Becoming “Successfully Gentrified”

by Mary Wood-Ohiku

In recent years, Riverwest has been primed for gentrification. Higher property values near Brady Street to the south, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee area to the east, and the booming Brewers Hill neighborhood to the southwest are causing an increase in housing demand in Riverwest and driving up housing costs and property taxes. Commerce St. condosBy definition, this is gentrification: higher income residents coming in, property taxes and values going up, and lower income residents being priced out of the housing market. What will happen to Riverwest residents who can no longer afford to live in a neighborhood with drastically increasing property values? Creating Awareness Some say that if Riverwest is to maintain affordable, income-diverse housing, neighborhood residents have to act soon. According to housing specialists Maureen Kennedy and Paul Leonard of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, gentrification can be beneficial to an existing neighborhood if communities know what’s happening and are willing to pool their knowledge and resources to prevent gentrification’s homogenizing effects. Kennedy and Leonard conducted numerous studies on gentrified neighborhoods across the U.S., from California to Atlanta. From their analyses, they found awareness of housing dynamics to be a dominant thread in successfully gentrified areas. By “successfully gentrified,” they mean that current residents were able to maintain affordable housing while providing a welcoming neighborhood for newcomers at the same time. Former Riverwest resident Todd Hutchinson, of ABC Development, agrees that knowing when and where to invest in a home is a key element to maintaining affordable housing in Riverwest. Hutchinson, who values the preservation of neighborhood diversity, conducts housing development in Riverwest at reasonable prices. “People who live in a neighborhood where property values are depressed should take advantage of that so they can reap the benefits of increased property values in later years,” Hutchinson said. Hutchinson emphasized that it’s important to be aware of the housing market, as it is easy to be forced out of an area when you are unaware of housing options at your disposal. “A rise in the tide can have a devastating effect on a community,” Hutchinson said. “You have to teach people how to swim before they can keep up with the rising tide; otherwise they will be drowned out.” When community and local government officials address gentrification early, the greater the opportunity they have to preserve affordable housing, promote economic stability, and avoid loss of diversity. (see sidebar) Of course, not all people are convinced any action needs to be taken. Alderman Michael D’Amato, whose district covers the northern part of Riverwest, was unconcerned about maintaining affordable housing in the neighborhood, indicating that Riverwest is not threatened by gentrification. “It would take a significant change in mass demographics to alter Riverwest’s housing affordability,” D’Amato said. “We could build million dollar homes in all the vacant areas of Riverwest and it stillwould not significantly change the demographics of the neighborhood. There is no shortage of affordable housing in Riverwest.” D’Amato also said that surrounding areas like Brewers Hill and the East side are good for the economic stability of Riverwest. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 3 – March 2003

What can Riverwest renters, residents, landlords, or business owners do to counter possible negative aspects of gentrification? Once a neighborhood is aware of its economic changes, community members can work to develop a common vision. The Riverwest Investment Co-op is an example of what some neighbors are doing to implement their vision to counter possible negative effects of gentrification.

10 Steps to Optimize Gentrification Outcomes

1 Know the context and the growth dynamics in the city and region to determine the extent to which gentrification is a reality, a near possibility, or an unlikely occurrence. 2 Increase regional, city, and community understanding of the dynamics of gentrification, and conduct analyses that can anticipate pressures. 3 Get organized, again at the regional, city, and community levels. 4 Develop a unified vision and plan for jobs/housing balance at the regional level, for economic and housing needs and opportunities for residents at the city level, and for neighborhood stability and viability at the local level. 5 Implement regulatory and policy fixes at the regional, city, and community levels, as appropriate. 6 Gain control of public and private property assets that can be taken out of the market and used to provide affordable housing and office space for neighborhood residents and service providers. 7 Improve resident understanding of legal rights and home-buying and selling strategies. 8 Improve public education at the local and citywide levels. 9 Prepare parties to negotiate for more equitable development in the midst of gentrification. 10 Create forums to resolve conflicts and to re-knit the community

Gentrification Archive

The Man

As Riverwest and neighboring communities continue to experience a trend of growth and increasing property values, writers for the Currents and active members of the Riverwest Neighborhood Association have been studying the hazards and benefits of “gentrification” here and in other cities. Since this topic continues to be of great interest and concern to Riverwest residents, this regularly updated, public list of web links has been created as a convenient source of information. It includes articles that have appeared in the Currents and mainstream media pertinent to gentrification, redevelopment, and related housing or land-use issues.

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by Mary Wood-Ohiku