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East End News

A call for gentrification with justice by Corey Widmer

Pastor Corey Widmer from East End Fellowship offers his take on the recent resurgence in the area:

North Church Hill is on the map. Recently Richmond Magazine called it Richmond’s “hottest neighborhood.” It’s also been dubbed Richmond’s “bakery district,” boasting of WPA Bakery, Proper Pie, and the just re-opened Sub Rosa. Throw in a couple of high-end award winning restaurants and some new boutiques, and you’ve got a bona fide urban resurrection.

This is the neighborhood that my family, along with several others, moved into 10 years ago to live out the principles of Christian Community Development. We were inspired by the vision of Dr. John Perkins, who called Christians to relocate to blighted urban communities and join with others in working for reconciliation and redistribution. But now, sometimes as I am eating my vegan butter crust kumara pie and sipping my flat white, things aint lookin so blighted any more.

This is all a matter of perspective of course. The East End still has the highest concentration of poverty in the city, is home to four of the city’s six housing projects, and contains some of worst performing public schools in the state.

But there is also a new dynamic of gentrification taking place, in which many new, mostly white educated residents are moving into Church Hill and calling it home. Most of the time these two populations, the poor and the middle class, the mostly black and the mostly white, the hipster beards and the homeless beards, operate in separate universes even while sharing the same streets and sidewalks.

The standard line on gentrification is that it tends to displace long-term residents of neighborhoods like North Church Hill. As real estate values rise, rent and property taxes follow suit, making it increasingly more difficult for lower income residents to stay. I experienced this first hand when a neighbor told me in 2006 that her rent had risen significantly since my family had moved in. There is a real danger that when gentrification occurs, the accompanying amoral market forces act without reference to the interests of existing populations and institutions, and the historic core of a neighborhood can be eviscerated.

However, a recent study examining the effects of rapid gentrification in urban neighborhoods all over the country found some different results than expected. Sometimes, it seems, the good of gentrification can outweigh the bad. Dr. Lance Freeman, the conductor of the study, set out to quantify how much displacement was occurring in gentrifying neighborhoods like Harlem, and to his surprise he found that low income residents in neighborhoods classified as gentrifying were moving less frequently.

The study found that low-income residents were no more likely to move out of their homes when a neighborhood gentrified than when it doesn’t. Gentrification certainly can push out longer term residents, but it can also create fresh environments in neighborhoods that help encourage people to stay. But this occurs especially if – and this is really the key finding in my mind – the neighborhood is generating and improving community assets that benefit everyone, especially parks, safer streets, better schools and critically, job opportunities for middle and low income residents.

So here is my appeal to my fellow North Church Hillians. I am not hating on the recent new developments in our community. After all, I have helped to precipitate them. I love my Proper Pie, WPA in the morning warms my soul, and the D&C perfect egg is indeed perfect.

But let’s together work to ensure that the recent surge of interest and investment in North Church Hill does not just benefit new residents, but generates life and opportunities for all residents of Church Hill, especially the most vulnerable ones. There’s a couple things we might do.

First, let’s listen deeply to people who have been here a long time before us and learn from them. There are so many rich and beautiful assets in this neighborhood that have been here way before any new restaurant ever came on the scene. Second, let’s get involved with organizations that work for the benefit of all the residents of the East End. Ones like Urban Hope, which gets folks into homes as renters or owners at affordable rates. Volunteer with CHAT, which among other activities generates jobs and skills for youth in our community. Join the effort to implement the first IB Primary Years program in Richmond city at our very own Chimborazo Elementary School. Or help brainstorm about new businesses that can create jobs for the exceedingly high number of unemployed people in our community, few of whom have accessibility to fair waged jobs.

In Jeremiah 29:7 God calls his people to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which He has called you.” For those of us called to North Church Hill, that means seeking the flourishing of our neighborhood for everyone, not just those of us who like a good cappuccino. Maybe, just maybe, North Church Hill can become a place of peace and prosperity for everyone within its borders.

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Maureen Hogan BernardAlexis OristianTHE CITY AND THE CROSS - RE|SOURCETop stories of 2014 ‹ CHPNCorey Widmer Recent comment authors

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Cristina
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Cristina

I appreciate that this post was made here in CHPN and hope it starts some good conversations on the topic of gentrification in the neighborhood. I think Corey gave some great examples of ways to engage with the historic community and I’d also like to reccomend volunteering or donating to the Peter Paul Development Center and the Blue Sky Fund, who are also doing great things for kids in the neighborhood. I wanted to bring up the topic of ways that new businesses in the neighborhood can be more inclusive to the historic neighborhood since that was not addressed as… Read more »

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RT @chpn: A call for gentrification with justice by Corey Widmer http://t.co/gMVuFf6Q2R

Justin
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Justin

@1 “It’s looking a bit white” – maybe this is just something you’re focusing on, because it’s what you want to see? Of the places I’ve enjoyed, I’d disagree with you. And you’re a bit misguided to suggest these new businesses should accept EBT/food stamps – they’re not authorized for alcohol or foods to be eaten in the store – including restaurants.

