I’ve always known the definition of Gentrification according to Webster’s Dictionary but I didn’t really know the meaning of the word until it started happening in my city.
About a year ago I was having a conversation with a close friend of mine who lives in Washington D.C. and I sort of offhandedly said something about “chocolate city”, a long time nickname for D.C. He abruptly stopped me and said, “Tonya, D.C. is no longer considered the “chocolate city.”
I sat there stunned for a minute trying to grasp the enormity of what he had just said to me. He further went into detail telling me mom and pop restaurants and other black owned business’s established in the late 1960’s and 70’s were being bought or forced out by big developers. Many were made offers they couldn’t refuse by millionaire developers others who didn’t own their business’s and were long time renters were just forced out when their landlords sold to the developers.
I know you’re saying, but that’s D.C. not Detroit. Well after he told me what happened in D.C. he opened my eyes to what was going on in Detroit. As it turns out the same exact thing was going on here, I just wasn’t in-tune to it. When I look back I can honestly say it started with the housing crash. Banks were foreclosing on long time homeowners right and left. They were not refinancing or granting extensions they just started foreclosing on hard working blue collar families. But instead of selling the homes to new families the houses were allowed to sit vacant FOR YEARS.
Vandals and scrappers started removing aluminum siding, furnaces,electrical wiring, plumbing, bricks, hot water tanks and anything of value left in the homes. This went on with impunity, I can’t think of one time I heard or read that someone was arrested for unauthorized gutting of a house and believe me I’ve checked. In fact, someone broke into the vacant house next door to me and stole the hot water heater. I did my civic duty, I called 911 and told the operator what I was witnessing in broad daylight. She asked me for the address and what kind of car they were driving. I informed her they were not driving a car, they were in fact, walking down the street with the water tank in a grocery store shopping cart. She asked me to repeat their mode of transportation again as if she couldn’t believe what I had just told her. I further informed her if the police came right away I was sure they wouldn’t be missed. No police ever came.
Entire neighborhoods and communities have been wiped out. Would you want your children living in a neighborhood with only 3 occupied houses on the street? Of course not, and neither do the people who are forced to live here because they have no money to go anywhere else. Those who could afford to move away did so years ago. Those of us that are left are left to cut our lawns and the lawns of the vacant homes and lots. Shovel our sidewalks and the sidewalks of the vacant and abandoned homes. Look at and walk by everyday the abandoned and vacant homes that the city has ignored and refused to demolish. Or look at the debris of the homes they demolish but fail to come back and remove. Depressing, right?
The question is, “Why has this been allowed to go on?” Some say the city is bankrupt and can’t afford to demolish/refurbish these homes. Maybe. But I say this: If I were a developer with deep pockets looking to build homes to sell to young up and coming couples moving to Detroit for the first time, I would prefer to buy whole parcels of land at a very cheap price. This way I could develop an entire community in the image I choose.