After 94 years, San Francisco iconic restaurant Lucca Ravioli closed its doors, one of the last staples of a vibrant Italian culture in the city. With rent going up and prices rising, San Francisco is no longer the inclusive, diverse city it once was. Instead, there has been a shift to skyscrapers and the technology sectors, thus pushing lower-income residents, who are usually people of color towards historically ignored neighborhoods like Fruitvale or even out of state (Berkeley). San Francisco is just one example of a prevalent issue in the Bay Area: gentrification, the sudden investment in historically-ignored neighborhoods, which leads to higher levels of housing prices, education, and income (Tor).
I want to study gentrification because I live in a predominantly white neighborhood in the historically diverse city of Oakland. I was wondering how my or other families moving here would impact the community, specifically the cultural history that runs deep in Oakland. Whenever I drive through East Oakland or walk around Lake Merritt, I see constant remnants of Oakland’s past and am reminded that it still is a culturally significant place for many people, specifically minorities. I think that we should all think about how we, directly or indirectly, affect other people’s lives. I have also always been interested in the intersectionality between the economy and people’s lives. In my project, I will explore many questions. First, how has racial segregation taken different forms throughout America’s history, from legal segregation through the Jim Crow laws to gentrification today? Next, I want to find out how benefiting one neighborhood economically impacts other communities, specifically in the development of social services. Finally, I want to know whether or not there have been solutions to gentrification in the past that would apply to the Bay Area and what a future of implementing those policy changes would look like. Read my full interest essay here.
History of the Problem
After the Great Depression, the United States faced a grave problem: the housing market. In the 1920s, the market created about 900,000 housing units a year, making it one of the most important markets for domestic jobs in the US (Rosenfeld and Zavatsky). However, this number dropped to about 93,000 units a year in the 1930s. Furthermore, because people could not pay back loans, banks foreclosed almost 1,000 houses a day. In response to this crises, the US passed the Banking Act of 1933, the National Housing Act of 1934, and established the Home Owners Loan Corporation (Morgan). And while these measures would help people refinance loans and invest into the housing market post World War II, they also established institutional incentives to avoid putting money into predominantly black and latino neighborhoods in favor of increasingly white suburbs. Furthermore, they gave rewards to people who built new houses instead of investing in the cities that were already built, making it impossible for those who lived in places with horrible conditions to find new, better homes. Read more about redlining’s link to gentrification in my full essay.
What You Need to Know
There are many negative consequences that come with gentrification, such as exploitation and poverty. First, these people still have to work in metropolitan centers like San Francisco, even if they are forced to neighborhoods like Fruitvale that are located hours away. The segregation makes it easier for employers to exploit workers because there is a clear, spatial line between high-wage white workers and low-wage Latinx/African American workers (Day). Forcing minorities into ignored neighborhoods also traps them into poverty because of the jobs available. And even when jobs suddenly start opening up, they are forced out again and again, never able to make a living (Berkeley). Gentrification and the segregation that comes with it also has clear similarities to racist policies like redlining and the infamous Jim Crow laws. Although this problem persists today, there are still ways to combat gentrification. The first step is to identify the causes of gentrification and the groups at risk.
While there are many causes of gentrification, the main one is a shift in what kinds of jobs are available in the neighborhood (Hwang and Lin). For instance, if the neighborhood is opening up towards jobs in the technology sector, more affluent and educated workers will move in to fill those jobs (Hwang and Lin). In order to avoid gentrification, not only do we have to create wealth in these neighborhoods, but we also have to create lasting wealth that will lead to better education and jobs. Another factor that can put neighborhoods at risk of gentrification is a low rate of home ownership (Hill). When prices rise, there are no restrictions that prevent landlords from suddenly raising prices. However, there are ways to get around the sudden increase in property taxes, such as Proposition 13, a law that banned more than a two percent increase in property tax, and the Homestead Exemption Tax, which allowed for people to have tax exemption if they lived in a residency for more than three years (Hill). Another cause is governmental prioritization of private funds and businesses for services such as libraries and daycares, where there are no checks for spiking prices (CJJC). The people who live in underdeveloped neighborhoods can no longer afford to live in their homes and are consequently forced out. Read about the full modern problem here.
There are many solutions that anyone can take in order to stop this process. First off, speak to your community. One of the main causes of gentrification is private businesses developing lands to maximize profits instead of helping communities. This means that any development of a neighborhood happens without ever consulting the people of those communities. In order to avoid such selfish and exploitative behavior, hold these corporations accountable and force them to consult community members before making local developments.
Individuals should talk to their communities and figure out what is necessary and unnecessary development. For instance, brainstorm ways to refurbish a park or fund a library. Simple steps like these can develop a neighborhood without radically changing prices. For more information on a community-based approach to urban development, click this link from an organization called Causa Justa Just Cause that was founded to create community leadership in the Bay Area.
Second, research a neighborhood before moving into one. Before moving to a neighborhood, look at online maps (such as one found here) to figure out how far along the process of gentrification that neighborhood is. If it is a community that still needs development, feel free to go there and open a business. On the other hand, if it is one that is undergoing gentrification, think twice before moving.
There are also solutions that can be taken on the governmental level that would help stop gentrification. First off, incentivize home owning over renting. Revisiting the Community Reinvestment Act is a good start to prioritizing home owning. For instance, the government could mandate more funds from banks going to lower income communities and change this number based on each community. Changes in neighborhoods should also happen in conjunction with developments in ways to find early warning signs of gentrification (Chapple and Zuk).
Second, keeping spaces open for lower income workers. One solution would be to make 20 percent of developing housing affordable. However, this would also have to be done along with the community because what is affordable is subjective based on location. Another way to keep spaces open would be to have a maximum increase in rent for businesses, allow for small businesses to stay open while allowing for progress in communities (Tol).
Third, exempt taxes for long-time house owners. After buying their home, the next step for homeowners is to hold onto their property. The Homestead Exemption Tax gives a perfect method for incentivizing people to keep property. The only step would be to increase the tax exemption or make the limit more specific for neighborhoods (Tol).
Finally, find a community-based framework that the government and urban developers can use. This step would include allowing for local governments to have more power and local communities to have more say in development (CJJC). This is the best solution because it would allow neighborhoods in different phases of gentrification to respond differently.
Although the problem of gentrification may seem unsolvable at first, there are many possible solutions that can be taken in order to solve this pervasive form of racism. We need to come together as a community against losing what makes our neighborhoods so special. Even if you are not directly affected by gentrification, reach out to your community to find ways that you can help.
I would love to hear feed back on the micro solutions as that was one part of the website I struggled the most on. Which solution seemed accessible and which did not? Thanks so much for reading my website.