These Historically Black Neighborhoods Are Now Out of Reach for the Average Black Family
While food, clothing and shelter may be the most basic human needs, mere survival also means having the ability to purchase them.
The cost of living: The amount of money the average black family has to cover its needs is not very high. According a 2013 U.S. Census report, the average black family earned $34,958 versus the average for all races of $51,939. For the average black family living in cities, this distinction means rent prices are simply too high, as the cost of renting nationwide is rising.
"White flight" became the standard of the mid-1900s, as white families left major cities for the suburbs, leaving behind people of color, urban blight and mass disrepair. Banks also resorted to redlining: refusing to lend money to people in cities to start businesses or buy property. Decades later, as young people especially flock to cities in record numbers, they're bringing jobs and economic opportunities with them, but many areas are now financially out of reach for those who lived there before the influx of money and services.
This is called gentrification. British sociologist Ruth Glass, who first wrote about gentrification in her 1964 book, London: Aspects of Change, wrote that gentrification is rooted in class privilege. Where an area may have been reserved as a last opportunity for people with nowhere else to go, those going into the neighborhood could elect to live there — and have the means to leave.
How much does a black family need to spend to keep living in an area that was historically unwanted but is presently thriving? According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, "families who pay more than 30% of their income for housing are considered cost burdened." Based on the average income for black families, that makes anything more than $873.95 per month a potential burden.
Can an average-earning black family afford a two-bedroom apartment in some of the United States' historically black, urban neighborhoods?
Central District, Seattle
Seattle's Central District was home to a nearly 80% black population in the 1970s and 1980s, as landlords wouldn't rent to black people, Asians or Jews in most pockets of the city. Now, according the Seattle Times, residents flock to the area because of its proximity to their offices during the day, and to bars at night. However, new residents find the area expensive; one young woman told the Times she calls one of her two monthly paychecks a "rent check" because half her monthly income goes to rent.
After the Times ran that article, Rosalie Johnson contacted the paper to tell them about when she moved to Seattle's Central District in 1956. "We didn't have a choice," she told the Times. "The banks wouldn't lend you a penny."
According to Rent Jungle, the average apartment in Central District runs about $1,811, though this metric includes apartments of all bedroom sizes.
At $2,200/month, this apartment eats up 76% of an average black family's income. If the family earned $88,000 per year, the apartment would be affordable.
At $2,307/month, this apartment eats up 79% of an average black family's income. If a family earned $88,000 each year, the apartment would be affordable.
Harlem, New York
Harlem may be most well known worldwide as a center of black culture. The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s was a cultural, social and artistic movement that influenced black culture for decades to come. Harlem has been home to some of the most notable figures in American culture, like W.E.B. DuBois, Louie Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Zora Neale Hurston. Many are wondering, however, what will happen when Harlem becomes white.
According to real estate brokerage MNS's Manhattan Rental Market Report, rents in Harlem have increased 17.9% since July 2014, and the average two-bedroom clocks in at $2,693.
This Harlem apartment would mean the average black family would hand over 79% of their income for a place to live. To take a bite out of the Big Apple in this apartment, a family would need to earn $92,000 a year.
This apartment would ask residents to fork over 77% of their income for a place to sleep. A family looking to occupy this apartment would need to earn $90,000 a year to live here.
U Street Corridor, Washington, D.C.
Prior to the 1920s, the U Street Corridor was the nation's largest urban African-American community. Known as "Black Broadway," it was the childhood home of Duke Ellington. As of July 2013, the Washington Post reported that the area had more than 1,200 condos and 100,000 square feet of retail either built or waiting to sell in the nine months prior alone.
Kai Reynolds, a resident of nearby Logan Circle just a decade prior, told the Post, "If you lived there in 2000, 2001, intuitively you knew things were moving in a certain direction," Reynolds, 43, said. "But I never would have guessed there would be 50 restaurants, and that you couldn't get into one on a Tuesday night."
These days, according to Rent Jungle, the average rent in U Street Corridor runs about $2,620.
