Three hundred people met at Plaza Verde on Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis on September 30, 2015 to talk about gentrification and pose the question, who will live in Minneapolis in 2020?
Jessica Lopez Lyman, Chicano Studies Scholar, explained that one of the myths about gentrification is that it happens overnight. In reality developers, politicians and bankers set the stage for years before the sudden appearance of new businesses and an influx of the white, wealthy, and formally-educated people, buying housing and businesses.
An audience member illustrated how the process has worked in Minneapolis. Former Minneapolis Mayor Sayles Belton got rid of much subsidized housing in the 1990s. Subsequent Mayor R. T Rybak built luxury condos. Our current Mayor, Betsy Hodges has made it a goal to encourage 100,000 new residents to our city by 2020. The question is: who will these new residents be? From the housing being built, it looks like high income folks. What will happen to those living here now? We have a housing crisis currently in Minneapolis, with long lines for affordable rentals. Why aren’t we building affordable housing?
Another participant pointed out that gentrifiers have the luxury to plan long- term, while the residents of a gentrifying neighborhood don’t have the time or space to fight. Their window is often next months suddenly-elevated rent.
Lopez Lyman explained that displacement of People of Color (it does happen to working class whites as well) to satisfy the needs of elites, has been happening for eons, this is just the new name for an old game.
Neeraj Mehta of the Center for Urban and Regional Development at the University of Minnesota noted, we are now told the problem is “concentrations of poverty”, — too many poor people living together — instead of poverty itself. The gentrifiers solution is dissolution and dispersal of neighborhoods. Nothing is done about racism or poverty. Mehta said the bottom line is “It’s easier to move people than to move resources.” We need to demand resources now — he concluded — not wait for the gentrifiers to arrive with their attending resources.
Chaun Webster of the Firehouse Collective and Ancestry Books in North Minneapolis, pointed out that the justification for gentrification begins with the colonial narrative that the neighborhood is empty of human resources. Nothing is begin replaced, only added. Artists come in to “beautify,” creating murals and such, that satisfy the palette of wealthier whiter newcomers, often referred to as “young professionals.”
The crowd was rich in ideas to overcome gentrification. Here are some of the ideas coming from the panel and the floor.
- Demand an end to government subsidies to developers.
- We need Community Benefits Agreements between neighbors and developers for any project receiving government funds.
- Fund community development that uses the human capacities already within neighborhoods.
- Redistribute Park resources to benefit Communities of Color.
- Turn Section 8 housing system into a home ownership program.
- Encourage local coops.
- Protect housing from foreclosures, tax hikes and rent hikes.
- Fight the culture of gentrification – when wealthier newcomers demand their cultural norms become law. (Real life example: removing a basketball court in North Minneapolis.)
- Create an affordable housing trust fund.
- Fighting discriminatory lending. Prosecute the offending bankers and banks.
- Fight Charter schools that disperse neighborhoods and support the public schools that anchor them.
A man who encouraged us not to use race language was chastised by people not wanting a race-blind discussion. Unfortunately his original point — that the enemy has a face — developers teaching people to flip houses, planning foreclosures, people who actually plan and carry out gentrification — was lost.
A woman pointed out that reliance on non-profits ends up with band aid solutions that keep the structure of racism and poverty intact.
Kudos to Minneapolis Ninth ward councilwoman Alondra Cano, for sponsoring a forum that was NOT about band aids. Hope it is the first of many.