, which is experiencing gentrification specifically in its South Philly section. Additionally, not all people who move into gentrified neighborhoods are rich or white. In the cases of Baltimore, Maryland and New Brunswick, NJ, a lot of the new tenants in these gentrified designations of towns and cities are struggling college students from the University of Maryland and Rutgers University, or fledgling entrepreneurs who are looking to earn an affordable living with humble beginnings. Therefore, it is a myth that “gentrification” only benefits the rich since there are job opportunities provided for people in the lower class, plus struggling college students, employees, and entrepreneurs who can afford to be residents of these gentrified communities. Also, the tenants or residents are not complicit if they want to pursue an opportunity to live in a newly developed community immersed with vitality, which is close in proximity to jobs, university campuses, artistic scenes, and an enjoyable nightlife. In places like San Francisco, where gentrification is happening in rapidity and expediency, 25% of households risk displacement, which is still a minority of the households in gentrified areas.


Throughout my lifetime, I have learned from experiences and erudition that in order to survive, change is an inevitability of life. This means that if you are not adapting to your surroundings then you will become extinct, and in this case you will be socio-economically extinct. Therefore, if you are in opposition to gentrification in urban and Black communities, then you must alleviate the contributing and debilitating factors that cause the depreciation of value in these communities. Additionally, if you see the devaluation and economic debasement of these properties, then it is up to the African American community to stop spending profligately and frivolously on liabilities and start investing in assets that can lead to wealth accumulation. Such assets include real estate in communities since the ghettoization of communities make home ownership affordable. Additionally, if the forces of gentrification are too imminent, expedient, and strong to curtail, then it is up to the African American people to build and own communities instead of being tenants dependent on landlords and the government to provide housing. Hence homeownership and land ownership provide the leverage for households and communities to influence politics so that they can alleviate the probability of “gentrification.” There are 196,940,000 square miles on the planet Earth so to look myopically at one area for livability and profitability is rather insane. There’s a vast world with an innumerable amount of opportunities for people to advance and excel, as demonstrated by immigrant groups like the Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Russians and Indians who are “gentrifying” your community.