It's Political: Building Up and Casting Out

People think gentrification is all about making things prettier and more beautiful, but it ain’t! People think it’s just about building up and creating revenue, but it ain’t! Such views are superficial and a great use of propaganda, because they make us believe no one gets hurt or suffers because of it! 

Gentrification is about intentionally casting out those who don’t “look right”. Those who don’t fit the mold are systematically and strategically forced out of the neighborhood. It’s about making people conform. It’s about closing “problematic” buildings and replacing them with “righteous” ones. It’s about jacking up the rent to unaffordable rates. It causes trauma, evictions, homelessness, and relocations. 

Unfortunately, all this is done in the name of progress and diversity. It’s often done by so-called richer Democrats or liberals, and backed by Republicans - they ironically find common ground in their quest to exclude those already marginalized. To fit in, people need to meet *their* standards of diversity, which excludes those who are poor, mentally ill and prisoners. It is extremely deceptive. It is very exclusive. It promotes its limited diversity by highlighting those who can serve as their mascots. Gentrification results in making neighborhoods whiter and richer. It causes those who don’t fit in or meet their standards to leave! 

Stewart School Lofts
Gentrification bullies and ostracizes the weak and poor through the use of money, power, committees, and influence. It is systematically and strategically cleansing a neighborhood of all who’ve been deemed as riff-raff. I see the pain, I feel the suffering, and that is why I’m venomously opposed to gentrification.

People may think I’m exaggerating, but the truth is there’s a reason this subject is crucial to me! I live in Uptown; a gentrifying neighborhood. For over 20 years I’ve worked and lived amongst those experiencing homelessness and work at Cornerstone Community Outreach, a homeless shelter. Throughout these years I’ve witnessed firsthand how much pain and trauma “building up and casting out” causes. Recently, under our latest alderman’s reign, I’ve seen the process go into high gear, causing even more sadness and distress to those who need the most assistance. This is why gentrification angers me and has become very political to me. 

Let’s get more specific. Here’s the harsh reality... 

Under our alderman’s watch and through the use of his office, well over a thousand low-income units have disappeared from our Ward. Buildings that housed poorer people have been gutted, refashioned and beautified. The refurbished apartments are often the same size, yet the monthly rent is jacked up 2 or 3 times the original cost. The restrictions to move in are harsh, unbendable, and extremely exclusive. As these buildings change hands, the new owners often get tax breaks (TIF, TOD, etc) through the alderman’s slick use of his propaganda, self-made committees and city hall. Many are tricked into believing these owners are providing subsidized housing in Uptown, but that little percentage they pay goes into a large bucket that is spread throughout the city. The result is, the reality is, through these divisive, strategic and intentional tactics, anyone below the poverty level is being forced to relocate out of their beloved neighborhood. 

Now to get even more specific with 3 quick stories; these are real-life situations that have resulted in people getting hurt...

First of all, let’s look at Uptown Tent City. The eventual eviction happened because people living in tents under the viaducts were viewed as eyesores! They were unjustly painted as predators, criminals, addicts, and lazy bums. The Pilot Project didn’t arise out of compassionate concern for people in need of housing, but because these tents were bringing down property values. Out of desperation to evict those deemed unworthy and unsightly, 2 promises were made; 75 Uptown Tent City residents were told they’d be housed within 4 months, *wherever* they wanted to live. These promises were taken very seriously, as they should be! But, when leaders make impossible promises, it’s often not them who have to absorb the angry blows and bring peace, it’s the outreach workers, housing specialists, and activists who are on the front lines and personally *know* the people. I was an outreach worker who constantly had to deal with an avalanche of emotional turmoil over these broken promises.  

Most people who lived under the viaducts wanted to stay in Uptown. Yet, the reality was, almost all of them had to move out of the neighborhood they call home. Well beyond the allotted time, many were scattered all over the city, because backgrounds, costs and general housing discrimination were all used to prevent them from staying in this gentrifying neighborhood. Slowly a void was left.

Yes! It’s true! Many in tents are now successfully housed elsewhere, and the tears I absorbed have turned into joyful embraces. The fear and rage that occupied them is now thankfulness. But let me make this abundantly clear, this success came primarily because of the troops on the front lines who wouldn’t let the authorities bully or forget the lofty promises they made. 

Uptown Tent City was eventually evicted (with a ridiculous amount of armed police) about a year ago so they could beautify bridges and make it impossible for people to sleep under them. Many were left behind, and remain homeless to this day. Some got housed, but are now sadly homeless again. Just this week I spent time consoling and assisting a very sick lady who was housed through the Pilot Project, but because she was given a limited subsidy, her time ran out and she’s sleeping in the park again. All the stories that rise out of this Tent City teach us of the exclusive and bullying nature of gentrification. It teaches us that Uptown is unwelcoming and too costly to those who don’t fit in! 

