Gentrification was Always the New Segregation
by Chris Stevenson
“They built those skyscrapers in Detroit-proper, and they’re coming back for them. They are not about to build that and then watch as you walk in and prosper from it.”- The Black Channel
How many of you remember “Chocolate City” by Parliament. It was and still is one of my favorite jams. Consider it officially moot. What major American cities have been going through over the past decade or so is an invasion by none other than the “vanilla suburbs.” My town of Buffalo, NY is among the latest to jump on the invasion bandwagon, and they are currently and quietly pushing the most vanilla-centric version of it that they can.
A report in the 11/6/13 “Business Insider” (BI) by Daniel Hartley shows Buffalo to be a work-in-progress toward gentrification, ranking then at 46 (tied with El Paso) in “Proportion of the city’s low price tracts that gentrified percent.” I added my own reversal of Hartley’s analysis by ranking his first category of the “Proportion of low-price census tracts in the city (those with below-median MSA home value) percent,” i.e. must gentrify. Of the 55 cities listed Buffalo ranks high at no.7 with 78 (behind Baltimore 95, Detroit 94, St. Louis 84, Oakland 83, Milwaukee 83, and Philadelphia 81). This study ranged from 2000-2007.
Lets be clear, there are different brands of gentrification for different cities with examples ranging from mild-to-worst in Baton Rouge, LA, 18,000 residents want to form a new city called St. George (70% white). Blacks there face cuts in education. Like Buffalo, Baton Rouge has a black mayor, in my last column on gentrification (The G-Word) we see how some black thinkers view it as ethnic cleansing. Does this make the whole medical corridor project starting with UB 2020 a white separatist movement? Try asking Veronica Hemphill-Nicholes, Taniqua Simmons, or any number of female activist that are informing Fruitbelt residents about the machinations of Buffalo developers. Ask John Washington, one of the few young brothers putting himself out there and he’s not even a Fruitbelt resident. Most of Buffalo’s leading black male activists work for Mayor Byron Brown, this is part of the reason black leaders in Buffalo have felt guilty about having an advantage. The deceptive pride about Chocolate City the song is, as black populations were growing in major cities like DC, Detroit, Newark, Philly and here, we viewed the growth itself as progress or a sign of progress. Soon most of the large industrial companies were leaving or closing down. This left many in the black communities economically hanging, those who didn’t get government jobs had to settle for part-time work, unemployment, or worse. We were forced to wait for the next big thing to come along, not really suspecting the next big thing would be high-crime sparked by a surge in illegal narcotics, resulting in a virtual police state.
None of this came about without careful planning.
What we were being informed of months ago by activists is the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation (BENLIC). The feeling was it’s more or less a secret society that somehow has figured out a way to supersede the Fruitbelt moratorium on developers purchasing vacant homes and lots. This results in a strategic lowering of property values through a refusal of doing appraisals.
Fruitbelt Sinkholes– cs
When it comes to progress blacks often are the only ones paying the price. Back in April of 2013 someone noticed an indent in the middle of a Fruitbelt (High Street) street that eventually became a hole. The news may or may not have covered it, I don’t recall, but I took some photos. The Water Authority blamed the landlord of the house it was infront of; Ms. Lydia Jones. She says she called Councilman Darius Pridgen’s office. Jones said city workers said the sinkhole was not her fault “and don’t let them tell you it is” was their response when she asked them about it. Jones also disclosed that at the time they were making two families move due to the sinkhole (it’s a 2-family home). Her tenants weren’t getting water. “The pipes were damaged from the street to my house according to the plumber.” The house is considered to have been damaged from the actual construction. This is just one example of the issues regarding poor conditions regarding many of the homes in that community. Jones is black, many of the landlords are white and simply don’t feel the urgency to make or pay for repairs when it comes to black tenants. This is how the American ghettos were created in the first place, landlord negligence. With the concurrent factor of oncoming gentrification due to the expansion of the medical corridor, the highly-anticipated white Fruitbelt majority obviously don’t expect any denial of services.
