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Monday, June 30, 2008

Is gentrification inevitable in OTR?

So, is it? I tend to think that it is inevitable, but it does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. The word often comes with very negative connotations, especially when you throw race into the equation. This is exactly the issue in Over-the-Rhine, and it is also not a new one (see Buddy Gray).

Gentrification, by definition, is the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents. The key here is that gentrification often displaces poorer residents. An influx, of middle-class or affluent people, alone isn't a bad thing. It is what usually comes with it that is bad - the displacement of poorer residents.

NW View over OTR by Randy Simes

So far gentrification has been taking place in/around the Gateway Quarter, but displacement hasn't really occurred. Many of the buildings were vacant and there has been an effort, by 3CDC, to keep units at affordable levels. Some of the units have even been arranged to only accommodate individuals within certain income ranges.

As more and more new condos pop up and more new businesses arrive, the question seems only logical. How are we going to deal with the issue of gentrification in our city's most infamous neighborhood? It is something that will take work and courage from our leaders, and dedication from the developers to do what is right.

The gentrification of OTR doesn't have to be the divisive/negative aspect that it often is elsewhere. We know what we can do (inclusionary zoning techniques), and we know what we should do. The question really is whether the OTR power brokers will ultimately do the right thing and not displace those current residents just so they can fatten their wallets.


valereee said...

Fattening of wallets is a powerful motivation -- especially when the wallets are taking a risk in the first place by renovating a building in an area where not everyone wants to live and in a down real estate market. If you're a developer and you take that financial risk, you want to maximize the potential upside by selling each unit for as much as possible. You don't have much motivation to keep some of the units for lower-income folks -- especially if doing that is going to further limit the market for the rest of the units, as it inevitably will.

5chw4r7z said...

The poor are always going to have limited options and will never be the masters of their own destiny. But I agree that its going to be a long time if ever that OTR reaches a saturation point, theres going to be room for everyone for years yet.
I just wish someone would explain why its so important for poor people to be in OTR.

Randy Simes said...

I don't think it is a case of poor people having to be in OTR, but rather a case of reality that they are already there. If you push them out of OTR you will just push the poor people into another neighborhood.

I would say that OTR's problems aren't the poor residents that live is the illegal activity that occurs there - often times perpetuated by those living outside of the neighborhood.

Mixed-income neighborhoods do work, but regardless of the income level, if you have crime occuring then it is a bad situation. We need to solve the issue of crime and not necessarily just push out many of the current residents who happen to be poor.

Hawse said...


You are correct, developers will not just keep a unit low for any old reason. but, their are low income tax credits available that can fill in the "gap". Just because a unit is low income, does not mean that the developer cannot make a lot of money.

dave said...

I agree with you that we should keep our eyes on those possible negative effects of gentrification and try and mitigate them. My beef with that word lies in the fact that people use it and imply that it's a totally bad thing that we should stop, without specifying what negative effects they want to prevent.

This is where I wish we had more data. ( The SimCity player in me is stirring. ) If we could somehow prove that displacement was happening or not happening, then we'd have something solid to work on. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, there isn't really any way of tracking that kind of thing systematically. I think I've read somewhere that the vast majority of housing stock in OTR is vacant. One would think that this makes OTR like a sponge that can absorb a lot of middle- and upper-class people before poorer people start getting pushed out. But who knows?

Randy Simes said...

One way to track this is by looking at the buildings that are being renovated. It is known whether or not people were living there before (officially). If these were poor residents that are having their units replaced by market-rate units then you can say that displacement has occurred. Most likely there are not new low-income units being produced at the same rate as the rate that market-rate units are eliminating them.

Radarman said...

Look. 3CDC has bent over backwards to help out the poverty mafia with their sluggish efforts to make permanent subsidized housing available for winos. Displacement is a non-issue in this city.

Far more important as an issue is the reluctance of social service agencies to relocate to neighborhoods in need such as Fay Apartments or Springfield Township

Randy Simes said...

