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Residents and Officials Fear Fruit Belt Gentrification

Fruit Belt residents and Council President Darius G. Pridgen fear Medical Campus growth will negatively impact their neighborhood by attracting developers and speculators, driving up property values and taxes, thereby pushing long-time residents out.  It is a “problem” cities are facing nationwide.

Council President Pridgen filed a resolution on Thursday aimed at protecting all neighborhoods threatened by gentrification. 

The resolution calls on the Fruit Belt Advisory Committee to the Buffalo Common Council to create a subcommittee focused on establishing a position on the gentrification of the Fruit Belt. The Committee will propose suggestions for addressing the concerns of gentrification and is asked to present their ideas to the Council no later than June 3.

It looks at potentially different ways to protect long-term residents, including allowing homeowners to reduce the assessed value of their homes or freezing their home assessments for a finite period of time.

Council President Pridgen is also requesting that Corporation Counsel inform the Council no later than April 15 of any federal or state laws that would potentially block a City attempt to limit property tax increases for long-term residents.

Pridgen says he wants to be proactive dealing with gentrification in the Fruit Belt and the concerns raised by its long-term residents, due to their close proximity to the medical campus expansion project.  He says the City is committed to protecting the people who originally founded these neighborhoods.

It states that, “investments in a community that encourage economic development often come with high costs to the middle and low-income residents who have lived in an area before gentrification.” Costs such as lowering appreciation on home values that incur unmanageable property taxes.

A number of cities including Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC, have taken measures to freeze property taxes of longtime homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods. 

DSC_0096Timothy Williams in the New York Times writes that these cities “are turning urban redevelopment policy on its head and shunning millions in property tax revenue that could be used to restore municipal services that were trimmed during the recession because of budget cuts, including rehiring police officers.”

Williams cites the example of Philadelphia, which recently passed two pieces of legislation meant to support longtime homeowners in its urban areas: “The first, the Homestead Exemption, allows most homeowners to reduce the assessed value of their house by $30,000 for tax purposes, while a second law, called Gentrification Protection or LOOP, short for Longtime Owner Occupants Program, is more narrowly focused on protecting homeowners from increases to their property tax bills because of gentrification.”

The Times’ article cites housing experts that say the arrival of newcomers to formerly working-class areas is distinct from previous influxes over the past 30 years because new residents are more likely to choose to move into new condominiums or lofts instead of into existing housing, making the changes more disruptive.

But are long-time residents forced out of gentrifying neighborhoods?  Not necessarily so according to two recent studies. 

NPR News investigative correspondent Laura Sullivan reports that gentrification may be a “boon” to longtime residents.  As detailed in the story, Lance Freeman, the director of the Urban Planning program at Columbia University, believed current residents were forced out of gentrifying neighborhoods. He launched a study, first in Harlem and then nationally, calculating how many people were pushed out of their homes when wealthy people moved in.

His findings surprised even him. “(P)eople in neighborhoods classified as gentrifying were moving less frequently,” he states. “Freeman’s work found that low-income residents were no more likely to move out of their homes when a neighborhood gentrifies than when it doesn’t,” Sullivan writes.

“That squares with a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland,” writes Sullivan.

“We’re finding that the financial health of original residents in gentrifying neighborhoods seems to be increasing, as compared to original residents in nongentrifying, low-priced neighborhoods,” says Daniel Hartley, a research economist with the bank.

“He says higher costs can push out renters, especially those who are elderly, disabled or without rent-stabilized apartments. But he also found that a lot of renters actually stay — especially if new parks, safer streets and better schools are paired with a job opportunity right down the block,” writes Sullivan.

Let the debate begin.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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