Gentrification Displaces People, Cultures, & Memories

Xavier Mann

Gentrification is a complex process that generally involves the rebuilding of a dilapidated, or what is perceived to be dilapidated, neighborhood which results in an increase of affluent people in this area. Some praise gentrification by pointing out that the process promotes economic growth, beautifies neighborhoods, and decreases crime rates. Others lambaste the process by emphasizing that it displaces low-income residents, cultures, and memories. Gentrification is accrete or gradual meaning that the convenience and historical significance of a neighbor may drive a few affluent people to move to and open up businesses in this area, and as others begin to recognize these changes and feel more safe they too move in. This may cause some to believe that gentrification integrates minority neighborhoods, but in actuality gentrifiers prefer areas that are already white. According to Scholars Strategy Networks, "Neighborhoods with more blacks and Latinos were less likely to continue to gentrify or even to reverse course and decline after early signs of transformation" and "[In Chicago] only neighborhoods that were at least 35 percent white continued to gentrify after 1995". This further isolates people of color and increases segregation and inequality. Nonetheless, gentrification is happening and has astounding impacts on housing. 

Tranquilina Alvillar was 25 years old when she moved from Mexico to Williamsburg, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Tranquilina landed a one-bedroom apartment for $400 a month, and it was rent stabilized. For 25 years, Tranquilina lived in this apartment and experienced minimal increases in her rent. In 2011, property developers bought the building for $4.5 million and wanted to completely renovate it. In order to do so, they demanded that all tenants vacate the premises immediately. When some tenants refused, the developers began offering tenants cash. First, Tranquilina was asked to move for $17,000 but she refused, then she was asked to move for $40,000 and she refused again. Eventually Tranquilina was the only tenant remaining. The property developer began to perform construction on the surrounding apartments and hallways. One day, Tranquilina came home discovered that her keys no longer gave her access to the building; the developers had changed the locks. Months later, a city inspector made a visit to Tranquilina's building, saw the hazardous conditions, and demanded that she leave immediately. Tranquilina was given a few hours to pack her things and then moved in with her nephew who was living in Coney Island. The developers finished renovating the building and increased the rent of Tranquilina's apartment from $700 to $2900. Tranquilina could no longer afford to live in her home. 

In 2007, Rosalinda Hernandez moved into an apartment in the West Town neighborhood of Chicago. Her rent was $500 a month and similar to many of her neighbors she did not receive a written lease but instead made a verbal agreement. Rosalinda did not know she had a right to a written lease. In 2015, her landlord decided to sell her building, and a few months later Rosalinda was given a no-cause eviction notice; it was wrongly addressed and slipped under her door. Under the impression that this was a mistake, Rosalinda continued to live in the apartment. About a month later, Rosalinda's landlord gave her a verbal notice asking her to move out within 24 hours. Somos Logan Square, a antigentrification group, helped Rosalinda protest her landlord and the legality of the property management's eviction notices and she was able to stay. A few months later, the property management company refused to address a number of maintenance issues such as a broken furnace and broken plumbing, so Rosalinda decided to withhold rent. Eventually she was taken to eviction court and lost her case. 

The reality is that gentrification causes the cost of housing to increase which eventually pushes people out of affordable housing. Commonly, individuals relocate to low-income areas causing poverty in cities, such as Chicago, to become concentrated.  This can place more burden on families living in these neighborhoods and also on surrounding neighborhoods, which can make it more difficult for families to escape cycles of poverty and homelessness.