Dr. Daniels and others must ‘put their money where their mouths are’ to block gentrification
1/4/2019, 6 a.m.
Re “Gentrification: The ‘Negro Removal’ program displacing black people, culture, Dec. 27-29:
I learned 20 years ago the difference in wealth in the white and black communities. I took a white man home to his brick bungalow in the West End, which he said he had bought for $10,000 after World War II and which at the time was assessed by the city at $90,000.
Then I met a black woman in Highland Park who told me she had bought a similar house for $35,000, but was disappointed that the assessment had not changed in 10 years.
The man in the West End had equity that he could cash in when he sold his home or could borrow against for his children’s education or could leave to heirs, none of which the woman could do.
Times have changed and new investment in Highland Park from a combination of government programs, nonprofit involvement and private interests has raised property values, increasing the personal wealth of those who stayed or invested early.
Now comes Dr. Ron Daniels railing against the new investment that has improved the look and increased values in areas like Highland Park, Church Hill and Jackson Ward. Twenty years ago, he would have been on the attack against the disinvestment in such communities. Now with the benefit of hindsight, he finally sees the opportunities that he and others have squandered.
Notice that he does not talk about creating investment pools in which ordinary people can put small amounts of money and collectively take advantage of the positive trends as Maggie Walker counseled nearly 120 years ago during the era of harsh segregation when she started a bank where people could deposit their nickels, dimes and quarters, turning them into dollars that could be lent out for home building and business development.
Just imagine if the city’s 4,000 public housing residents contributed $5 a month to an investment pool. That would generate $20,000 a month, or $240,000 a year. What could that leverage over time in terms of new and improved housing?
For generations, people in Richmond and other cities have had a real chance to buy devalued property and remove blight when it was less costly to make improvements. But did most of the churches in this area rally their congregants to do so? Alas, no. Did the civic groups that advocated for City Council to invest improvement funds in their neighborhoods enable their members to collectively purchase property? Alas, no.
Did people like Dr. Daniels do anything other than bemoan the decline of Harlem and other cities? Alas,no.
In the 1990s, Preddy Ray, a community activist in Richmond, started the Task Force for Historic Preservation and the Minority Community with the aim of buying and improving property in Jackson Ward and Church Hill. He predicted that a wave of new investors would be arriving and called it essential for the community to buy property to lessen the impact that increasing property values could have.
For years, he was largely a voice in the wilderness and his group ended up shutting down. There was no mad rush of investment dollars from the black community to assist him. Most of what he raised came from grants from white-controlled organizations largely from outside Richmond.
But now that newcomers have seen opportunity in previously undervalued areas, there are plenty of people like Dr. Daniels to raise a ruckus.
Like the story about the dog in the manger, Dr. Daniels is on the front lines to growl and bark against the newcomers who see better days for communities that previously were unappreciated.
If he and others want to prevent change for the communities they grew up with, then it is time for them to stop weeping and wailing and to start putting their money where their mouths are or offer ways in which like-minded members of the community can do so together.