Ms. Jones says she got no response from Mayor Brown or Councilman Pridgen. Since then legal issues involving her son have arose preventing her from pursuing her Fruitbelt property issue further. Other parts of the Eastside fair even worse than the Fruitbelt if you just look at them. Yet there are plans to renovate the long-deserted Central Terminal just a few miles south of downtown on Memorial Drive. According to a 5/25/2016 Buffalo Rising the project has big plans, “offices, residential, shops, event space, restaurants and a museum and gift shop. At adjacent City-owned 59 Memorial Drive, Stinson is planning market-rate townhouses,” i.e. more gentrification.
Speaking of Memorial Drive I have to mention former BPD officer Cariol Horne since her incident in saving a black man from being choked by a then-fellow officer in late-2006, she has emerged as a nationally-known human rights activist, and it hasn’t been without cost. I already described in previous columns how she was blocked from receiving her pension after her judicial hearing back in 2008. Just over ten years later she was among seven arrested during a sit-in in the middle of a downtown street in Buffalo, several days later she notified me with shocking news that her younger sister Ronda Holloman-who lived on a street not far from the terminal-had died in an unrelated tragedy; an apparent suicide due to depression shortly after the murder of her boyfriend Sasheen Sheppard.
One look at Ronda’s surrounding blocks will immediately reveal to you how dismal and dreary conditions are around there. Vacant lots abound. It’s been that way for a reason, “Architectural Jewels” embedded deep within the hood simply don’t carry the urgency for improvement. Central has been closed since 1979. If you normally suffer from depression don’t move to Lombard Street. Instead contact the councilman of that district David A, Franczyk: (716) 851-4138 or Fax: (716) 851-4869. Dave may not be pulling the trigger, but he’s certainly one of those doing the killing, along with current Mayor Byron Brown. Brown recently made a statement that makes him look pretty delusional at best about Buffalo’s largest black-populated area; “the East Side community has gotten its fair share of city resources.” In all fairness he was referencing wishful thinking for the future, there is a Northland Corridor Project and a Jefferson Ave., Project, both worth $50 million each. But they are projects in the works, working seemingly concurrently faster is the the gentrification project. Getting back to the Fruitbelt situation one local woman described it in a Facebook post recently:
“I watched as the City harass people in the Fruit Belt with fines, hauled them into housing court, eventually bullying them into abandoning or signing away ownership of their homes. Some were coerced into paying for the demolition of their homes, because the terms to tear down their homes was lower than paying the fines. Some people paid as little as $25.00 dollars per month, on a $7,000-dollar contract to have their homes demolished.”
Having covered Fruitbelt developer shenanigans a few years ago this doesn’t surprise me, it’s almost as distressing as the Mayor and other black elected officials willingness to go along with it. What Byron is passing off as the savior of urban Buffalo only begins to cover any ground, “they reportedly have no plans to renew beyond Humboldt. And there are no plans past Jefferson until they move all of us out. This development is for students and people working at the hospital,” a local business consultant recently disclosed to me. This is all a part of a game of economic stall until the blacks move or are moved out. All the money earmarked on paper to get to the black community will be directed toward Main Street, not the traditionally black streets like Fillmore, Jefferson, William, Utica, etc. It’s a Trump world so expect these people to become even more bold with their greed, all the local little Trumps are trying to have it all their way. Buffalo needs a REAL outsider.
Chris Stevenson is author of “The MAO Syndrome: A Timeline of Newspaper columns Tracking Hate, Fear, Loathing, Obstinacy, and Stubbornness of many on the right & some on the left who are simply Mad At Obama.” He is also a regular columnist for blackcommentator, and a contributor to the Hampton Institute, his own blog www.thebuffalobullet.com, and a syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter, and Facebook. Watch his video interviews for Griot Nation (GNN). Follow his Blogtalkradio interviews on 36OOseconds. Respond to him by email; firstname.lastname@example.org