Sunday, July 6, 2008

Housing Discrimination = White Folks Protecting Their Communites, Anti-Genentrification = When Blacks Do The Same

No more feeling at home
Valetta Anderson uses her experience with gentrification for her play debuting at the National Black Arts Festival.

Of course I will be called a "Black man who is 'protecting Massa' as I expose the fraud and double standards that are contained in the actions of so many people. The issue of "gentrification" is yet another example of this.

The story which is linked above and briefly excerpted below is the tale of a race based defensiveness within a community. Please be clear I am not condemning this natural human response to a group's own interests. I am simply making note of the common set of defensive responses but the differentiated reactions in the media. Or let me correct myself - Back in the 1960's when "Housing Discrimination" was on the cusp of becoming unacceptable the "mainstream press" which prides itself on its progressiveness began to condemn the White folks seeking to defend the existing racial integrity of their communities.

Fast forward to 2008. This same media is again covering "racial defensiveness" in housing. This time there are Black people seeking to defend the racial integrity of their communities from White folks who seek to move in but the past condemnations of such practices are absent. Instead this particular woman's experience is featured in the "Arts & Books' section of the Atlanta Journal constitution.

How is the fight against gentrification distinguished? ECONOMICS are used as the cover for RACE and RACISM. Those who are moving into these Black communities are WELL-OFF, White professionals. They are purchasing up homes in in-town, impoverished communities and then fixing these properties up. This raises the property values and thus the taxes as these properties are "bid up" by additional "Well-off Young White Professionals" who seek to move into the cities where these properties reside. As long as the existing residents are being driven out due to the ECONOMIC advantage of others then the narrative of the story will not be one of "racial/racist resistance" but will be one of "the fight against capitalistic speculators". The underlying racial hatred or animus will be demoted from the narrative.

The bottom line of the issue must be noted - COMMUNITIES EXPERIENCING RACIAL CYCLING OVER TIME. There are few communities in Atlanta today which have a 100 year's history of being predominated by one race. A visit to the "Atlanta History Museum" for a review of the pictures will bear this out.

We should also talk about the squandered economic opportunity that is not recognized as the tax base is suppressed by property values that are kept below the market rate and the properties themselves remain undercapitalized because the existing owners are not able to afford to invest private capital into these properties. The cycle of home foreclosures is initiated when these home owners that have a fixed income seek to draw out equity from their property yet can't afford to pay the mortgage. Where as, once again the banks take the hit for 'exploiting' poor people - but the choices made by the homeowner is rarely inspected.

Valetta Anderson moved to the Oakhurst neighborhood in Decatur 15 years ago, before speculators began dotting street corners with "We Buy Houses" signs. Modest bungalows were seen as homes rather than tear-downs, and kids playing on bikes usually were someone's grandchildren.

"It was an older community, one of those quiet, peaceful places," she said. She and her companion, Cotis Weaver, liked it so much they decided to buy the house they were renting. Not long after, however, younger, mostly white couples began moving in and renovating historic homes, setting in motion the mixed blessing of gentrification so familiar to Atlantans living in older urban areas.

"Now we're going, 'Why did we buy this?' Yes, our property value is increasing, but it's not the same community anymore," said Anderson, 62.

So she did the natural thing for a playwright. She sat down, tried to ignore the din of construction outside her windows, and began to tell a story.

Well, not exactly. At first, Anderson joined neighbors in an ill-fated lawsuit to stop the rezoning of nearby land to allow for greater density. And as much as she was fascinated by the subject, she initially fought the idea of portraying gentrification onstage.


Anonymous said...

This was interesting reading.

My take on the folks in the neighborhood about which you were writing ... six years later: Riffing on the Trail of Tears

Anonymous said...

This was interesting reading.

My take on the folks in the neighborhood about which you were writing ... six years later: Riffing on the Trail of Tears