Gunther Davis
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Anything to justify the displacement of poor black people. Lets have our cake and eat it too! We can come in and raise property value and also be well-intentioned not to screw over working class people! Such is the contradictory nature of the petty bourgeois…

Karen
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Karen

Well, Cristina, I was on board with you until your comment about everything “looking pretty white.” Then I stopped reading. I agree that diversity and a wide range of price points is necessary for Church Hill to grow and thrive but lets not single out people who are doing what they can to make this a better neighborhood all around.

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laura
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laura

Cristina- I know your heart is in the right place and you’re looking to protect those who are more dependent on the government. I’m sure all of the businesses in this neighborhood would love to adopt your formula and survive in business. The perspective for which you advocate is naive and ill-informed at best. I suspect that if you had some real-world experience operating a business, your perspective would change. Every business up here has to make choices in order to keep their doors open. They don’t operate on a big box model where volume drives revenue. Every transaction must… Read more »

Cristina
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Cristina

i don’t pretend to be a business person or to even be offering a formula that actually works fyi. all i’m doing is starting a conversation on some things that people could be self aware of. gentrification IS happening whether we like it or not, i don’t even necessarily agree with the perspective of this article suggesting that gentrification could be done well- it’s going to hurt families and push people out no matter how “nice” you try to be. i am bringing these things up because they are just things that stand out to me when thinking about the… Read more »

ann
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ann

At one of the many recent meetings about the revitalization of Shockoe Bottom, David Hicks gleefully told his audience that a side benefit of the project is that all the property values in the area would rise! Like, how lucky we would all be.

Sarah
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Sarah

Great points Cristina! Its obvious from some threads that follow that not everybody is concerned about gentrification and what roll they play in it. For those that are interested, you offer some great suggestions.

Please Laura, enlighten us naïve ‘non-business owners’ as to how hiring a racially diverse staff, striving to sell a few lower-price point items, and researching whether you would be able to accept WIC or SNAP at your business is going to sink a business. I see all of these endeavors as having the capacity to reach a larger customer base, but perhaps I’m just ill-formed as well.

Sean
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Sean

Tell me about the old businesses that were in, say, the 27th/Marshall corridor? How exactly did THEY get pushed out? Pre-SubRosa? Pre-Alamo? Pre-Blue Sky? I’m pretty sure Church Hill should be excited for ANY activity going on. I was a huge fan of Church Hill when it was run down, now I’m an even bigger fan…

Mandy C.
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Mandy C.

For your consideration – an interesting NPR article that was published a few days ago: http://www.npr.org/2014/01/22/264528139/long-a-dirty-word-gentrification-may-be-losing-its-stigma

Brad
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Brad

When we moved to Church Hill 10 years ago my wife and I discussed the idea of gentrification and what if any role our moving to the neighborhood would play in its gentrification. After 10 years, I think gentrification has done way more good for the neighborhood and its residents (old and new) than harm. It has greatly diversified the business mix in the neighborhood. No, not every business caters to every member of the community, but so what? Each business has its own niche and market. The point is that there are now way more options that serve a… Read more »

Craig
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Craig

I knew this would get snippy when I read the original post. Gentrification is generally a good thing for most and a very bad thing for some. I hope people are just realistic in the benefits/process/outcomes. Yes, home values will rise, yes rents will increase, yes some people will need to move. In an area full of blighted historic houses on the cusp of collapse…I hope young, gainfully employed people continue to flood the neighborhood. I can’t see Urban farmhouse carrying del monte tomatoes next to their upscale, organic stuff…nature of the beast… We can either resist change and push… Read more »

Justin
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Justin

@8 Yes, you are misinformed. Again, SNAP benefits can NOT be used to purchase alcohol or foods for “immediate consumption”. So, no Alamo, no WPA, no Proper Pie, no Buzzy’s, no Roosevelt/Dutch & Co./Hill Cafe, no Urban Farmhouse, no Sub Rosa, no Sarah Frans. But yes to the Farm Fresh. This really isn’t complicated. If you need these benefits, “dining out” is not the way towards improving your financial situation.