I don't think the residents of Price Hill would agree with your statement that displacement is a "non-issue" in this city.

3CDC has done a great job thus far and I expect them to continue to do so. With that said, there are going to be more players than the 3CDC affiliates in the very near future, I predict. It is those developers that need to be aware of the larger picture.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to disagree with the notion that 3CDC is all that accomodating and generous to various social service agencies in the area.

The prime reason the city created 3CDC was so that it could play hardball with the Drop Inn Center etc. in ways the city couldn't.

3CDC leaned hard on CPS to use eminent domain rather than negotiate with the Drop Inn Center and CPS refused to engage in the heavy handed tactics 3CDC wanted and preferred to try and come to an agreement.

There is a lot of empty housing that could be developed without directly replacing low income housing with middle and upper income housing. However, much of the federal funding for developing low income housing in the urban core has either been held up in city council or allotted to groups other than those it was to have gone to. City council (i.e. Bortz) plays politics/favorites with federal funds in order to manipulate housing in OTR.

Radarman said...

If gentrification were displacing the working poor or struggling families with young children, we would have a true problem. Tender Mercies seems to be doing a good job with administering the lives and meds of the mentally ill. The residents of OTR in actual danger of being displaced are, however, hard bitten drunks. And they are being displaced to the West End, thanks to City Link. And, to the shame of the soup ladlers, there is no organized sympathy for the West End.

Anonymous said...

Is gentrification inevitable in OTR? Perhaps, and I certainly think that with the recent increase in energy costs and renewed interest in Urban lifestyle that our city core is going to continue to strengthen more and more each year.
However, I definitely don't think we should be worried about the displacement of the poor in OTR. OTR is absolutely saturated with social service organizations, section 8 housing, homeless shelters, etc... I don't see how renovating abandoned historic buildings is going to displace any of those organizations. We will likely see an influx of more well to do citizens, but I think the poor are there to stay.

Anonymous said...

You may want to read a new university study released last week on the long held ideas about gentrification.

Turns out those ideas of pushing out the poor may be a myth and is good for a neighborhood like OTR for all the residents, high and low income alike.

See TIME magazine article on this at,8599,1818255,00.html?imw=Y

Anonymous said...

The article is interesting and it is nice to see a honest debate about the positive aspects of gentrification, here and elsewhere. In the context of OTR it is important to note that while 3CDC has kept there hands clean of any direct displacement there are still some questionable practices and potential indirect effects.

In this 2006 article it is pointed out that 3CDC has bought vacant buildings where evictions happened prior to the sale. This has the appearance of not displacing anyone, but is it? In addition, the current battle over the concentration of social services shows that certain groups are unwelcome. The reasons may be justified, but are desired actions just? This debate is happening here.

Also, a lack of affordable housing isn't the only thing that causes people to leave. Many may choose to leave because of a natural transition and because of increased choices, but others may also leave because the social and cultural capital and networks with which they came to rely on are no longer supported. This may not have happen as of yet, but as scholarly as the study mentioned above appears it shouldn't be taken as an indication that there all places are the same and that there are no negative effects.

Brianne said...

Historically weren't there 50,000+ people living in OTR at it's peak? It certainly hasn't shrunk in size, so it seems like there is room for everyone.

Also, what is the good of being in an ungentrified or pre-gentrified neighborhood? The goods and services aren't any less expensive, your surroundings are just less taken care of because the tax base is low. I might also argue that keeping a neighborhood from developing in order not to displace anyone is a good way to segregate and homogonize areas of town. Is that a good way for the city to operate?

Randy Simes said...

I don't see why the issue has to be so black/white. I'm all for new people and wealth moving into the neighborhood, but at the same time I don't want to see the current residents directly or indirectly pushed out of the place they call home.