If a black family wanted to lay their heads down here, it would take about 79% of their monthly income. A family looking to move to U Street would have to bring in $92,080 a year to make it a reality.
This isn't even in the ballpark for black families of average incomes. This is 110% of a black family's monthly income: $128,000 a year.
Bywater, New Orleans
After Hurricane Katrina, many thought New Orleans wouldn't be able to bounce back. A decade later, some consider the city "a crowning example of resilience in the face of disaster and a reminder of how decades of broken schools, corruption and inequality crippled the Big Easy," according to Bloomberg Business. But not everything is perfect. Compared to the New Orleans that Katrina destroyed, the New Orleans of today has more prosperity, unless you're a person of color. According to the Data Center, white households in New Orleans earn a median income on par with nationwide figures, while black household income is 20% lower than the nationwide average.
The Bywater is often referred to as the Upper Ninth Ward. Combining the amount of open housing in Bywater, the economic downturn in 2008 and its proximity to popular neighborhoods like Marigny and the French Quarter, it's a perfect storm for gentrification. The percentage of black residents in the area dropped by 50% during the 2000s while the white population grew by 20%, according to the Times-Picayune.
According to Rent Jungle, the average rent in the Bywater is $1,461, though that includes apartments of all sizes.
This apartment for rent in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood requires 86% of the average black family's income. Want to live here? If you earn a flat $100,000 a year, then it's considered affordable.
Bayview-Hunter's Point, San Francisco
Originally the hub of shipbuilding and naval activity in San Francisco, Bayview-Hunter's Point became extremely poor and marred by pollution, bad housing, poor infrastructure and limited employment opportunities. In a 1963 documentary, James Baldwin called the neighborhood "the San Francisco America pretends does not exist."
Bayview is 33.7% black and houses 21.5% of San Francisco's black population, according to U.S. Census figures.
In July 2014, the San Francisco Business Times reported that home prices in the area had increased by 59% in only two years. One Bayview resident told the Times he did not anticipate the neighborhood's change to be so rapid. "Two years in, it's like day and night," he said.
According to Rent Jungle, the average rent in Bayview is $3,038 a month, though that includes apartments of all sizes.
For a black family to move to this historically black neighborhood, they'd have to at least double their income. This West Oakland property currently costs 117% of a black family's monthly income: Living in this abode will set a family back $136,000 a year.
If you want to move into this house on the average black family's income, expect to hand over 117% of your monthly income, as well. You'll need $135,000 a year to move here.
Point Breeze, Philadelphia
In South Philadelphia, the neighborhood of Point Breeze has long held a "no-frills working class neighborhood" reputation, according to the Philly History Blog. After a string of discrimination-related race riots in the 1960s, white business and white families fled to the suburbs, leaving an economically devastated area behind.
Residents welcomed many of the benefits of redevelopment in an article for Philly.com, but there's still a fear of people being pushed out of their homes due to rising housing costs. Gentrification is not happening as rapidly in this area as it has in other cities, but the percentage of black residents has declined by 4%, while the white population has increased by 3%, according to U.S. Census data cited by Philadelphia news site Billy Penn.
As of May 2015, Rent Jungle estimates Point Breeze's two-bedroom rentals go for an average of $1,483.
At $1,500, an average black family should expect to part ways with 51% of their monthly income for this apartment. For families earning $60,000 a year, this apartment shouldn't be a problem.
With this rowhouse coming in at $1200, 41% of a black family's monthly income will go toward rent. A family needs to bring in $48,000 a year to live here.
Greater Third Ward, Houston
The center of Houston's black community is in Houston's Third Ward, which holds Trinity United Methodist Church, the city's oldest black church congregation. It began in 1848. While the neighborhood was historically mixed black and white (though the populations were geographically separated), after World War II, many white residents moved to the suburbs.
By the late 2000s, new developments sprang up throughout the Third Ward. Houstonia reported the area's recent revival has attracted new residents who want affordable apartments and proximity to Houston's downtown.
