VCU’s campus is only making gentrification worse

Illustration by Madeline De-Michele

Monica Alarcon-Najarro, Contributing Writer

I remember hearing during my freshman year that a Whole Foods would open on West Broad Street a few minutes from campus. The first thing that came to my mind was, “Why would they put such an expensive grocery store in Richmond?” Then, I remembered that the city is going through America’s favorite transition: gentrification.

It’s evident there’s a large gap between the residents of Richmond and the ones who are moving in from other cities trying to change it. Walking on Broad, I always see less fortunate people sitting on the sidewalk asking for spare change. 

I mean, how exactly do you justify a high-end, organic grocery store on the same block as a homeless man sitting on a sidewalk? That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call gentrification at its finest.

What angers me most is that wealthy people are taking over homes in areas like Scott’s Addition and Jackson Ward that were once occupied by families of low and middle incomes. Those families end up displaced or homeless due to high rent in the area. I hope the Karens who move in have a great time enjoying their vegan non-GMO salads in their luxury apartments, while less wealthy families are kicked out of their homes.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.5% of Richmond residents are in poverty. That is higher than the nation’s average, which was 11.8% in 2018. Yet, Richmond is still trying to push this agenda of rebuilding the city to fit the new “modern city” stigma.

Shekinah Mitchell, a VCU alum and former employee, stated in an article for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition that she has lived at four different Richmond addresses in five years due to rent increases and changes in land ownership.

“Each time we moved, we paid more in rent for fewer square footage,” Mitchell said in the article.

Just like Mitchell, families have moved from place to place to find affordable housing. This wouldn’t be a problem if government officials actually did their jobs — research the household income in Richmond and converse with residents about new construction in the area. 

As Shekinah Mitchell said, Richmond has become infiltrated with wealthy white people who have been advertised luxury homes, not knowing that people of color were kicked out in order for them to live there (Mitchell).

In addition, the placement of VCU’s campus makes it no better. As wealthier students move off-campus — and into an impoverished city — gentrified neighborhoods provide a place for them to stay. Inevitably, low-income families, most of them people of color, lose their homes in the process.

VCU continues to buy off property in Richmond. The campus sits right in the center of Richmond, where the university builds classrooms, common areas and dorms. Monroe Park Campus has forcibly moved into Richmond without facing the consequences.

There should be more determination to help those who have been living in the city for years but cannot afford to live in high-rent homes. We should be outraged that some community members can’t be part of such a beautiful, historic city due to its gentrification. It’s evident that the government officials in charge of building Richmond have not taken the household income of its residents into consideration.

In this capitalistic society full of new construction and properties, money is the only thing running through the minds of investors and corporate leaders. The opinions of Richmond residents should be prioritized, not made into an afterthought once they’re kicked out of their homes.


  1. It is admirable that you are being considerate of everyone in the local community. By increasing the supply of existing homes in the region, the average cost of rent for the overall market decreases. Richmond downtown rents were unusually low for many decades. That doesn’t mean they should stay that way. Rising land values help improve the value of real estate assets owned by middle class families. Policies to block development disproportionately hurt middle and low income families by lowering their home value and by causing rent to rise via the slowing of new home creation. The only thing that will ultimately create lower tents is increased supply. I strongly urge those who are concerned about gentrification to raise capital and develop properties, as this would benefit the community dramatically more than restrictions.

  2. I would not shop there, and I regret the loss of Pleasant’s Hardware. However, the Fan was gentrified by the 1980s, and the house prices are 500,000 and up. The Whole Foods is perfectly placed for its market.

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