Updated: May 18, 2020
I love a good home renovation show. Clearly a lot of other people feel the same way since HGTV is full of them. There is something exciting about seeing a house that was once in disrepair transformed into a beautiful, trendy new masterpiece. I get excited watching the transformations take place and start to dream of what I would do if I had the opportunity to completely renovate a home. And I’m not gonna lie – the monetary value that’s added to a home with a new coat of paint and some new flooring and fixtures is also very appealing. As these shows have become a hit, more and more people have been inspired to invest in property and make a quick profit by renovating homes and selling or renting them at a much higher value.
In big cities all around the country, it’s not just single homes that are being transformed but entire neighborhoods. Investors are looking for deteriorating neighborhoods where they can buy up property and restore the structures to increase value and bring in new home-buyers and renters. This process, known as gentrification, is a great investment opportunity and can be beneficial for the local economy, but there’s also another side to the coin. What often happens when a low-income neighborhood is transformed is that the longtime residents, those who don’t have a lot financial resources, get pushed out. I’m starting to see this in my own neighborhood, and it’s heartbreaking.
I live in a low-income neighborhood that consists primarily of immigrants and first generation US citizens. It is a neighborhood that is often overlooked or avoided. It’s filled with small, privately owned apartment complexes, many of which are in poor condition. Just recently, we’ve started to see new owners come in, force the tenants out of the apartments, and renovate the complexes. They then increase the rent, making it impossible for the current residents of the neighborhood to afford to live there.
There is a family I know that has lived in our neighborhood in the same apartment for almost 20 years. Just this past month, they were told that they needed to leave the apartment and were given 30 days to find a new place. They don’t have a lot of options as most of the apartments in our city and the surrounding area are well outside of the price range they can afford, and many are not willing to accommodate the size of their family. The cost of moving, having to come up with a security deposit on short notice, and a lack of credit all add to the burden. This neighborhood was one of the few places where they could find what they needed at a price they could afford, but that is slowly changing as apartment owners and investors recognize the opportunities to increase their income.
In addition to the financial burden and stress of trying to find a new home in a short amount of time with limited options, the idea of leaving their community behind is just as overwhelming. Our neighborhood is a place of belonging for so many. It is a place where people come together to celebrate life’s milestones and to support each other in difficult times. Many of the moms take care of each other’s kids, and people provide for each other’s needs without hesitation. For so many of our neighbors who might feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in many of the public spaces they inhabit, this neighborhood is a place of refuge where they find acceptance and comfort. They are known and appreciated, and they have a role to play. When they are forced out of their homes, they are also forced out of their devoted community.
As I’m watching this take place in my neighborhood and seeing the toll it takes on my neighbors, it’s weighing heavy on my heart. I know that the structures in our neighborhood need some updates, but I also look around and see the vibrant community that is present here. As my kids and I play outside, we see other kids playing up and down the street. We hear the music from a birthday party happening in one of the courtyards. We greet friends as they walk by. We hear the horn signaling that the man selling elotes is making his way around the neighborhood. We walk to the Bodega to buy popsicles and see the teens playing soccer in the church parking lot. This is a beautiful neighborhood with a unique ethos. The true value of this community is not in the real estate but in the people who reside here. It makes me sad to think that my neighbors, who make this community what it is, might slowly be forced out by people who don’t realize their value.
I recognize that there is not a clear cut answer to this issue. I know that property owners have the right to do what they want with their property. But when people in the most vulnerable situations are pushed aside to make room for those with more money, there is a problem. When property is valued over people, we’ve gotten something wrong. There has to be a better way.
“Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me’… ‘Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me – you failed to do it to me.’” – Matthew 25:40 & 45 (Msg)
As I’ve been trying to learn more about gentrification, I came across this podcast called There Goes the Neighborhood. Check it out if you’d like to learn more, too.