Monday, April 2, 2012

Gentrification and Wedgewood Houston

Ooooh that word. Gentrification. Can you feel the tension in the air?

I'm just wrapping up a research project for school in which I had to pick a social issue in my area of interest. I decided that I wanted to learn more about gentrifying neighborhoods and ways that communities can achieve revitalization while avoiding some of the negative effects that gentrification can have on low-income households.

I am fully aware of my status as a "gentrifier". That is, I bought my house at a relatively low price from a seemingly low-income individual, fixed it up, and I will likely sell it at some point for a profit.*

So is Wedgewood Houston going under gentrification? I'd say yes and no. The neighborhood has certainly not reached the point that nearby 12South has been experiencing, which is documented in this incredibly relevant City Paper article that came out last night. However a quick search on Zillow shows me that there is currently not a single house on the market in this neighborhood available for under $120,000. Increasingly, new and renovated houses in WeHo are selling in the $250,000 range. 

Excuse the quality. Photo taken at drive-by range
on my way to the office this morning.
Houses like the one on the right. It's pretty cute and also has new houses of a similar style on either side of it. I'm grateful that this developer did not opt for a McMansion style duplex with a shared driveway. These homes were also built on empty lots, so no one had to be displaced in order to put them there. But reflecting back to about five years ago, where as a young 20-something who wanted to buy a home in the city but couldn't afford anything over $100,000, those prices on Zillow have me cringing a little.

That said, we are still a majority rental home neighborhood (I've heard we are 30% homeowner, 70% rental, but I'm not sure how to confirm those stats) and I'm glad that we are such a diverse neighborhood. That is, a pretty decent mix of low-to-moderate income folks with a few higher income folks sprinkled in. But since developers have started realizing that this is a desirable location for people to live who can afford that kind of house on the right, it's the renters, like Russell O'Brien in the City Paper article, who usually are the most vulnerable to losing their homes.

Not that I'm scared that they are going to start tearing down every little brick duplex in the area to build $800,000 mammoths anytime soon. But in doing the research for my project, I learned that neighborhoods who start addressing the issue of gentrification early on are usually the most successful in navigating through it and lessening some of the unfortunate side effects. This typically involves a lot of communication, education and collaboration between residents, community organizations and local governments.

Don't get me wrong. I want the value of my home and my property to appreciate. I want a lot of the things that usually come with gentrification, like new sidewalks throughout the neighborhood, or coffee shops and restaurants and a new park within walking distance. But I think it can be done without burdening sweet old Ms. Bennett who lives across the street, or the family on Humphreys street who has rented their townhome for more than 20 years.

More on specifics later, but with the Master Plan for the redevelopment of the fairgrounds area coming out in just a few weeks (fingers crossed), I think this is a really good time to start the conversation. How do we achieve revitalization without displacing people from their homes? How do we keep affordable housing options available for the next 20-something looking to buy her first house in the city for a reasonable price?

*It should be noted that we would not have been able to do a lot of the improvements on our home without the help of family. For instance, rather than have a big, extravagant wedding, we opted to take my parents' offer on a smaller, more practical wedding with new windows and vinyl siding as our wedding gift.


  1. Great topic. For me, it’s heartening to see any little sign that people are willing to invest in our neighborhood. There are some great renters and even landlords, but the rental rate is currently too high to allow for positive change in the overall housing stock. Even the best landlord is not going to invest in home improvements (e.g. additions, landscaping, etc.) that don’t generate a positive return. When you don’t live in the house you own, the incentive just isn’t there no matter where the house is located. What I would like to see is for home prices to reach the tipping point where they aren’t worth buying strictly for the sake of renting back out. I don’t think it would take much. An improved or developed Fairgrounds would help, no doubt about it.

    I appreciated the City Paper article on 12th South. I grew up in the 12th South / Belmont area in the 70’s and 80’s, and back then it had nowhere to go but up. For the first few years of gentrification I enjoyed watching the homes get restored and seeing couples with children move back in to the neighborhood after years of suburban flight. It’s no longer enjoyable, though, now that so many developers and owners alike have opted to demolish homes when allowed to and build enormous additions that dwarf the original houses. These “additions” are often well over 200% of the original house size, and in one case the addition (built by Tradition Homes) reaches all the way to the alley, leaving little yard. Last Fall concerned neighbors finally questioned the MHZC as to why they seemed to be giving a rubber-stamp approval to every plan presented to them, and they seemed to have no answer.

  2. "What I would like to see is for home prices to reach the tipping point where they aren’t worth buying strictly for the sake of renting back out."

    Or those skeevy "rent-to-own" deals. I admit I don't know a lot about them, but it sounds like someone trying to take advantage of someone who thinks they are getting a good deal.

    I actually read some stuff about supergentrification - where the moderate-income people who first gentrified a neighborhood start getting displaced by the super wealthy moving in. I think that is what is happening in 12th South now. One of my classmates who lives in 12th South was told by her landlord that she and her roommates need to move out soon, as the house is going to be demolished.

  3. This is definitely something I need to learn more about. Did you come across any reading you recommend while working on your project?

  4. Lots! If you'd like I can send you my paper and you can check out any references that interest you.

    And actually, our next community meeting is going to be on this very topic. Monday, the 16th at 6pm if you'd like to come.

  5. Cool, will see if I can make it - I usually can't make the 6:00 time. Would love to read your paper!

  6. South Nashville has certainly gone through its share of change over the last ten years. My first year at Belmon was not filled with trips down to 12 South, because there just wasn't much down there. These days its one of my favorites areas in town. Understandable the residential surrounding area is along for the ride. I hope to move back down there in the next few years from Franklin where I am now. It's a little too grown up for my taste.