FormerLibbyHillResident
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FormerLibbyHillResident

My first house in Church Hill was a bombed out shell with a giant hole in the roof in the 300 Block of North 27th. That was in 1985. I renovated it with blood, sweat and tears, buying 2×4’s when I could afford to buy them. I did most of the work myself as I couldn’t afford a contractor at the age of 25. The same gentrification issue was discussed back then. What WAS different were all the shootings, dead bodies and the on-going crack cocaine wars. Who needed cable TV when you could look out the window and watch… Read more »

Cristina
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Cristina

It’s interesting how stuck people have gotten on me pointing out the obvious lean toward white in the staffing of new Church Hill businesses, out of all the other points I made- this one seemed to literally turn some people’s brains off. I’ll admit that it was a blunt way to point that out- how do you prefer we talk about race as it fits in with the topic of gentrification then? There is no way to have this conversation without talking about race. I brought it up because when you are a minority you notice race more. I don’t… Read more »

coreywidmer
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Cristina I don’t have any business experience and can’t really speak to that. But I do appreciate your comments and have found them to be true in attempting to build a multiracial church. Each Sunday, we work hard to have both men and women and both black and white leaders who are leading in different ways, because it doing so it communicates to any kind of person in our community that they are welcome here. We have become very accustomed to speaking openly about race, because we have found that when we don’t, invisible power dynamics are still at play.… Read more »

Gentrification
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Gentrification

gentrification = higher property values = higher tax base and revenues for local government = (at least hypothetically) higher budgets for police and emergency services as well as higher allocations for social services = less crime = better educational systems (over time) = better opportunities for all children living in the area.

Gentrification also brings in more businesses, which means more jobs – jobs that hopefully go to the best person qualified, no matter what race they are

Next Friend
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Next Friend

Another missing piece to this conversation is that decay and crime displace more people than any flavor of gentrification. Detroit is a key example of this.

L
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L

Christina: I don’t dispute your observation – there is a certain truth to it. However, I think there are structural reasons that this occurs – reasons rooted in historic and not present racism. For whatever reason, the majority of the young people moving to the neighborhood are white, and from a present/contemporary perspective they are also “coincidentally” better educated or otherwise more employable than much of the preexisting population of the neighborhood. Now, I say “coincidentally” because, in reality, past racism resulting in a lack of opportunity is the cause of this disparity. However, I don’t think business owners are… Read more »

Casey Werderman
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Casey Werderman liked this on Facebook.

Wonkyeye
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Wonkyeye

@Justin- urban farmhouse and union market both have many ebt-eligible items. They wouldn’t be the most economical ones, but possibly a more healthy choice than 40 lbs of meat from Chimbo Mart.

Cristina
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Cristina

L, I appreciate your perspective and agree that there is a lot of history at play here. I also want to make sure it’s clear that I’m not suggesting business owners in Church Hill are racist in their hiring practices because I understand that there is a complex web of factors here related to education, socioeconomic status and the cultural history of the neighborhood that has created dynamics that still exist today. I believe that all of the Church Hill business owners are all honest and well-intended people but given the history of Church Hill, hopefully we can all be… Read more »

Eric Huffstutler
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Eric Huffstutler

This is a hot button topic and not one I will dive in on right yet. I can say that the issue of gentrification is not new and even dates back further. It was brought up in the 1980s and shot down. At that time (and think this still happens in some degree) the residents South of Broad (SOB’s) in the St. John’s District did not want anything to do with those North of Broad (NOB’s) and vice versa when a merger of neighborhoods was suggested long before the Church Hill North Historic District. Most areas North were still boarded… Read more »

edg
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edg

The way to ensure diversity in this neighborhood begins with the MLK middle school and Armstrong HS. As long as these schools remain a poor alternative, families will continue to move out. This will leave only the very well-off and very poor left. The middle ground will relocate in order to give their child a chance to attend a better school. We have done a great job with Chimborazo. Now it is time to put our resources into the upper grades.

Alex
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Alex

The reason I hate debates like these is they are usually a bunch of paternalistic middle class college educated whites speaking for a demographic that they have nothing in common with and understand even less about. Beyond that, they tend to look at the problem through an “us” and “them” lens. The truth is that if there’s 10,000 people in Church Hill, there’s 10,000 stories that need to be considered. While it’s probably impractical, has anyone ever considered some sort of a system to allow newcomer and long-timer households in the area to actually get to meet each other and… Read more »

coreywidmer
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Alex, we have all those folks (newcomers and old timers) as part of our church community. Sundays at 4pm at the Robinson. There’s also a meal after every service so we eat together too. You are welcome any time. You’re right, this conversation must be rooted in real relationships.

Eric Huffstutler
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Eric Huffstutler

Alex, definitely not a “smarty pants” here and not even college graduate. My comments are purely from printed findings and facts. I did not inject (much) by way of personal comments. In a perfect world yes, we should all be “neighborly” but as the age gap widens as well as generational upbringing (and often lack of) and beliefs, you find more and more people not wanting to “Get Involved” and definitely not wanting to follow traditions. That also means getting to know your neighbors. Today it is all about who they meet on Facebook or Twitter. Their world is in… Read more »

Alex
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Alex

@25- Corey, thanks for the tip. I’ll take you up on that. Do I need to bring anything?

ChimboRva
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RT @chpn: A call for gentrification with justice by Corey Widmer http://t.co/gMVuFf6Q2R

evacolen
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RT @chpn: A call for gentrification with justice by Corey Widmer http://t.co/gMVuFf6Q2R