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Gentrification to entrap Third Ward neighborhood on perimeter

Sonny Singh/The Cougar

Neighborhoods with black and brown culture tend to be targets of gentrification, the process of transforming lower-income, typically minority neighborhoods into whiter, more expensive areas.

Not the kind of gentrification that gives residents access to grocery stores, rehabilitation and recreation centers, but the kind that affects housing, turning quaint generational homes into modern style architecture.

In the Third Ward, a neighborhood rich with culture and well-known within and outside the city, is a predominately black neighborhood whose physical identity is changing.

But the construction of townhomes by outsiders isn’t occurring throughout the interior of the neighborhood. They are mostly on the perimeter of the Third Ward, acting as a wall, entrapping the community from the outside.

The Third Ward — in blue in the graphic above— is smaller than many think, spanning only 1,654 acres and surrounded by major highways — located south of Interstate 45, east of Hwy. 288 north of Southmore Boulevard, and west of Spur 5.

Many Houstonians prefer to live inside the I-610 Loop because of the proximity to popular attractions, venues, and, of course, jobs, driving up rent prices in the hottest areas. The Third Ward is inside that loop.

The largest age group in the Greater Third Ward is 18-64 years old, and that group grew 12 percent between 2000 and 2015. That group encompasses the median age for first-time home buyers, 35, according to the Texas Association of Realtors.

Rising home prices

Gentrification is highly visible through the proximity from the brand-new townhomes to older traditional houses and a modern style of architecture.

Paired with gentrified homes lining the perimeter of the Third Ward, the minimalist and blocky design of the town homes can resemble a gate or barrier.

The parts of the Third Ward that aren’t lined with gentrified housing are lined by highways. A technique that has been used to segregate impoverished neighborhoods from affluent ones since the increased use of highways in the 1960s.

The implementation of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 made the 41,000-mile interstate network possible. Racial factors came into play when the states went to build these highways, explaining why the Third Ward neighborhood is surrounded by interstates.

Chair of the Housing Advocacy of the NAACP, Belinda Everette, has launched initiatives to try to combat gentrification through community education, retention and investment.

“You cannot find affordable housing in Third Ward; it doesn’t exist,” Everette said. “If you wanted to buy a house at the price point of ($125,000 to $175,000), the only thing you’re going to get is raw land.”

According to the Homes and Rentals website for Houston, there are two listings for raw land in the Third Ward: one for $87,000 and another for $99,000 dollars, both on Elgin Street.

Upon buying the land, you would then have to spend another one to two hundred thousand dollars to develop it.

Generational displacement

Historically, cities with black mayors contained a high population of black residents. The New York Times reported that Washington D.C. and Chicago mayors Marion Barry in 1979 and Harold Washington in 1983, respectively, both oversaw high black populations during their time as mayor.

At the time in Chicago, the black population was 40 percent. It has now decreased to 29 percent.

When Barry died in 2014, D.C. had lost its title as the “Chocolate City.” In fact, it’s becoming “more vanilla,” according to an NPR report in 2011, decreasing from a peak of 71 percent in 1970 to 53 percent in 2009.

Now, D.C. has a black population of 46 percent, according to the 2016 Census, and the main cause is the growing price of housing.

In the last 20 years, Houston has had two black mayors: Lee Brown from 1998 to 2004 and current mayor Sylvester Turner. According to the city’s website, the black population dropped 12 percent from 79 to 67 percent between 2000 and 2015.

Even with a black mayor, the black population in the Third Ward has declined, and there has been no reported growth since Turner took office.

Houston has little room for it to be anywhere near a “chocolate city” because of the high diversity and multi-ethnic population, but the black population has also declined in its historically black neighborhoods like the Third Ward. A primary reason is the same as what’s happening in D.C. — housing prices are on the rise.

Everette has seen gentrification once before in her hometown of Chicago.

“It starts politically, in city planning,” Everette said. “In Chicago, the entire lakefront on the South Side of Chicago in the ’50s and ’60s were dedicated to public housing.”

Lakefront housing in Chicago was made for the poor. Now, it has become deluxe housing for the wealthy, forcing the area’s original tenants out with increased prices. A similar problem is becoming apparent the Third Ward.

The Third Ward neighborhood is now seeing displacement due to rising property taxes. When modern high rises are placed next to quaint older homes, it raises the property tax on all the property near the new construction. The lower income residents who were there first are often left with no choice but to move because they can no longer afford their property taxes.

The displacement of these lower income residents frees up more space for the older homes to be demolished, meaning more space for costlier high rises.

Eventually, this practice changes the face of the community and leads to complete gentrification.

Everette considers community involvement and improvement means to prevent further gentrification.

“If there is a true definition of good gentrification it would have to involve the community and the municipality or the county,” Everette said. “There [needs to be] collaboration.”  

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