A simple black and white flyer with hand-drawn raised fist and the words “FIGHT GENTRIFICATION” blanketing Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, proved to be the invitation to a tough conversation pitting longtime OTR residents facing displacement, against the very market forces driving the transformation of Cincinnati’s newest prosperity zone. It got personal, heated and very real, but the twisting rhetoric was often impossible to navigate.
The group behind the flyer, The People’s Coalition for Equality and Justice, intended to host a frank discussion with the long-term residents of OTR to strategize around the loss of affordable housing in the historically poor, African-American and Appalachian community that has called OTR home for many generations. At Buddy’s Place, the familiar narrative about the transformative miracle of urban renewal fades quickly in a room full of people whose tenancy in The Columbia building on 13th Street is coming to an end by order of the new owner, 3CDC. Most of these tenants are low income and working with housing subsidies. Where do they go? What is the future and how will they fare in the diaspora, which is the newly gentrified Over-the-Rhine.
It’s hard to hate pretty. Washington Park is twinkly-chic. Music Hall and the Italianate row houses ringing the park, will only look prettier once The Drop Inn Center becomes disappeared from its corner of 12th and Elm. In a double-loaded coup, 3CDC has managed to pry both the Drop Inn Center and City Gospel Social Services away from the resident homeless and poor whom they feed and shelter in the shadowy evenings after the tourists leave the bars, restaurants and pay-to-play parties in the park. Exuberantly coiffed and beard-tended hipsters prowl the park with indifference to the long-term residents who enjoyed the un-pretty park and its sheltering trees for generations of family celebrations; the schooling of their children; and plunges into the last of the deep-water public pools of the old inner city. The park now belongs to 3CDC, which burrowed “unter den bäumen” for parking profits. Privatization of public assets, complete!
The juggernaut of gentrification now has a notable success model, so we can expect to see its spawn infecting all our near-tier urban neighborhoods. Fairview Heights/Coryville — done. Northside — done. Avondale, Walnut Hills… One thing is certain here and nation-wide: affordable housing for low-income citizens is disappearing faster than new affordable housing can be built. Even when these paltry far-flung housing starts get approved, the hue and cry of “Not In My Back Yard ” pits older neighbors against the neediest of the new neighbors, even when both sides share the same heritage and economic strata.
Who owns Cincinnati and who has a right to the city? Whatever the answer, this is the moral truth: affordable housing is a human right. Look it up: Article 25, Of The Universal Declaration Of Human Rights:
“(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
The Right To The City Alliance website paints the following scenario:
“In the U.S., housing and land have become commodities that corporations, banks, and private equity firms invest in, in their pursuit of profit. The government has steadily abandoned its role in providing affordable housing, instead supporting the private sector in assuming the role of housing provider. Meanwhile the government is cutting funding to housing production, maintenance and direct subsidies to poor and working class families. As a direct result, housing is no longer affordable or stable for a large sector of the U.S. population. Twenty million renters pay more than 30 percent of their income towards housing, over 10 million of which pay more than half their income to rent. More than 13 million homeowners remain underwater owing more than their homes are worth.”
“Due to decades of federal disinvestment from subsidized housing, deregulation, and unbridled private sector control of the housing market, there is an increasingly dire shortage of affordable rental homes. A recent report showed that the number of extremely low-income renters increased to12.1 million households between 2007 and 2011, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. The number of affordable rental units, meanwhile, decreased over the same period. Due to gentrification, foreclosure, rent increases, low-wages and unemployment, and unexpected health costs, low-income families and individuals are facing increased displacement. A growing number are unable to stay in one home and community over the long-term. Many families are forced to double and triple up, live in their cars or on the street, or enter the shelter system and look for other types of transitional housing. Currently, over 3 million people are homeless – half of whom are children.”
In Cincinnati, this poor place, this racist and right-leaning bastion of civil rights take-backs and voter disenfranchisement, with a poor workscape of minimum wage starvation, our group is joining the ranks with 50 racial, economic and environmental justice organizations across 17 cities, and 13 states, to demand policies that strengthen the bonds we build with each other in our communities. These bonds help us to survive in the face of resource scarcity, economic hardship, environmental degradation, and political marginalization. To this end, we call for an end to speculation-driven development in our cities that produces housing our communities can’t afford. We assert our right to stay in the communities we have built and refuse to be displaced!
By Kate Gallion