Gentrification Is Nothing More Than an Endless Land Grab
The following stories are true.
In 1889, Di’Wali Jackson woke up from a longish sleep. It was unlike him to sleep in but the weeks leading up to this day had taken their toll on him.
He rose, took a piss, scratched himself. His wife Nan-ye-hi was already up and gathering the last of their belongings in one of three canvas sacks provided by the military. Neither spoke. They didn’t need to.
The night before white men and women had rushed in ahead of the noon start time and had claimed land for themselves. Soon after, these line-jumpers came to be called “Sooners” as they had entered the land early and hid until the legal time of entry to get their hands on the most choice homesteads. President Harrison, one of the most inept and corrupt presidents in the history of America, had signed the Indian Appropriations Act and effectively took back the area given to the Indians following the genocide.
Di’Wali sighed as his land was suddenly taken from by whites who were, like him, simply looking for a place to live and thrive. His anger had long since passed into a kind of knowing despair — these people streaming onto the countryside, these “Sooners,” weren’t his enemy yet they took from him nonetheless.
Following WWII, Corporeal Isaiah Holloway used his G.I. Bill to get a college degree in Engineering and moved he and his wife into a small bungalow in a village just outside of Phillie. The neighborhood was clean and respectable and almost entirely made up of other black families like his. It felt safe.
Despite his degree and his military service, he could only get hired for factory work but it was honest labor and his day-to-day expenses were covered (not much extra but it was fine with Isaiah — his grandfather had been a slave, his father a share cropper, so going to college and owning his own home was, to him, a huge step forward.)
A year later, the neighborhood was changing. The property taxes suddenly increased by 200% and some of the families he had become friends with were selling their homes and moving into Philadelphia proper. Unlike them, Isaiah owned his home but as more and more whites moved into his neighborhood, the more isolated he felt. He took out a mortgage on his bungalow to help improve his property some — the new people had money and soon his home was looking out of place.
One day, the white banker called him and informed him that he was behind on his mortgage payments and that bank would be foreclosing in two months. Moments later he received another call from another white man who offered to buy his mortgage and home for about 70 percent of the value. Isaiah was up against a wall and sold.
On 19th Street — in the home where her mother died and her daughter was raised — Amalia Alejo scans the block. Where she used to see Mexicans walking the streets and shopping at local stores, she now started to see more Anglos, young and upwardly mobile, getting started in life with low rents and affordable utilities.
In 2000, Pilsen was 89 percent Hispanic. In 2013, the neighborhood was 81.6 percent Hispanic. During that time, white residents increased from 8.2 percent to an estimated 12.4 percent of the total population, according U.S. Census data. The whites made a lot more money than the Hispanics as well by a margin of $20,000 per year per home.
After a pit stop near Los Angeles, Mexico native Alejo moved to Pilsen, renting a coach house apartment on 19th Street in 1975.
Over the next few years, her brother died, and then her mother. Soon after, she became a first-time mom to her daughter Faviola, and with her sister-in-law and her children, Alejo eventually moved into the property's main house that faces what is now the Museum of Mexican Art.
After living in Compton, Pilsen seemed like a dream.
"It was so beautiful. A lot of the stores spoke Spanish. I knew all of my community," she said.
In 1982, with help from a neighbor, a loan and some luck, Alejo was able to buy the house she was living in for $24,000.
Over the years, the 70-year-old has helped other families save for homeownership by renting them a unit in her building below market rates. Her tenants often paid $600 or less in rent.
Owning her own home made her feel accomplished, she said, and Alejo wanted to one day pass the 140-year-old house down to her adult daughter. But as new white residents move in and property taxes continue to rise, Alejo didn’t know if she could afford to keep the house.
In 2016, after living in her own home for 34 years, Amalia had to sell to make way for a high-end coffee shop.
Fictionally speaking, imagine David — a young, white professional with his hipster skinny jeans and his sweater vest walking to a home in a neighborhood that is not his with a copy of a lease in his hand. Di”Wali, Isaiah, and Amalia are sitting in a local diner and they all three see David. Can you blame them for hating him just a little bit?
The story is endlessly American, It is endlessly white. It is endless.
This is a transcript originally performed by Don Hall at Literate Ape's BUGHOUSE! on Jan. 8, 2018. David Himmel made the opposing argument. His piece can be read here. He won the debate which proves that it truly is endless. Brown people die off eventually but Target is never going away. This and all the debates can be heard delivered on the BUGHOUSE! Podcast.