Secondly, let’s look at Stewart School. It was a diverse school, in a prime location, that educated many children from the neighborhood, who were homeless and resided in CCO. The Mayor (with Cappleman’s support) chose to close this school, along with about 50 more schools throughout the city that catered primarily to lower-income students. Stewart School lay abandoned for a while, and during this time another Tent City rose up in front of it, which was quickly evicted through force to build high-income apartments. In an effort to dig the knife into the wound deeper, the place is now cruelly called “Stewart School Lofts”. 

A school that educated our young people, is now a place where hardly any of her students can afford to live. Where this tent city was, is now a community garden which seems to be built in a way to prevent people from lying down or allowing kids to play. It’s fences, gates and security systems scream of fear and segregation. I know one elderly gentleman who used to be the janitor at the shuttered school, who ended up in a tent in the same location, and even though he’s dedicated so much time to this building, there’s now no way he could afford to live there or even wander the halls of this building again. This saddens me and shows me the exclusive and bullying nature of gentrification. It also teaches us how unwelcoming Uptown is becoming.

Thirdly, let’s look at the Wilson Men’s Hotel. This historic building is one of only 2 cubicle hotels left in the city, and it's now vanishing out of existence. This is a place that housed men at an extremely low cost for decades. All the tenants are being forced to leave, so the new owners can gut it, refashion it and jack up the prices. This is nothing new to Uptown. Recently, we’ve seen it happen to the Lawrence House, Hazelton, Norman, Chateau, Batchelor and many other properties that catered to poorer folks. The alderman and the developers have mastered the art of casting out the old and building up the new while charging exuberant prices for the same sized apartments. 

The Wilson Men's Hotel is located right next to CCO, so I'm very familiar with it and it’s tenants, who are mainly older guys who’d probably otherwise be homeless. There were well over a hundred guys who lived in it, yet today only a handful of men stubbornly remain in this building, awaiting their fate. Most of them have been scattered out of our Ward, a place they called home for many years. I want to highlight 2 of these men, who have both now left the building, only to end up being embraced by the cruel arms of homelessness. 

These fellas ain't young and they certainly aren't healthy either. One of them is in his 60s, while the other is in his mid-80s. One lived in the hotel for a few years, while the other was there for over a decade. One recently had major heart surgery and almost died in the ICU, while the other is legally blind and moves at a snail's pace. In their current states, there's absolutely no way they should be homeless, and such a move has put them both at risk. We're assisting them at CCO, trying in ensure their safety, health and find housing for them. The good news is, through our efforts, the man in his sixties is guaranteed to move into senior citizen housing within the month! We await and support the older man too, praying that he may also successfully move to a place suitable for him. 

The evictions of Uptown Tent City, Stewart School, and The Wilson Men's Hotel have affected me and people I love and care for. But they ain't done. These predatory developers are constantly circling us at CCO like hawks, seeking an opportunity to swoop in and gobble up their prey. We're seen as prime meat in the perfect location, and these "birds of prey" continually offer to buy us out - ready to build up and cast out. They'd love to eradicate us from existence.

Gentrification is not just zealous ventures of overeager capitalists, it is predatory, exploitatory, discriminatory, and leaves festering wounds. As a follower of Jesus, I believe it angers and saddens God when the powerful prey on the weak and vulnerable; just look at how God responded when Ahab and Jezebel lusted after Naboth’s vineyard. He wouldn’t give it to them, so the royal couple devised a wicked scheme and took it through using trickery, violence, power, and privilege. (1 Kings 21) It angered God so much, that He stepped into history and brought judgment upon Ahab’s family. 

Jesus made it abundantly clear, “as you’ve done it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you’ve done it to me.” We are family, we are community, we are connected, so those with power and privilege should be uplifting and giving to those without. Jesus tells us His Kingdom flips it all upside down. People must stand together with and for those without a voice. We should offer seats at our banquet tables to those who are normally forsaken and forgotten. He calls us to change the pattern, by bringing compassion and mercy. He calls us to bring love into this vindictive and predatory world. When we stand by our evicted and cast-out brothers and sisters, I believe we can flip the script and bring positive change and hope into our neighborhoods.





This post is part 4 of my "It's Political" series.
In part 1 I looked at my own journey and self-realization from working with those experiencing homelessness. It struck me how what shouldn't be political became political because acts of compassion and generosity are met with contempt and policy. Here's the link: It's Political: My Own Self Realization!
In part 2 I looked at how mass incarceration and the criminalization of the poor makes what shouldn't be political, political. Here's the link: It's Political: The Punishments Do Not Fit The Crimes!
In part 3 I looked at how favoritism and exclusion have been blatant and unforgiving in Uptown; how the poor are ignored and bullied. Yet they need to be seen and heard. Here's the link: It's Political: Deemed Unworthy and Unsightly!


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