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NCRC’s piece “In Richmond, Virginia, gentrification is colonization”

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition recently published an opinion piece that has gone viral. It is about gentrification in Richmond and even more locally, the East End. Here’s how it starts:

Like many urban areas, my neighborhood was designed to fail.

Home to nearly 2,000 of Richmond’s 3,255 public housing units, the city intentionally created a concentrated pocket of poverty in the East End. In fact, according to the former CEO of Richmond’s housing authority, the neighborhood has the highest concentration of public housing per square mile south of Baltimore. And while Richmond is divided into nine districts, 60 percent of the public housing units fall within just one: the East End. This means that there is only one city council member and one school board representative for an area with a disproportionate percentage of the city’s poor, greatly limiting their power and influence within the city’s political landscape.

However, while poverty does deeply impact financial status, it does not determine social and cultural wealth or the capacity of a person for greatness.

My family’s story directly reflects this reality


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This is a pretty well written piece about the current state of development in the East End. On one hand, urban redevelopment may provide benefits to the new and existing urban residents. We all love seeing the before and after homes that are being revitalized. Key word here is “revitalized”.


Is it possible to have gentrification without displacement? Maybe, but only if the total number of housing units increases while maintaining the number of lower-priced units. Responsible urban development is key and we hope many in the neighborhood keep that in mind. It is also important that YOU voice your opinion- go to the Church Hill Civic Area Association meetings, go to the CAR meetings and participate in the discussion.

We hope that we can agree that most neighborhoods can benefit from new residents, regardless of cultural background, provided that they are committed and involved in their community.

Check out these articles:

Everything was something else

The impacts of gentrification on food insecurity

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The National Community Reinvestment Coalition and its grassroots member organizations create opportunities for people to build wealth. We work with community leaders, policymakers and financial institutions to champion fairness in banking, housing and business.

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37 comments

Dyvonne King 03/30/2019 at 6:30 AM

There’s no benefit to getting priced out of your neighborhood!

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Lori Dachille 03/30/2019 at 6:42 AM

I agree. I moved here from Brooklyn where I was born and raised. In many parts of NYC it started with “gentrification “ then it became unaffordable for everyone, taxes, housing, everything. Community involvement from everyone is essential to prevent that from happening here.

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MamaSense 03/30/2019 at 7:41 PM

Lori Dachille; maybe too late! This is financially driven -where did these funds originate? Well, $6-billion ‘disappeared’ in Iraq. Remember?

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Lucia Urban Bakewell 03/30/2019 at 7:23 AM

Love Church Hill…wish I could move there!

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Lucia Urban Bakewell 03/30/2019 at 8:31 AM

it is not without a lot of problems but the communty spirit, and natural beauty and history make it a good place for people to work together to overcome the sad past.

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Dionna Dawn 03/30/2019 at 8:01 AM

Why choose the quote you did to share the story? The real importance of this piece is the part about how gentrification IS colonization when it is irresponsible urban development. The rents here are outrageous and going up all the time…while racial tensions grow deeper and deeper.

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Thomas J. Alleman 03/30/2019 at 8:21 AM

The public housing is a trap. It should also benefit from redevelopment. Slavery by another name is what most of the black community faced here and everywhere they moved. Even when moving North. Now people from mostly the North are coming here but with money and although the East End is vast, infilling, restoration, renovation of homes is going on, it is almost always for the benefit of the White people moving in. How would you feel if you were black and saw no renovation for you? No better oppertunities or a better situation at all but higher taxes? Granted the city was in bad shape years ago but who lives here now and does any white person have any friends who live in public housing, I doubt they even know what it is. With inclusion of the people around you, all the people, the renewed East End is just another way to keep black people in thier place at the bottom. Always has been here and always will be at this rate. Not one new gentrifier has ever said, we need to also enfranchise everyone.

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arthur Burton 03/30/2019 at 8:43 AM

Having lived through most of the new revitalization, the (about 30 years) facts of how it all started were not accurate.

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jean mcdaniel 03/30/2019 at 8:52 AM

So much of what is posted on this subject and on this web site is lacking in historic narrative. I am not qualified to fill in All the blanks, but I offer a small snippet.

In the 1960.s many governing bodies idea of urban renewal was the heavy use of a bulldozer. The closest example of that is the area across from Stone Berwery all the way past Broad Street. This area used to have houses just like the present ones in the “historic district” of Church Hill.

The “historic district” of Church Hill was facing the same type of “renewal” until some people with fore site stepped in and took action. One of those was a man named Ed Fleet. Mr. Fleet had money to spend and he spent it buying property that was abandoned, empty and dilapidated in the “historic district” of Church Hill. There was a “pilot” block at the end of Grace St. across from the Monastery . Of course it was not a historic district then but Mr. Fleet set up an ingenious system to turn the houses around and keep speculators at bay.

