Richmond is two cities: one comprised of everything VCU has purchased and drenched in black and gold, then the rest of it. The few areas of Richmond that have not been taken over by the university are mostly poor and black. There is much construction being done this year. Many could take as a sign of progress while overlooking an unfortunate consequence to all of this development: The continued gentrification of another U.S. city.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers housing unaffordable when it is more than 30 percent of a household’s income. They estimate around 12 million people in the country pay more than 50 percent of their yearly income for housing. Unaffordable housing is a main factor in the displacement of certain groups in the city.
Richmond is one of many cities going through the process of gentrification, particularly because our city gives a tax credit to people who purchase and flip houses that are more than 15 years old. Taking part in this real estate rehabilitation program also protects the new homeowner from any tax increases on that property. These incentives allow wealthier Richmond citizens to buy cheap real estate, make a profit and in the end drive up property taxes for the rest of that community. Richmond’s program is considered one of the most generous of its kind in Virginia.
Mayor Dwight C. Jones has been pushing his Revitalize RVA economic development plan for the last couple years, particularly with the controversial Shockoe Bottom baseball stadium.
The premise of these plans is to take undeveloped, and often poorer areas of the city, and construct brand new businesses that will bring in money for the city. The Shockoe Bottom stadium plan, for example, would include a new Kroger, a Hyatt hotel and apartment units. But it’s never that simple. Inevitably, even the best-laid plans will leave some people in worse conditions than before. The real concern is most of the time those negatively affected are the people who are already in need.
There are also national issues that perpetuate gentrification, which we could work on at the local level.
A study by Zillow Real Estate Research in 2014 revealed the great disparity between the rise of income and rise in rent. Between 2000 and 2014, the average household income increased by 25 percent, but the average cost of rent rose by almost 53 percent. When the prices are rising but your income is not, people get pushed out of their current neighborhoods in search of somewhere less expensive.
While one solution would be raising minimum wage, Virginia hasn’t changed the minimum wage in years and won’t any time soon. A much more realistic option would be to maintain low-income housing neighborhoods. Individuals who have to move from their neighborhoods lose much more than just their physical home. People create social support within their communities, which helps with things like child care and transportation. That loss will create even more expenses that will follow them to their next home.
VCU is a driving force in the community, but is that for the better or the worse? VCU is a part of Richmond, not the other way around. Instead of partnering with major developers and making deals with city officials, they should use their power for good. This city is a wonderful place to go to school and live in because of its diversity. It would be a shame to lose that.