November 9, 2017 Djuan Coleon

GENTRIFICATION: Public Housing, Hipsters and ‘The Trap’

When we think about Public Housing and welfare, what images come to mind? the faces of black people, namely single mothers with multiple children. Public Housing was created by the government as a “New Deal” for middle and low income white American citizens. The suburbs through policies of redlining were created to give white people access to home ownership and generational wealth. Whereas black people were denied access and forced to live in black communities which the government marginalized their housing values. Now were seeing the cycle reversed, white hipsters are fleeing the suburbs and returning to fertile gentrified inner city communities, while black residents who were forced to live in these historically black communities are being displaced to the suburbs. The caveat is their being displaced to the black suburbs where housing values still have not recovered from the Housing crisis of 2008.


After the Great Depression there was a shortage of houses in America and the government devised a plan to get middle and low income white people housing. This included public housing and then housing in the suburbs it was all subsidized by the government creating wealth where there had been none due to the Great Depression. This “housing boom” excluding black people except for the few places that started to build separate black housing projects. Even if you were black and in the military and fought for your country you still were denied access to these programs including the G.I. Bill.   So when we think about urban revitalization, smart cities, green building and sustainable development. These concepts are not new, historically the government has always found ways to subsidize and build communities and in the process create wealth. It wasn’t just hard work that got white America off their feet and into the suburbs after the Great Depression but it was many government programs that excluded black people.  What we’re seeing with gentrification across America is history repeating itself. African Americans are unable to have access to the new opportunities in cities across America systematically.

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“So it was the Federal Housing Administration that depopulated public housing of white families, while the public housing authorities were charged with the responsibility of housing African-Americans who were increasingly too poor to pay the full cost of their rent.”- Terry Gross (NPR)

Let’s look at gentrification in Atlanta because in a lot of ways Atlanta was a test case city. The first public housing in the United States was Techwood Homes created in 1935 and was built in Atlanta to help white people living in the slums called Techwood Flats to have a better life. In this videoDerrick Boazman explains what Gentrification looks like in the black community, specifically in Atlanta. How does gentrification impact Big Mama, tradition neighborhoods and institutions like the church? Urban Revitalization often looks like billion dollar stadiums and the construction of new centers to “Live, Work and Play” but who can afford to live in these new developments?  This panel discussion “Gentrification, Displacement and Urban Economic Development” takes place during the Rainbow PUSH Coalition & Citizenship Education Fund 18th Annual Creating Opportunity Conference in Atlanta, GA.


 We have to not just look at gentrification as an event of displacement but understand why is it happening in Atlanta and cities across America. The real issue is poverty and income inequality, which Atlanta leads the nation for the second year in row in income inequality. A brooking Institute study cites:

“The study looks at households in the 95th percentile of income — which in Atlanta averages out to about $288,000 — compared against what the 20th percent of households receive for their paychecks — a little less than $15,000 on average. According to the findings, which are based on data from the 2013 American Community Survey, the city’s income inequality levels are more than twice the national average.” Max Bleu (Creative Loafing, “Atlanta, once again the nation’s leader in income inequality“)


If your income does not increase to keep pace with increasing expenses in cites that are going through revitalization you will eventually have to move. Gentrification is not such much about “getting rid of black people”, it’s that traditional black neighborhoods become unaffordable.

“According to the Housing Strategy for the City of Atlanta, in 2012 40% of renters and 53% of homeowners were “cost burdened” meaning they spent more than 30% of their income on housing.” (Atlanta Magazine)  

Housing values are going up in many areas but not incomes, so how do people afford to pay the increased taxes? We all want increased home values because it builds equity and wealth but if you can’t pay the taxes, then you have to sell or move.

 “Data from Zillow shows that between December 2011 and December 2015, the median home value rose from $168,000 to $258,000 in Cabbagetown, from $281,000 to $428,000 in Inman Park, and from $460,000 to $695,000 in Morningside/Lenox Park” (Atlanta Magazine

Maya Dillard Smith explains how gentrification is impacting traditional black communities from Oakland to Atlanta in this video from the “Gentrification, Displacement and Urban Economic Development” takes place during the Rainbow PUSH Coalition & Citizenship Education Fund 18th Annual Creating Opportunity Conference in Atlanta, GA.


In the hood they call it “the trap” the place where all kinds of illegal transactions take place from drug sells to prostitution. It’s the only way to survive for many individuals who are locked out of the job market and trapped in neighborhoods with failing schools, trapped in a food dessert often located by clustered toxic and hazardous waste facilities. Once these areas become desirable again then all of the sudden police patrols pick up and city services increase as white people begin to move back into the community. So what happens if you’re on a fixed income in one of these communities that are in the midst of “revitalization”? The real issue of gentrification is poverty and stagnated incomes to offset the ever increasing cost of living. We have to find ways to incorporate social sustainability into our smart city building and urban revitalization and that means job opportunities with higher income levels. We have to provide incentives and for people to go into business just like we provide incentives for big developers. Atlanta is the first city to eliminate all it’s public housing but it doesn’t mean it actually solved any of the systemic problems. We have to be more inclusive in our city planning and find ways to subsidize people who are trying to stay in their communities the same way we get creative to subsidize Billionaires when they want to build new stadiums.

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