Since the banks would not lend money in this area, ( it is called red lining ) you could buy a house from the Fleet group but you had to agree to live in it for a period of 5 years (?) With this you would receive a hefty break on taxes (for improvements ) for an extended period of time. It worked! The “pilot” block expanded.

I have several black friends who have explained to me why they would never live in Church Hill. Their parents worked hard to get out of this area and for the next generation to move back would be a slap in the face to all of that gruiling work. I have been told that the only way they could “move back up here is to wait until their parents died”.

Very few of the original people that bought houses from Fleet are still around. None of us were gentrifying. We were simply buying an affordable place to live and putting in bulldozers worth of sweat equity.

If this scenario had not happened, this area would look just like the area across from Stone Brewery.

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UH Neighbor 03/30/2019 at 9:19 AM

The author distinguishes between south and north parts of the East End to make an important point backed by statistics. I think it’s misrepresenting this (well written) piece to suggest that she is trying to further divide. Instead, she explains how “the border of affluence is shifting further and further north, displacing low- to moderate-income black families with each transitioning block.”

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Gustavo 03/30/2019 at 9:35 AM

That’s a great point UH Neighbor, I edited the comment. In no way was I suggesting the author is trying to further divide. If you saw the amount of commentary about the “otherness” of the divide between Church Hill and “Church Hill North” and the “projects” then I guess I was trying to inelegantly make a point about language used by some folks on the internet.

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Wendy Gayle March 03/30/2019 at 9:39 AM

They should knock them down. They are shoddy with nightmare upkeep issues. They are hotbeds of crime where often the innocent are harmed. New solutions should be explored including technical training programs for employment and betterment

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Omari Kadaffi Guevara 03/30/2019 at 6:01 PM

Funny how numerous warehouses in Richmond get renovated and turned into luxury lofts while people still believe the narrative being sold to them that similarly constructed public housing is shoddy and needs to be torn down. Yet you dont see any sinking foundations or severe structural damage. HUD inspects fairly regularly. Free your mind.

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Dionna Dawn 03/30/2019 at 10:34 PM

I live in one of these “new” apartment buildings and the management agency here is terrible. Building bigger buildings and charging more for rent doesnt improve a neighborhood.

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MamaSense 03/30/2019 at 10:57 AM

Two sides of the same coin: Blacks who could afford to, moved to the subdivisions. That’s because homeowner loans were easier to acquire than loans to renovate.
The increased Black influence in surrounding counties -eastern Henrico especially- is the flip-side of the coin.

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Tonya N. Jefferson 03/30/2019 at 2:36 PM

MamaSense I’ll have to throw in my personal family story about suburban black influence and real estate. I grew up in eastern Henrico, but my parents decided to move us to Midlothian, VA which is in Chesterfield County into a community with its own country club, golf course, swimming pools, jogging/ bike trails, etc. simply to increase our educational opportunities. My parents kept the house in the East End of Henrico for nearly 40 years. My parents had some blueprints drawn to enlarge the Henrico County home, but decided to purchase a newly constructed second home instead. My parents have owned the second home for nearly 40 years and have now purchased a third one that was newly constructed. It’s not always about loan type, sometimes it’s about preference.

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MamaSense 03/30/2019 at 4:24 PM

Tonya N. Jefferson; Excellent! Parents availed themselves of the options presented to them. And obviously they could afford to do so.
Many homeowners and their children either, couldn’t afford to renovate, or was advised to buy a home in a subdivision with attractive terms.
Now those houses are being restored, and a neighborhood reflecting those new owners has been established.
Having grown up in the east-end, I see those houses friends lived in years ago, and how they’ve been renovated block after block.
And I see old friends who are now ‘intruders’ on the block they grew up on.

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Tonya N. Jefferson 03/30/2019 at 5:12 PM

MamaSense I believe that is the case with some homeowners. I had an elderly relative pass away earlier this year who lived in Church Hill. She made sure she stayed in her community.

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MamaSense 03/30/2019 at 6:42 PM

Tonya N. Jefferson; God bless her soul. I’m sure she received offers for her residence, but didn’t see any wisdom in uprooting from there.
What puzzles me now is, access to loans targeted for renovation/restoration have been relaxed, where before, a mortgage for a subdivision house appeared more sensible than renovation/restoration. A reversal of fortunes.

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Tonya N. Jefferson 03/30/2019 at 6:55 PM

MamaSense Sometimes the homeowner doesn’t know his or her options. A HELOC could be used for homeowners with equity wanting to do repairs. Lenders vary as well for refinancing options. So which mortgage type are you comparing to the 203K- ARM, fixed, 2/1 buy down, etc. and at what interest rate?

