(MintPress) – A 75-year-old grandmother looks forward to her autumn years in the only home she has known for 40 years. In her small, rent-controlled apartment, she raised her children, survived inner-city violence and decay and became a pillar for her self-contained community. She could have stayed in this paradise of her own making for the rest of her life if it wasn’t for the fact that she will have to move out and face finding new housing on her small, fixed income.
She is far from alone.
According to the Center for Responsible Lending, $1.95 trillion of this nation’s home value has been lost due to foreclosure, based on 2007-2011 loans. In this, $1 trillion will be lost in home equity to minority neighborhoods, representing a 13 percent loss in home value, compared to the 7 percent average nationwide. An additional $7 trillion in home equity loss can be attributed to the foreclosure crisis.
As reported originally in U.S. News & World Report, almost 12 million homeowners currently have home values which are underwater — in which, the amount owed on the house exceeds the equity in the house — and are still making payments. There are more than 1.5 million homeowners aged 50 or older that may lose their homes to foreclosure since 2007, when the foreclosure crisis began.
There have been nearly 270 churches defaulted on and sold since 2010.
All of this leaves neighborhoods in despair. A common sight for many suburban neighborhoods is emptied and boarded-up homes, empty lots and deserted shopping strips. Many young professionals are abandoning the American Dream of home ownership in suburbia for life in the cities, which affords the ability to form small, intimate communities while enjoying the facilities of city-life.
Shows like “Friends” and “Seinfeld” has reversed the resentment felt by the current generation’s parents and grandparents toward urban habitation.
The move toward “new urbanism” — the conscious effort to move toward building sustainable urban communities — has motivated design and new construction over the last two decades. It has also created a flood of new urban residents from the suburbs — a trend that spiked during the Mortgage Crisis. The United States government has become a partner in this process through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Hope VI program, which allocates grants toward eradicating and rebuilding “severely distressed” public housing and revitalizing communities towards mixed-finance residency.
However, critics have argued that these efforts constitute gentrification and are forcing the poor toward the suburban fringe or out on the streets.
The threat of gentrification
Displacement by means of gentrification is a massive problem. Typically, the displacement of lower-income residents takes on three schemes. First, as more affluent residents move into an area, the average rent in the area increases in proportion to the spending power of the new populace. This could be incidental to match the inflation of consumer prices within the community, or intentional to encourage a higher class of potential renters.
In addition, the increased average spending power inflates the cost of living in the community, making access to critical services — such as food, clothing, transportation and even jobs — unavailable to lower-income residents.
Second, as more and more modern houses and buildings go up, older public housing complexes become an eyesore and a drag on property values and service availability. As the number of lower-income individuals increase, the need to build more public housing is not met, creating a bottle-necking of applicants that can’t afford private-sourced housing but cannot secure public housing, as well.
Finally, as property values increase, property taxes increase, forcing property owners who cannot afford the increase to sell.
It is a mistake, however, to look at this strictly along color lines. In a National Institute of Health study, gentrification tends to preserve the ethnic breakdown of a community. This is because the same component of the neighborhood that once appealed to a member of an ethnicity at a lower income will appeal to a member of the same ethnicity at a higher income level. In the case of gentrification, flight occurs primarily on the basis of class.
The new gentry
The concept of gentrification entered the lexicon due to the geographer Ruth Glass, who — in her 1964 book — referred to the way the new urban “gentry” was purchasing a central city pied a terre to add to their country estate. Since its introduction, the term “gentrification” suggested the replacement of a lower-class in an area with a higher-class by means of supplication.
As such, one group moves in, one group moves out. In recent measures, federal and state authorities have made attempts to create mixed-income communities in which new residents join and work with existing community members toward building a healthy, unified community. However, the weight of displacement from the influx of affluence into a community threatens to push the poorest members of the community out toward non-gentrified communities or even to the abandoned suburban fringe.
It is fair to say that tomorrow’s suburbanites will likely be today’s urban poor. In a peer-reviewed 2011 study by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, for gentrification-affected residents of Melbourne, there was a 54 percent greater chance that the resident would move to an adjacent suburb than leave the area or remain in the inner city.
Those most affected were the elderly, older couples with children and the lowest two-fifths of the income-hierarchy. In 2010, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Homelessness Research Institute, the average real income for all working people nationwide was $48,134. For working poor people, it was $9,413.
Homelessness as the cost of gentrification
The unasked question in considering the pros and cons of gentrification lies in public housing. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are approximately 1.3 million public housing units in this country, with 40 percent housing a senior citizen who lives alone (88 percent) or whom heads a household. Approximately 52 percent of all public housing cases involve an elderly or handicapped applicant.
Additionally, 48 percent of all applicants for public housing are black, with a system-wide national income in 1991 of $7,338, or 67.95 percent of the national poverty level for a family of three at the time. Fifty-eight percent do not have a high school education. Taken together, this leaves millions vulnerable to displacement.
With 61 percent of all public housing units built before 1970, the state of the national public housing system is dismal. HUD’s Hope VI offers to renovate these aging complexes, with more than 20,000 marked for demolition or revamping with 60,000 already destroyed; but under the re-certification process, many recipients of services would be ineligible — properties marked for destruction would not necessarily be replaced and renovated properties would have more stringent admission policies — including a credit check — that many applicants cannot satisfy. For more than two-thirds of all Hope VI-affected applicants who are not able to return to their homes end up in “equally distressed neighborhoods.”
For those who cannot move and cannot afford private housing, the prospects are bleak. Local civic action groups and the local government may offer temporary assistance, but for many, homelessness marks the end of their displacement story.
In the United States in 2011, about 643,067 people experienced homelessness, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Homelessness Research Institute. Of this, 292,688, or 46 percent, were family units. Housing cost burden accounts for more than 75 percent of all homelessness cases. In 2010, more than 8.2 million households were classified as poor or severely housing cost burdened renters.
The national number for residential properties in foreclosure in 2010 was nearly 2.9 million, an increase of 2 percent from 2009.
A course for the future
In cities like Chicago, community groups and local government have taken the charge to prevent displacement of low-income residents. Tax incentives to purchase and renovate housing for low-income residents have been offered by Cook County to overwhelming success.
Various non-profit groups have purchased properties throughout the city to specifically slate as low-income housing. This problem is best met locally. Most experts believe that gentrification is a good thing, but it must be implemented responsibly, with a build-up of resources for low-income tenants and a general improvement of core resources first.
It is commonly believed that as the foreclosure rate rises, so will the homelessness rate. Corrective and decisive action is needed immediately to stem this epidemic.