While urban renewal has brought 600,000 jobs to Houston, neighborhoods that are majority-minority have seen declines in job opportunities between 8.3% and 7%, according to the Houston Chronicle.
One of the more affordable options in the area, a black family wanting to live here would need to give up 33% of their income for this house: Making $38,000 a year is enough to afford it.
A black family looking to live here would have to shell out 46% of their monthly income for this two-bedroom townhouse. An annual income of $54,000 is enough to lock this house down.
Bedford-Stuyvestant, or Bed-Stuy, became a popular destination for black families during the Great Migration throughout the early to mid 1900s, in addition to its large Caribbean population. As of 2010, the area was 70% black, while the amount of white residents grew from 2.5% to 14%. In west Bed-Stuy, white residents make up more than 25% of the population, according to the New York Times.
Bed-Stuy has been the site of a lot of anti-gentrification tension in New York City. In June, signs saying "Show these developers WE OWN THIS HOOD" began popping up throughout the neighborhood, Brownstoner reported. In February 2014, Spike Lee went on a now-infamous anti-gentrification rant where he asked, "And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed-Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better?"
In its Brooklyn Rental Market Report from February 2015, real estate brokerage MNS reported that Bed-Stuy had an average two-bedroom rental price of $2,312.
A black family should expect to lose 79% of their monthly income to pay for this Bed-Stuy brownstone; $92,000 a year is all that stands between a family and this brownstone.
Central East Austin, Austin
The neighborhood of East Austin was established in the late 1920s to segregate its its black population. The area was already home to many of its black segregated schools, and it soon became a commercial and residential hub for black Texans. Over time, the area became an archetype of urban blight in the 1960s as integration happened in Austin.
These days, however, as more people flock to Austin, this area has become a hub for development. When asked about changing face of the area, Dr. Emily Skop of the University of Texas told KLRU, "The pressures of development and the tremendous amount of change that is going on in that part of the city, suggest to me that this is indeed what is going to happen." The city's black community decreased by 5.4% between 2000 and 2010, according to CNN. East Austin resident Exalton Delco told CNN, "now newcomers are getting exorbitant prices for the homes, and that drives up the cost."
Current listings in central East Austin showed no two bedrooms available, but there were some three bedrooms.
An Austin family looking to plant its roots in this house would lose 72% of their income to this house. If the family makes $84,000 a year, this house is a possibility.
Moving into this 3 bedroom will cost a black family 89% of every dollar they earn. Bring home $104,000 a year and this rent is no problem.
West Oakland, Oakland
West Oakland became predominantly black after dilapidated buildings were bulldozed and turned into housing projects in the early 1940s and 1950s. When the Cypress Freeway opened in 1957, it isolated the neighborhood from the rest of downtown Oakland. The city also became the home of Oakland's Black Panther movement throughout the late 1960s.
The freeway was destroyed in the earthquake of 1989, after which the area became much more open to development. Developers have put a much higher price tag on living in West Oakland, according to the East Bay Express. The development process is "transferring homes where people have lived a long time, raised families, been part of the community, to younger folks, mostly white," Maurice Weeks, campaign coordinator for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) told the Express.
Patty Flores, a real estate agent in West and East Oakland, told the Express a lot of the blight is being addressed, "but it's kind of pushing the poor or average buyer out of the loop."
This San Francisco house is within reach of a family making $136,000 a year, or 117% of the income of the average-earning black family.
Gentrification is a cycle. The black families moving into or within these neighborhoods haven't been there forever, but these neighborhoods became black because they often had no choice. They were forced into these spaces by structural racism and the desire to keep people of color away from economic opportunity.
Follow the money. Services and amenities are often reserved for those with money. Spike Lee ended his speech on gentrification by saying, "[W]hy did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why's there more police protection in Bed Stuy and Harlem now? Why's the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We've been here!"
Lee is expressing frustration with the treatment of poor minorities by the city as people who are unworthy of basic services, including sanitation, protection and education. For Lee, the right to live in a clean, safe neighborhood where children can receive a good education is more than an amenity, it's a need.