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MamaSense 03/30/2019 at 7:25 PM

Tonya N. Jefferson; HELOC: COULD’VE, but probably wasn’t. Many who abandoned homes and neighborhoods they grew up in couldn’t resist those similar terms and lower interest-rates for a subdivision house.
They were easier to buy than restoring our parents 4-bedroom, 2-3 bath, attic and basement cribs.
Now, the interest-rate(s) for renovation/restoration loans are lower than mortgages.
It wasn’t always that way.

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UH Neighbor 03/30/2019 at 2:47 PM

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Gustavo!

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SA Chaplin 03/30/2019 at 5:30 PM

Shekinah Mitchell’s complaint is personal: she finds it increasingly difficult to afford where she would like to live —the east end. And the overall focus of her article is on race. Am I the only person offended by this? I hope that one day Ms. Mitchell will judge by content of character rather than color of skin.

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BAF 03/30/2019 at 7:22 PM

There are no simple solutions to this.

As areas improve and revitalize, property values increase. If you own property, that’s a positive–unless the increases in taxes make your now-higher valued property unaffordable.

That’s a basic problem with property taxes–they are income blind. If you live in a house that has been in your family for generations, but your personal assets are meager, you may have to sell the family house because of rising taxes. There might be value to counter that by limiting tax increases on properties held and lived in (no investments) for a period of time–let’s say 20 years. Of course, that’s a tough sell in a city that is cash starved (partially due to its own incompetence, partially due to other circumstances) and needs to raise taxes, not cap them.

Developers are going to build what they believe will return the highest and best value for the property they are developing. In many cases, that is not workforce or low income housing. You can mandate they build some as part of their larger development work, but you can only push that so far before they overall development work is no longer profitable enough to do and they look else where for better business opportunities. Then you have no development and you are back to square one.

Bottom line: if people renovate, they are going to begin to raise property values. Unless the city is going to stop property assessments that is not going to change. And there are few wealthy people like the Markels that are willing to build a grocery store to fill a glaring neighborhood need, knowing they may be subsidizing it as it could well lose money for years.

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Dave Gorman 03/30/2019 at 7:22 PM

Seriously ? “Gentrification is colonization ?”
Is the writer of this article smoking crack ?
Does everything, everything, have to have a racial undercurrent to it ?
If as a white guy I enjoy Cheerio’s or a plain white bagel for breakfast…is my breakfast racist ?
Stop the dumb*ss insanity already.

Thank the developers with vision who risk capital to better your neighborhood. Thank them for the eventual allied roadway, sidewalk, street lighting, and other improvements that typically accompany their developments. Thank them for the brave, adventurous entrepreneurs who also risk capital and set up businesses that employ your whining Milennial *ss. Thank them for the frequent above-and-beyond community ammenities that they directly and indirectly help to bring on like better parks, donated landscaping, charitable offerings, and more. Are they there to make money ? Yes. It’s called capitalism. Don’t like it ? Then move out of the neighborhood.

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Thomas J. Alleman 03/30/2019 at 8:37 PM

Dave Gorman it is not about investment, it is about being forced out due to higher and higher taxes.

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Dionna Dawn 03/30/2019 at 10:31 PM

Dave Gorman move out of the neighborhood? Where? To the bus bench on the sidewalk outside the new apartment building that costs $1400/ month for an 800 sq ft apartment? I suppose that’s exactly what you mean.

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BAF 03/30/2019 at 7:23 PM

BTW, never knew I was a colonist. Where do I get my musket and tri-corn hat so I can join the militia? The Red Coats are coming!

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MP 03/30/2019 at 9:23 PM

One thing people don’t mention much is that a lot of the newcomers are black, too. I live in a mostly renovated block, and more than half the newcomers are black. Are they “colonizers” or do “gasp” people actually move houses and neighborhoods in the course of their lifetime? I believe you are allowed to live somewhere other than the neighborhood you’re born in.

Another thing, How are we supposed to get to the beloved community if people like this author complain if people not like her move next door?

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Susan Haas 03/31/2019 at 1:37 AM

What an exciting time for Richmond. A new and diverse population is filling urban areas with a mix of incomes and uses, ingredients for a robust and resilient social fabric. It is true Richmond is famous for “red-lining”. Geographic boundaries were drawn leaving those inside w/out economic and social resources. The lack of adequate education compounded the problem that exists today. I encourage Richmonders to understand this part of our more recent history and how shaped our city and families w/in it.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redlining

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Liz 03/31/2019 at 8:22 AM

This is one of the comments in response to the article. I copied and pasted in its entirety as I thought it an excellent response.
“Gentrification is surely a major trend in the east end, but I think it is a fallacy to blame it on “white people” “from the past.” You only have to look at what’s going on today, in the moment. Richmond has the most punitive, regressive utility rates and taxes in the region, and that squarely falls on the shoulders of the less affluent of whatever race. And going up. That alone is a gentrification accelerator. Your minority “leaders” cheerfully embrace this, and now want to raise taxes which, in turn, will raise rents and push lower income homeowners out, while cuddling up with white Main Street for one multi-million (and now a billion) dollar boondoggle after another at huge losses that dis-invest from crucial social services, housing, community development and education. It is what it is. Look around you. Have your leaders done anything on these issues, or are they relaxing and reveling in the posh of their positions. Talk is cheap. Action takes leadership and drive and commitment. The City government is a wreck by any measure, and regular people ought to be sick and tired of it and demand CHANGE NOW.”

