Gentrification is a serious matter that PBS describes as, “a general term for the arrival of wealthier people in an existing urban district, a related increase in rents and property values, and changes in the district’s character and culture.”
Coined by British sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964, gentrification has been a topic of concern since its inception and continues to be as more longtime residents experience economic displacement.
Traditionally, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are located in African-American neighborhoods, many of which experience gentrification. In turn, the process of gentrification affects not only the residents but the college students as well.
As new residents move into the neighborhood, gentrification changes the culture of HBCU campuses and makes it more challenging for students to afford off-campus housing as the cost of rent rises.
The effect of gentrification on students is evident for those attending historically Black colleges Tennessee State University, Fisk University, and Meharry Medical College in North Nashville.
North Nashville is the oldest, and most historic, African American neighborhood in Nashville and has continuously been impacted by gentrification over the years. While just taking a simple drive through the neighborhood, the gentrification is clear as day as “tall and skinnies” take over the area.
These homes are structured very narrow and high so many can be built on the same strip. George Lauderback, owner of L&S Construction Services described the process saying, “You tear down the eyesore and build two nice houses in their place, and raise the property values.”
In 2018, North Nashville resident, Tonya Wade-Moody expressed her concerns about gentrification to City Council. “Where are the affordable homes? All of these people are being kicked out, put out of their homes” she said. “You’re bringing in these high-priced condos/ apartments. The average person can’t afford that.”
The average college student can afford it either.
Gone are the days when living off campus was more inexpensive than living on campus. According to Realtor.com, apartments for rent near Tennessee State University have a median rental price of $2,450. These rising prices continue to affect the surrounding HBCUs and their students as the university is forced to increase housing tuition in order to pay the high property costs.
Because of gentrification, many students can’t afford to live near campus and instead must make a long commute to get to and from school. As students and residents are forced to move out of the neighborhood, new, usually white, residents who don’t understand the culture of HBCUs move in causing a clash between some HBCUs and the neighborhood they’re located in.
Howard University experienced such a clash not too long ago when residents were using the school’s central lawn, The Yard, as a place to walk their dogs.
The dog-walking issue became a point of debate between students and alumni, who argued that residents walking their dogs and letting them urinate and defecate on campus was disrespectful to the historic institution and the safe space it creates for black students, while residents didn’t see an issue.
With an air of entitlement, one resident suggested to Fox 5 DC that the campus should be moved if they don’t want to work within DC, thus sparking the hashtag #HowardWontMove.
Zachary Graham, a 2018 Howard graduate explained the reason for outrage perfectly in an interview with The Guardian, saying, “Howard is a space that has a lot of cultural and historical significance for African Americans and just people in the [African] diaspora,” He said area pet owners should “check your privilege and understand that, yeah, you may be a part of this community, but Howard has been here for 152 years … some things are deeper than just walking your dog.”
Howard president, Wayne A. I. Frederick has since banned residents around school from walking their dogs on campus, asking them to respect the campus “by not bringing pets onto the private areas.”
Gentrification has also been a topic of concern for students and alumni at Shaw University due to the recent vote to rezone a section of the downtown campus.
According to Black Enterprise, the university is “ seeking to rezone 27 acres of its downtown campus in Raleigh, North Carolina, while also asking for its property to be redesignated as a “Mixed Business District”. They are requesting to increase the existing heights of its buildings to 30 stories and lease parts of the campus to developers to create retail, office, and residential space. Opposers to the plan feel as though it will give developers too much influence, resulting in gentrification and historic buildings on campus being destroyed.
During the rezoning vote, Shaw alum Eugene Myrick pleaded with the Council saying “Our historic buildings will be lost, our history will be lost. And I am asking you all to stick to the policy and vote this disastrous thing down.”
In a 5-3 vote, the rezoning request was approved on June 20, a decision that Shaw alum Kesha Monk says “will definitely be the end of Shaw.”
Some argue that not all gentrification is bad.
Many feel that gentrification can be favorable because it may reduce crime rates, create new business and housing opportunities, and stabilize the local economy. Even Howard president, Wayne A. I. Frederick encouraged people to look at gentrification differently in a 2019 interview with The Atlantic. He said it may bring a chance to create jobs for people in the neighborhood when talking about plans to move Howard’s hospital to the St. Elizabeth’s campus.
“We talk about gentrification, but the subplot there is a racial issue, and we unfortunately leave that elephant in the room and talk around it by putting the word gentrification around that elephant,” said Frederick. “But the truth of the matter is, we should be looking at [the question of]: How do we empower people in that neighborhood so that they can raise their income levels and raise their quality of life?”
No matter what your view on gentrification is, one must ask themselves if the benefits are worth more than maintaining a culture and community.