Transportation & Gentrification

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve read a few articles tying improved access to active and public transportation to neighborhood gentrification. The gist of these discussions is this: a municipality recognizes that the residents of an area (usually lower income) could benefit from improved transportation infrastructure. These enhancements would allow the citizenry of that neighborhood to better access jobs, health care, food, etc. The basic necessities most of us take for granted. The projects are laid out, funded and implemented, and everyone feels good about what they’ve done.

However, those infrastructure improvements make the properties in the neighborhood more attractive and desirable. Folks that earlier wouldn’t even travel through the area are not interested in buying a home there. Prices go up. Many of the properties are rentals, and the landlords begin to sell out to take advantage of the windfall. Their tenants, now without a place to live, are forced to leave that neighborhood to seek shelter they can afford elsewhere. Or the landlords raise the rent to take advantage of the new value, again pushing tenants out the door. Even the residents “fortunate” enough to own their homes are now faced with higher property taxes based on the new valuation of their houses. Many of them will be forces to sell, again seeking affordable housing elsewhere. The end result: a once thriving community is destroyed. It may not have been perfect, but it was a sight better than having to reestablish in new neighborhoods.

The secondary effect is resistance to future transportation improvements. Having seen what happened in the first neighborhood, when similar improvements are suggested in other communities they are met with opposition. These folks don’t want to lose their friends and community; they’d rather continue to struggle finding ways to travel in the city than to have their lives uprooted., and who can blame them.

So what can be done? How can we provide the transportation options people need without threatening their communities? Here are some ideas I’ve rattled around in my head.

First, let’s freeze their property valuations in the city tax dept. Not forever, but for a reasonable number of years (let’s say five.) Then gradually raise the valuation to the “correct” level over five more years. This will allow residents to plan and find ways to accommodate their new tax level. Or it will allow them to better find new places to live, should they choose to do so. Sure, the city will miss out on a few dollars of revenue, but I suspect that it will be offset by NOT having expenditures increase.

Second, put rent controls in place for the area. This will accomplish two things: it will keep the rents of the properties from rising beyond the resources of the tenants, and will keep “new” landlords from jumping in to buy the now more desirable homes and charging higher rents.

Finally, if it’s found to be necessary, create review boards to screen prospective buyers/tenants/residents to help assure that the flavor of the community is maintained. While controversial, this board would act much as Condo boards do in other cities approving buyers as a condition of sale. Of course, such a board would have to justify rejections so that they aren’t based on race, gender, socio-economic class, etc.

Again, these are solely my thoughts and ideas. What are yours? I’m open to suggestion and discussion. After all, don’t we want everyone to benefit from improved multi-modal options?

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