By Juliet Martinez
If your low-income neighbors are moving because their landlords raised the rent, blighted homes are being renovated and sold at high prices; or luxury developments are popping up near you, you may be watching gentrification happen. What can communities do?
The Hazelwood Housing Summit on September 28 at Propel School tackled that question. The event drew residents, housing-oriented nonprofits from around the region and activists who have fought gentrification for decades.
The housing committee of the Greater Hazelwood Community Collaborative organized the event in response to concerns about property taxes raised by Elaine Price, owner of Floriated Interpretations on Irvine Street.
“In other local communities that have been ‘restructured’ or ‘revitalized,’ I’ve watched friends lose their family homes because they couldn’t keep up with gentrification in their community,” Ms. Price told attendees during the main session.
Allegheny County property taxes are determined according to 2012 baseline assessments. But a lawsuit challenging the county’s property tax math could result in a court-ordered change in the baseline system. Given the steep growth in Hazelwood home prices, Ms. Price is worried about her property taxes rising.
Lawrenceville United executive director, Dave Breignan, spoke at the summit. He said some cities have policies protecting longtime and low-income homeowners from sharp increases in property taxes. But, he said, low-income communities often benefit from more frequent reassessments rather than the baseline system currently in place.
Those communities are harmed by wealth building through homeownership, said Speaker Carl Redwood, a social justice activist and cofounder of the Hill District Consensus Group.
“That’s the essence of what gentrification is about,” he said, because selling one’s home at a profit benefits the homeowner but harms the community. “It's not normal for us to think as ‘we are Hazelwood,’ or ‘we are the Hill District.’ It’s normal to think about me and mine.”
He recommended neighborhood-wide incentives for homeowners to sell to a community land trust so the next buyer would be a moderate- or low-income homeowner. He also suggested limited equity housing co-ops, where the co-op owns the home, and the “mortgage” is a carrying fee. When a co-op resident is ready to move, they sell their share and earn some equity without driving up property values and displacing their neighbors.
As Lawrenceville has gentrified, Mr. Breignan said Lawrenceville United has promoted both community land trusts and inclusionary zoning, a policy focused on creating more affordable housing for renters. Under Lawrenceville’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, 10% of new units must be set aside as affordable. He mentioned two 300-unit developments under construction; 30 units in each will be set aside for moderate- and low-income families.
“So, 60 units, you know, in two projects is not going to solve the affordable housing crisis,” he said. “But it makes a real difference because those are 60 more families who will be able to stay in Lawrenceville while we are working on other solutions.”
See page 3 of the November Homepage print edition for housing resources and page 11 to see the organizations that tabled at the housing summit.
Juliet Martinez is the managing editor of The Homepage.