I don't think that gentrification, by itself, displaces people. I think that the process tends to. It seems that when more and more wealth moves in that people either feel like they are being pushed out of their neighborhood, or they are directly being forced out through relocation of subsidized housing (not very common anymore).

But I agree, low-income residents don't have the disposable income to put back into their properties, open a small-business, etc. You need wealth to do those things, but you also need a diversified population base to support those things. It is really a balancing act...and when done correctly it pays off big time down the road.

5chw4r7z said...

Thanks Brianne,
That's basically what I was trying to say, I just didn't know how to say it.

Paul Wilham said...

Gentrification, is not a bad thing.If you define Gentrification as creating a safe neighborhood without prostitution, drugs and other illegal activity, it's a good thing. I am moving to Cincinnati this fall, we bought a Brownstone. Now for my neighbor the 20 grand he paid, is his "dream". For me, mine is a bargain that I will restore to a nice 200K Victorian. We both benefit if we can work together to get the drug dealers and prositutes out of the neighborhood. Ultimately, if and when, he decides to sell, he benefits without spending a dime. They are thrilled we are spending money and fixing the place next door up. "Urban Pioneers" and I know some of you dont like that word, understand that diversity makes a neighorhood great. Educating the people that have stood by their neighborhood to not fall prey to investors who may convince them that 25K for their house is a good deal is the key. Personally I have never had a problem running criminal elements out of a neighborhood and I find that many of the people who already live there are right behind me. The "gentrification" argument is most often used by criminals who cant conduct their "business" anymore and the slumlords who no longer have a source of income, and churches who are looking for "program grant monies". Yes there will be some who are displaced, it always happens but you can maintain diversity in a neighborhood, it just requires some work and communication. That, after all, is why we live in Urban neighborhoods , because we couldnt live in the burbs.

Anonymous said...

The entire notion of "gentrification" implies that people who do not own properties in an urban area have some legitimate interest in what the people who do own them do with them.

Poor folks are often priced out of neighborhoods that are rapidly being renovated in hot markets. Most of the time, however, the process is very slow. The thing is, nobody has any particular right to live in any particular area unless they are willing to buy there or pay the rents there.

If the poor cannot afford to pay increased rents, it seems to only illustrate why it sucks to be poor. The solution to that problem isn't to limit the influx of wealth into a neighborhood through the use of governmental force. Nor is it to use force to keep lots of poor in a given area. In fact, any effort to limit gentrification is a huge disservice to those who would seek to improve their economic status. It's not poor folks to create jobs and spend lots of money. It's not poor folks who will increase the property values for the poor folks who have managed to own a place.

Anonymous said...

i feel like getting "displaced" is really only a BAD thing when you have nowhere else to go. You know, like, the displacement Katrina caused.

But with this can't afford your apartment anymore, so you move to one you can. this happens to not "poor" people too.

once upon a time, i went to renew my lease for another year and the landlord said he was raising rent a hundred bucks. low and behold, i was displaced.

Anonymous said...

Over-the-Rhine is undoubtedly going through unprecedented times. I find the dynamic between 3CDC and community organizations like Over-the-Rhine Community Housing to be fascinating. These two organizations represent the two extremes in OTR housing: luxury condos and affordable rentals. They also account for a large majority of the housing stock in the area (OTRCH is owns the third most property in the area!).

Everyone who is interested in Over-the-Rhine should visit to make your voice heard! Contribute to an innovative public art project by describing (in ONLY three words!) your opinions and observations of the neighborhood. Spread the word!

Ian said...

"once upon a time, i went to renew my lease for another year and the landlord said he was raising rent a hundred bucks. low and behold, i was displaced."

That's a great point. People are displaced all the time, no matter what their income level, and nobody has an inalienable right to remain where they are if they don't own the property. I'm a renter myself, with no intention of buying property, but I don't claim any right to my place of residence. If my landlord wanted to raise my rent, that's his right, and it's not my place to tell him he can't do that. I'd just leave and find somewhere else, even if I love the place where I live.

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