You are not the first person to move into this neighborhood. You did not “discover” this neighborhood. There are already people living there. While the Wall Street Journal may describe the neighborhood as “forgotten,” as it did with the Weeksville section of Bedford-Stuyvesant2 (an area that has been continually occupied by African-Americans since the 19th century), it is not forgotten by the current and longtime residents of the area. New residents, especially younger residents, often don’t have any sense or awareness of existing residents and only think of a neighborhood based on what’s good for them: it’s cheap; it’s convenient; it’s a fun and funky area. A lot of people will describe a neighborhood as having had nothing there before. Perhaps to them there was nothing there, but it was and is something to someone. With that in mind, keep your eyes open and realize that there is a history in that neighborhood before you.
Maintaining a supply of affordable housing is a key to ensuring that neighborhoods experiencing gentrification remain diverse. This diversity and integration make neighborhoods stronger and have numerous benefits to children raised in those neighborhoods. At a macro level, there are several initiatives and interventions that can help protect the most vulnerable residents from being evicted or simply priced out of their neighborhoods and maintain important levels of diversity.
Suggestion 1: Aggressively build middle-income housing. Middle-income households struggle to afford to rent or buy in cities across the U.S. A more aggressive middle-income housing production program is needed, rather than devoting all of a city’s housing resources to low-income housing production. Furthermore, investing tax subsidies in low-income and middle-income housing production will facilitate the development of mixed-income neighborhoods while also mitigating the impacts of gentrification.
Suggestion 2: Form a neighborhood-based community land trust, or CLT, which, as the name suggests, means community residents own the buildings and/or the land they sit on. Working through a nonprofit, they can keep housing at a rate that they collectively deem affordable for families with incomes below a certain threshold. This way, longtime residents can determine their community’s fate instead of private developers determining it for them.
Suggestion 3: Ensure that every community stakeholder has a voice and place at the table. This means bringing community members into the planning process from the start and making sure developers respect community goals and priorities. This requires understanding how information travels through communities and how people within them voice their concerns. Some communities are Internet-savvy, so you can communicate with them using those platforms, but other communities are relationship-based, where knocking on doors will have the greatest impact. It’s important to change tactics depending on the community with which you are trying to work, and it must go beyond simply holding community meetings.
Suggestion 4: Build income and create assets. While stabilizing housing affordability and ensuring appropriate amenities are crucial components of neighborhood planning, income and asset creation are critical to ensuring resident well-being as the neighborhood economy improves.
At a federal level, raising the federal minimum wage, providing a more generous earned income tax credit, and creating more progressive income taxes will help begin to address the growing income inequality in the U.S. While the federal-level initiatives are extremely important, local interventions are often easier to implement and may help realize a more immediate impact. These policy interventions should focus on providing needed resident services—childcare, transportation, basic retail sectors and access to health care—as these are preconditions for success. Tying public investment to local-hire and living-wage provisions can significantly mitigate negative displacement pressures by bringing some of the benefits of the new investment to existing residents. Furthermore, creating stable, higher-paying local jobs helps anchor a neighborhood, providing residents with more opportunities for increasing their household incomes, with the potential to lead toward multigenerational wealth development.
While Chattanooga may not be experiencing gentrification to the extent or pace of larger cities, such as NYC or Atlanta, it is seeing a rise in rental costs coupled with stagnant wages. Renters are especially susceptible to market rate changes and often will experience a subtle displacement, as landlords choose not to renew leases or increase monthly rents and/or security deposits. Furthermore, many renters are unaware of their legal rights, resulting in unjust evictions and forced relocations. Moving from renter to homeowner is one of the most important moves for families to have generational stability; homeownership allows for families to accumulate wealth, not just income, that can be passed down from one generation to the next but gaining access to mortgage loans, saving enough for down payments, and being able to afford to buy in neighborhoods as the prices start to inflate all present significant barriers for low-income families.
Our next post will explore how neighborhood community land trusts have operated in some cities to help bridge these barriers, as well as what this might look like in Chattanooga. Additional posts will consider neighborhood-based economic development to pair wealth accumulation with income accumulation at a neighborhood-level. We will continue to explore several strategies to help preserve, protect, and support historic neighborhoods in Chattanooga to construct more equitable urban development policies.
Flessner, Dave. 2016. Chattanooga Rent Prices Rise Three Times Faster than Income, Chattanooga Times Free Press, July 4. Retrieved August 8, 2017. ↩
Cate Irvin is the research director for Metro Ideas Project. She is a doctoral candidate in the City, Culture and Community program at Tulane University and also earned her master’s degree in public health from Tulane University. Her research focuses on three theoretical foci: space, place and identity; social and spatial inequality in the urban context; and urban redevelopment and gentrification.