Boston neighborhoods have been slowly but surely gentrifying over the past 15 years. Just this week, the city decided to take action to protect Dorchester’s Uphams Corner from the high tide of gentrification, with the collaboration of Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), by buying out properties before the private sector chases them to it and inflates their value.
Adding to its ownership of the Strand Theatre and a parking lot, the city bought the former Bank of America building on Columbia Road and the former Citizens Bank branch across the street. It isn’t clear yet how these properties will be used to fight gentrification in Uphams Corner, however, a Community Land Trust (CLT) run by DSNI bought the former Citizens Bank branch across the street for $1 million, under the condition that whatever goes there remains affordable. Typically, affordable housing rent is defined as that which does not exceed one-third of a household’s income.
CLTs are increasingly being used as a tool to combat or cap gentrification in cities. Although there are many different models for CLTs, nonprofit CLTs purchase housing units in dense areas using funding from pubic and private sources. The housing structures may then be sold, although ownership and stewardship of the property itself remains with the CLT; in effect, this keeps housing units affordable and caps property taxes.
Responding to residents’ requests in planning meetings to turn Uphams Corner into a destination for arts and culture, the sites owned by the city and DSNI should provide three to four acres where the city can build a local library, which is expected to cost $18 million. The residents also voiced their need for a neighborhood where commercial and residential rents are affordable. Although Uphams Corner is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the U.S., its almost 10,000 residents lag behind compared to Bostonian earnings and educational attainment averages.
Many residents and urban thinkers aren’t very optimistic that Uphams Corner can effectively fight gentrification. The municipality made similar efforts to combat gentrification in the primary commercial center of the Roxbury neighborhood, Roxbury’s Dudley Square, although it did not quite bear the expected results. The predominantly African-American neighborhood watched property prices soar so rapidly that the term “hyper-gentrification” was coined just to describe the phenomenon. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the median income for African-American families living in the Greater Roxbury area is $30,000. Shockingly, the bank reports that the median net worth of white households in Boston stands at $247,000, while the median net worth for African-American and Latino households is just $8 and $28.6, respectively.