By: Johnny Hollowell
Over the past decade, the words “ugly” and “house” have become a common phrase used in inner city neighborhoods. This phenomenon is very visible in the Third and Fifth Wards in Houston. As a long-time resident and property owner in these neighborhoods, one has to wonder, after all the years, blood, sweat and tears invested in calling this house ‘home’, why is it now ugly? Well, there’s this process called “Gentrification”.
According to Merriam-Webster, “gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding, accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”
During the middle of the 20th Century, there were two words that also found themselves being used together quite often. Those words were “White” and “flight”.
According to Merriam-Webster, “White flight is the departure of Whites from places (such as urban neighborhoods or schools) increasingly or predominantly populated by minorities.”
However, as it pertains to African Americans, there was also Black flight. While White flight received all the attention, Black flight occurred under the radar. As Whites were fleeing the inner-city neighborhoods, baby-boomer Blacks, who had gone off to college and acquired skills and professions that garnered middle-class and above wealth, weren’t far behind.
While municipalities and power brokers in developing urban cities, such as Houston, would say that gentrification is necessary to rejuvenate the inner-city. When it comes to the effect on longtime inner-city residents left behind from White and Black flight, the majority of whom are minorities, the municipalities are mum. Furthermore, unlike many other cities whose population puts them in the top five to ten largest in the country, Houston has no zoning laws. Meaning that for the most part, you can acquire a piece of real estate in Houston, and then erect your building of choice. Notwithstanding ordinances that regulate the use of a building that is close to existing schools, parks, churches, etc.…
So, as you look around in your inner-city neighborhood and see upscale, high-priced apartments and condominiums popping up like popcorn, the gentrification analogy is why your house is now ugly. Furthermore, if I’m a developer and I can convince you that your house is ugly, that enhances my chances of acquiring your property at low market value.
While some inner-city residents may want to dig-in and hold onto their property, another side-effect of gentrification is property tax valuations. As the upscale buildings go up in those neighborhoods, so do taxes for all property in the neighborhood.
Advocates of gentrification would argue that the inner-city, which includes downtown, is vital to the city’s prosperity, as it not only brings folks back to the inner-cities, but it also creates jobs, both within and outside the city limits. On the other hand, opponents and displaced residents of gentrification who, while not opposed to prosperity, just want to maintain a stake in the process.
Johnny Hollowell is a retired Coast Guard Commander, and a licensed Texas Real Estate Salesperson and Realtor.