The Politics of Having a Place to Live

Most of us have met people who want to “keep politics out of it.” “It” in this case can be whatever they want — the workplace, school, church, relationships. In many cases though, those people are either on the beneficiary end of the political system or simply not affected by certain laws.

Politics become relevant for most of us when we become their target. One such way many middle and upper-class members of society fail to understand how politics affect people’s lives is in home owning and renting — and a little thing called gentrification that is destroying poor communities as we know it.

What Gentrification Is

architecture- GentrificationGentrification is when wealth enters a less wealthy neighborhood. When rich people — relatively rich compared to the people living in the place in question — move into a poor neighborhood or begin doing business in those places, the rent, property value, and cost of living often increase due to the average amount of income in the area rising. It’s an extremely complicated matter and often has as much to do with race as it does class and income.

PBS explained the reason for gentrification, as well as the complicated effects of it, on their website:

Many aspects of the gentrification process are desirable. Who wouldn’t want to see reduced crime, new investment in buildings and infrastructure, and increased economic activity in their neighborhoods? Unfortunately, the benefits of these changes are often enjoyed disproportionately by the new arrivals, while the established residents find themselves economically and socially marginalized.

Gentrification brings the promise of better conditions without giving the community a chance to catch up to what that requires. Many times, “better conditions” require money, and they push people out of said communities.

While on the surface level, gentrification — which may make a place cleaner and more welcoming — can seem like a good thing, it often does this at the expense of the residents living there, pushing people out of their homes and communities without giving them a say or a chance to build their communities up from poverty themselves. This is where it becomes a political issue — who benefits and who doesn’t?

Easy Targets

Gentrification’s biggest critique seems to be how it affects people in communities of color. Most recently, race relations are of huge conversation in the news, with the mainstream realization of the correlations between poverty and racism. The problem with “cleaning up” minority neighborhoods is when done so, it often keeps those communities in poverty rather than helping them out of it so they can grow the communities themselves.

In High Country News’ column A Civil Conversation, Wayne Hare recently explained reasons why this is often the result of renewing neighborhood initiatives.

I think white people assume that the America they experience is the only America. After all, it’s all they know. If whites want to move and can afford to, they move. But if blacks want to move to a “better place,” i.e. a white neighborhood, we have to make a different calculation: Will I feel accepted, or isolated? Will I feel … safe? Will my children? How will the police and neighbors treat us? Perhaps this explains why black families making $100,000 a year tend to live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000.

Of course, people of color aren’t the only people being gentrified, but poor communities everywhere are as well. And while the circumstances surrounding that disproportionately hurt people of color, it’s something that affects all kinds of Americans struggling to stay afloat in a world that values property over personhood. So how do we change this?

Future Solutions

Make no mistake — gentrification is a complicated issue. How do you fix and improve conditions in poor places without crushing the livelihood of those people who live there? You go to the people directly and help them rather than just fixing the state of the buildings and economy there.

Granted, a lot of things in this country are changing that may make this harder. With the Trump tax cuts, millennials will have more trouble buying homes in general, and the conditions for those already in poverty probably won’t improve with them either. Many people in poor and homeless communities struggle to get back on their feet because they don’t how to come back from the bad credit or legal issues that have brought them there. So ultimately, helping people to help themselves — teaching them to get back on their feet and come up from misfortune — is going to be the way to fix neighborhoods and communities.

What are your opinions on how we can handle the problem of gentrification? Let us know in the comments below!

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Avery PhillipsAvery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.