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CN 03/31/2019 at 9:51 AM

Dave Gorman and BAF you seem to be perpetuating the suppressive colonial mindset. These developers are all white, not respectful of these peoples property value and won’t contribute to any of these communities. These developers live in all white, expensive homes , and spend the money that they continually rape from these communities in their privileged communities.
The solution is to assist minorities to keep their homes and be able to compete economically for a place at the table. Disparity in employment, communities, education, and then discrimination has become so tremendous in Richmond and other cities that without legal and political assistance modern day slavery exists. Developers prevent minorities from owning and passing inheritance to the next generation. The work minorities do are jobs whites don’t want. That’s the reality and fighting ignorance like BAF and Dave Gorman is a barrier.

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Randall Eggink 03/31/2019 at 10:16 PM

CN, yeah, sure, all the blame goes to the evil white developers who’ve changed Church Hill from a forsaken wasteland into a dynamic, destination neighborhood. I guess I’m one of those developers. I bought a home on 26th, five blocks north of Broad, in 2005. I pumped thousands of improvements into it and cashed out in 2018, and have invested in a smaller property six blocks further north on 27th. I redeveloped ONE (1) home, and scores of others like me have done the same. I’m a retired City of Richmond employee. I’m not rich, but I’m white. And I’m proud to claim the title of Church Hill Gentrifier. No mystery to it — get a job, stay employed, focus on your housing goal, and refuse to be swayed by agitators who tell you you’re being victimized. Take personal responsibility for your own advancement.

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Dubois2 04/01/2019 at 7:15 AM

CN
Lying doesn’t make it so.

There are a number of major (and mom and pop) developers of color working in CH. Last I checked 2 of the biggest flip companies were owned and run by black men. It’s been a couple years, but I doubt that’s changed.

In CH as it was, the “inheritance” of a house was a very small amount of money, clearly outweighed in many if not most cases by deferred mantainence costs. (A 30k house needing 20k in foundation repairs and a 15k roof) If you can take the heat, meaning live with a set of community values that feel to me like an artisanal shit sandwich made of lower crime, better streets, low tolerance for public drug dealing, better public health, and a nice thick layer of interpersonal racism, that inheritance is now worth something real. That’s The flip side of the truism that Ghettoization escalates poverty. We live with each other now. I’m going to say that Interclass living presents serious behavioral challenges for everyone. It’s america in 2019. I know we’d often prefer to have an exclusively reductive and partisan conversation about race, more than almost anything else, but shit. Our problems are more complex than that. Anyone who thinks racism is not real is deep core delusional. Anyone who thinks it explains the world is too.

Here though, as in many other places, Deep poverty and real wealth and America’s drug problem. It’s a rough ménage.

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Steven Swarthout 04/01/2019 at 8:39 AM

On rising taxes: California passed Prop.13 years ago which freezes your taxes at the rate they were when you bought your house. It stopped the problem of rising home values forcing people to sell because they could not afford to pay the taxes. Something to consider.

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CN 04/01/2019 at 1:55 PM

Unfortunately the people who are victimized in CH don’t have the financial voice to be heard on how they were affected by your benevolent deeds Randall. Dubois your facts are way off. Not worth me dissecting that dribble.

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Randall Eggink 04/01/2019 at 4:42 PM

CN, what the hell is a “financial Voice”, and who appointed you to speak for those affected by the improvements developers have implemented in Church Hill? The City has been rebricking sidewalks all over the neighborhood since the houses started selling like hotcakes in 2017. Do you think Mayor Stoney is displeased to reap all the property taxes generated by dozens of $300K homes? He wants even more and its why he’s paving the alleys and restoring the sidewalks. Get a grip — this is not a black and white racial issue. Its an exercise in basic economics. Church Hill has a shrinking supply of desirable historic and replica homes, and the demand is greater than that supply. Prices rise, and the new neighborhood demographic reflects that reality. Or we could turn the clock back forty years and have three generations of poverty living under one roof with kerosene lamps for light and heat and nip joints on the second floor. Is that the dignity you want black folks to return to?

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