Following Jesus Meets Gentrification

As I'm thrown into this whole new world, what I struggle 
with most is the concept of gentrification.

Gentrification (according to Dictionary.com) is “the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, thus improving property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses.” In simpler terms, when a more affluent person moves into a house in a neighborhood like Church Hill, the rent in all of the surrounding houses automatically goes up. 

The dictionary definition leaves race out of the equation. While income inequality is significant in the gentrification of the neighborhood, race also has a huge impact. If a white person moves into a black neighborhood, even if they are the same income as their neighbors, the rent can still go up. Also, most of the middle and upper class people who move in are white, while most of the families who are displaced due to a rise in rent prices are black.

 

Gentrification is a huge issue here in Church Hill. I’m entering at a period when a lot of gentrification has already occurred. The CHAT community, while it does so much good, is full of middle class white people who have moved into this lower-income black neighborhood. The intentions and the work that’s done are SO good, but just by being here, CHAT workers have to accept that they are literally part of the problem. The question that seems unanswerable is this: 

 

How do you follow the words of Jesus, to love your neighbor, when it seems getting nearer to your neighbor can hurt them in the first place?

How do you serve them when just your presence in their community is a threat to them (financially… culturally too, though that’s a whole different ball game)? I don't know! 

I’m not convinced there is a clear answer. But I have some thoughts.

 

As I’ve been thinking through this crazy, messy concept (and actually seeing it play out in conversations I have with

people and things I see in the neighborhood), I’ve been wondering how God is working gentrification for good. I have two theories:

  1. Gentrification reminds us that we live in a broken world with broken systems. 
    While we also know God is bigger than them and His commandments don’t always play by the world’s rules.
  2. Gentrification keeps us white people humble. 
    The biases that are ingrained into our sinful nature (and that we often slip into without realizing) and our inherent privilege are hard to forget when the very houses we live in are a reminder. 

Gentrification is also a safeguard
against a savior complex. 

We cannot enter these neighborhoods thinking we’re going to save people from their poverty. A big theme among the interns this week has been the difference between helping and serving.  Helping, in our terminology, implies that you are better than someone, and that you are reaching down to help pull them up to where you are, which is automatically better. Serving is remaining humble, walking alongside people and caring for them, and recognizing that they have things to teach you as well; that they are children of God with needs, but so are we. Being a part of the problem just by living here is a great (albeit harsh) reminder of the fact that we are not here to help anybody, but that by being in communion with them, we can serve each other well and in the Lord.

Thanks for reading my rant. I know it’s a lot and it doesn’t make too much sense, but I think that’s just because it’s a huge and complicated topic! I’m excited, but also daunted, to learn and experience more about gentrification, though I’m not sure what that might look like.