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Gentrification: Where Do We Go?

Gentrification is defined by Oxford dictionary as “the process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process.” Because of its effects on mental health, it has been classified a public health issue by the CDC. Many people living in low-income areas that become gentrified can no longer afford to live in a neighborhood they may have lived in their entire lives. Due to high rents, some become homeless, others are displaced and cultural and historical areas are torn down. According to a research article by Drs. Croff, Hedmann and Baines, “[g]entrification contributed to the dismantling of Black property ownership curated over generations, increased financial burden, and threatened place security.”

I currently work in the mental health field and witness gentrification every day I go to work. One side of my building faces the historical area known for the 1966 Hough Riots which caused outbreaks of protest, vandalism, looting, and arson due to racial turmoil. On the other side, there are revamped, gentrified houses for medical interns and students who are headed to Cleveland Clinic. Seeing the visible division of the neighborhood is alarming, and my clients who are middle school age suffering from severe mental illnesses and behavioral problems recognize and identify the stark differences divided by a blocked-off street. They witness the building of a new apartment complex and wonder how their families and friends are going to afford to live in such a place. Hell, it’s a question I ask myself. I also think about those who are uprooted from a neighborhood that was once occupied for generations by their families and friends. What happens to these people? The answer is disturbingly harsh. Many are on the streets without any help. No help from the cities empowering developers resulting in gentrification. No help from the businesses that will profit from the area. Many are left to fend for themselves, which is a common theme here: “every man for himself.” No one seems to care about the history behind these areas that brought revolution and justice for its people. Many are focused on what’s going to make them the most money. I understand capitalism, but this isn’t fair nor productive.

As a collective, there are things that can be done to protect residents from becoming homeless. It requires creating policies that protect current residents of those neighborhoods such as maintaining current or implementing a reduction of property taxes; immunity for long-time residents such as senior homeowners; and creating housing that supports individuals with middle to lower-class incomes. Instead of evacuating these residents in favor of building higher-priced properties, residential or business, create housing that supports everyone.

As a nation, we have an individualistic mindset. People make harmful statements such as “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” to individuals born at a disadvantage, such as people of color and women. There needs to be more equity; it’s unrealistic to navigate the world without support. Everyone needs it and once we start to realize that as caring citizens of this nation, we can collectively come together to create policies and changes that will benefit all. As generations continue to become more progressive, positive change will happen but it will take participation from everyone, because we all need each other at the end of the day.

Citation: Croff R, Hedmann M, Barnes LL. Whitest City in America: A Smaller Black Community's Experience of Gentrification, Displacement, and Aging in Place. Gerontologist. 2021 Nov 15;61(8):1254-1265. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnab041. PMID: 33772304; PMCID: PMC8599195.

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