By Angela Lindsay
Native Charlottean Darryl R. Gaston has lived in the Druid Hills community for 52 of his 56 years. Like many other residents in his neighborhood, many of whom he says have lived there for 30 to 60 years, he is very concerned when he sees other historic and mostly minority neighborhoods being taken over by gentrification—concerned because he is now seeing it happen right outside his own front door.
“(Home)owners are receiving letters and postcards every day offering to buy their house(s) for cash,” he explains. “Predator investors are placing signage all over the neighborhood saying, ‘We buy houses.’ Individuals are driving up and down the streets asking about vacant homes or if we know of any potential homes for sale.”
Gaston says that some people are buying homes in cash in one day, often without even looking inside the houses.
“Homes are being fixed and flipped,” he says. “ Landlords who bought the houses when the prices were low—like $10,000 to $20,000—are selling the homes as soon as the tenant moves out or are selling the house while the tenant is still living in the home.”
Gentrification is often defined as the transformation of neighborhoods from low value to high value, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a housing, economic and health issue that affects a community’s history and culture, reduces social capital and has the potential to cause displacement of longtime or original residents and businesses that move because of higher rents, mortgages and property taxes. It often changes a community’s demographics, such as its racial or ethnic composition and household income, by moving new stores and resources into previously rundown neighborhoods.
“People are suddenly interested in our neighborhoods because the homes are less expensive homes in comparison to other neighborhoods in Charlotte. We are in close proximity to uUptown and have great skyline views. Some businesses are locating in the corridor, which previously had no interest in having a business here,” Gaston says. “Our neighborhood is becoming more diverse, with whites moving into the community. The neighborhoods have been diverse, but with more of a mixture of various ethnicities and few whites.”
While gentrification is not a new concept and has been happening in communities across the country, Charlotte is a particular hotbed for it right now for a number of reasons, according to Derhyl Pruitt, owner/broker/managing partner of Pruitt Miller Realty Group.
“As one of the country’s fastest-growing cities, Charlotte is a major relocation destination. Our strong economy, jobs and business opportunities, affordable housing market and cost of living draws a diverse and younger demographic to the city,” he says. “Many desire the urban living that gentrified neighborhoods offer. I would say that millennials and young professionals are driving the demand for the redevelopment of areas that are going through gentrification. Additionally, investors and savvy market watchers recognize the tremendous potential of these areas. That’s why it’s critically important that Black homeowners in these communities understand the value of what they own. If property owners are being approached by these investors, they should know that any offers are likely to be pennies on the dollar of the true value of these properties. Remember that the goal of an investor is to acquire assets at ‘below-market’ value.”
Pruitt says that a primary reason for the trend in recent years of migration back towards the center city is commuting.
“As Charlotte has grown and the region has expanded, traffic and commute times have become more of an issue,” he explains. “Equally relevant is all the development coming back to the city’s core after decades of ‘white flight’ to the suburbs. Uptown Charlotte is now a destination for entertainment, dining, sporting and concert events, in addition to being the business hub that it has always been. Now, you throw in trendy housing options in and around the inner loop, along with public transit options, and we have the gentrification movement, with millennial leading the way. As housing gets more expensive in the center city, developers and individuals begin looking outside the loop, which is where (African-American) communities have historically existed.”
As a Charlotte native, Pruitt remembers a time when some of the city’s now hippest neighborhoods looked very different.
“As someone who grew up in University Park in the Beatties Ford Road area, it’s still amazing to me to see white folks jogging and walking dogs in areas such as Wesley Heights and Seversville near Johnson C. Smith,” he says. “These are some of the very neighborhoods that I remember being dilapidated and littered with abandoned homes that no one wanted. At one time, many of those properties could have been bought for $10,000 or $15,000. Now, there are homes that are selling for over $700,000 in Wesley Heights. Growing up and knowing the history of this area, that is truly amazing to me!”
Says Gaston, “Long-term residents, both owners and renters, will be priced out of the neighborhoods. People who have been paying $500 to $600 per month in rent or less will have nowhere to live. They will be pushed into areas further out, to areas with less access and transportation options.”
Lonnie Davis, broker-in-charge at Kenlon Park Real Estate, agrees.
“Currently, Charlotte is ranked as the 17th largest city in the country. The reality is that real estate investors and/or developers are especially drawn to neighborhoods within a close proximity to the uptown area,” he explains. “Historically Black communities such as the Cherry neighborhood are an easy target for developers, because of the opportunity to profit from the abundance of low-cost homes. It’s simple economics—buy at a low cost, rehabilitate the area to make it more desirable to a larger mass of people and increase profitability.”
Pruitt says investors are now scouring the north and west corridors for investment and development, and he is beginning to see interest in Lincoln Heights and even in the more upscale Hyde Park neighborhood.
So, how has this been allowed to happen? Gaston has a very clear explanation:
“The city allowed the area(s) to decline, with a lack of city services and basic things which occur in other areas, like regular street cleaning and repairing roads and potholes. We have roads which are flooded every time it rains. These types of issues, which the city allowed to occur with the infrastructure, would never be allowed in other parts of the city like Myers Park, Ballantyne or Eastover. However, it happens here every day. When there is an influx of ‘new pioneers’ or ‘gentrifiers,’ city services will improve.”
As long as Charlotte experiences rapid growth—adding more residents last year than in all but 10 cities in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau— the controversial gentrification movement is likely to continue. Pruitt recognizes a definite need for more affordable housing to help combat the issue, and offers other suggestions, as well.
“If an amicable solution can be found, local government must be actively involved, to arrive at a win-win solution,” he says. “Planning, zoning and taxing authorities must be involved. Longtime residents in these areas should be considered for tax breaks as property taxes increase in these communities. No one should be priced out of the community that they have lived in for decades or generations.”
There are a number of nonprofit organizations, such as the West Side Community Land Trust, that are fighting to make homes affordable for people with lower incomes, Davis says. However, he feels there are both pros and cons to gentrification.
“Developers would dare you to look at the big picture and the lure of new businesses and luxury homes,” he says. “The other side of the equation is the reduction of affordable housing. My company works closely with organizations such as the Charlotte Housing Authority, Charlotte Family Housing and the Veterans Administration. Their clients are finding it more and more difficult to secure affordable housing. In opinion, that’s the big picture.”
Genna – Can we put this in a box below?
Some communities that have experienced gentrification:
Neighborhoods that are beginning to be affected by gentrification, or will be in the near future, can be identified by drawing a 3-mile radius around uptown, says Pruitt.
These areas are located along the Beatties Ford Road, Statesville Avenue, Graham Street and N. Tryon Street corridors to the north, and heading west toward West Morehead Street, Freedom Drive, Camp Green Street and Rozzelles Ferry Road. Communities such as Enderly Park and Thomasboro are getting a lot of attention.