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Do we dare call it Gentrification? The Wealthy – Jefferson Development Project

May 30, 2012

Editor’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I live on the 400 block of LaGrave, in the exact area where the Wealthy – Jefferson Project is taking place. A neighborhood I have lived in for 28 years.

Last week there was news coverage of the Inner City Christian Federation’s (ICCF) Wealthy – Jefferson Project, now known as Tapestry Square.

The story in MiBiz is indicative of the type of coverage this project has been receiving ever since ICCF took over the project a few years ago. The article states early on that this project began as early as 1991. This is true, in that ICCF built several houses along Jefferson Ave, just north of Franklin Street.

However, the article also states that interest in the 400 blocks of LaGrave, Sheldon and Division began in 2000, when ICCF held a 3-day neighborhood planning meeting. This is simply not true. Our neighborhood group at the time, the Forgotten Corner Neighborhood, held a day-long planning meeting in 1998. This first neighborhood planning meeting was in response to the expansion of St. Mary’s and Mary Free Bed, both of which were buying property south of Wealthy for parking space.

At the time, the office of ICCF was located on the corner of Logan and Jefferson and our neighborhood group invited them to participate in the planning meeting. The meeting not only brought neighbors and area business owners together, it was the first time that the hospitals had heard from most of the area residents that they did not want to be displaced. People expressed concerns that various sectors had developed long-term plans that area residents were not made aware of until after construction had begun.

ICCF did facilitate two separate neighborhood planning sessions in 2000 and 2002, which led to what they called the Wealthy – Jefferson Development Initiative. The result of those meetings can be seen online and if you look closely there is a significantly different blueprint than what is currently playing out.

After the 2002 meetings those of us who participated were told that ICCF did not have the funding to proceed with the project and it was put on the back burner. Years later, the Grand Rapids Press ran a story based on an interview with the Executive Director of ICCF, Jonathan Bradford. For the first time, the neighborhood was now hearing a different story about what was planned for the Wealthy/Division area.

ICCF had bought up all the vacant land in the 400 & 500 blocks of LaGrave, Sheldon and Division and then began approaching landlords and homeowners in the area. By the end of 2010, the remaining houses on the 400 block of Sheldon had been bought by ICCF, with apartment dwellers having to vacate and home owners selling their property.

In the 2002 Wealthy – Jefferson Development Initiative, it states, “All current home owners will be able to continue to enjoy their homes, including some form of protection against tax increases that could threaten their ownership in the future.The residents, who participated in the 2000 and 2002 planning sessions, were also assured that they would not have to leave and that new development would be built around existing property. Clearly, ICCF had other plans.

The last family to hold out on the 400 block of Sheldon was the Williams family, which had lived in their house for more than 4 decades. Mrs. Williams had told this writer the year before that she did not want to sell and that she liked living so close to where she worked (St. Mary’s). However, after all the other land around them had been bought it became nearly impossible for the Williams family to stay.

Just to be clear, all during this process, residents had expressed concerns about being forced out of the area and they were assured this would not happen. People who attended those meetings in 2000 and 2002 were not opposed to new housing and new retail. In fact, the residents welcomed the possibility of having a grocery store they could walk to and more homeowners to combat the history of drug use and sex trafficking in the area. However, there was no solid justification for tearing down houses that could have be rehabilitated nor any real justification for cutting down all of the trees on that block, some of which were healthy, mature trees.

The real issue here is not specifically any new development, but the way in which the current plans came about. Residents in this area have not been informed about new plans until after the fact. A recent example of this was the announcement of the GR University Preparatory Academy being built on the southeast corner of Division and Logan. Despite being a resident of this neighborhood, I was not told of this project until it appeared in the news media. On top of that, when I met with ICCF last year on the development project, I was told that the 500 block of Sheldon (where part of the school building & parking will be located) was going to be developed by ICCF for future housing. Again, a decision was made without neighbors being made aware.

It should also be noted that all of the residents, which vacated housing in the area now known as Tapestry Square, were either African American or Latino and all of them were working-class with limited income. Now, I have no way of knowing exactly who will be living in the new apartments that are being developed along Wealthy, located above retail space, but I would suspect that those future residents will not be working class people or minorities.

The promotional literature for the apartment spaces under construction state that 1 bedroom apartments will run for $895.00 a month or $1,095.00 a month for a 2 bedroom apartment. To some this might seem rather affordable, but it is significantly higher in cost than the rent paid by people who used to live on the 400 block of Sheldon.

Even the images used on the promotional literature provides us with an indication of who the target audience will be for the first stage of this development project. Notice the large flat screen TV and the movie that is playing.

In the MiBiz article, a spokesperson from Rockford Construction (the company contracted for the project) states, “This is a very upscale building. It is meant to have a very urban and edgy feel to it.” Edgy indeed, but this edgy and urban feel could very well be the new way of identifying gentrification, especially when longtime residents have been excluded from the process or forced to abandon their property.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2012 5:43 pm

    I had been wondering what was happening here and why all of the houses were being demolished. I think that some of the demolition was really a loss. I didn’t realize that residents were also being displaced. Thank you Jeff.

  2. May 30, 2012 5:46 pm

    Chris, yeah, what I have issue with is the lack of communication with residents and the shift from resident input plans to ICCF making unilateral decisions on the future of the neighborhood. People can get picky about my use of the term displaced, but this is how I interpret what has been happening.

  3. May 30, 2012 9:15 pm

    This write-up makes it seem as though ICCF didn’t hold any public discussion about the WJ/Tapestry project between 2002 and the present, which is untrue. ICCF held other public meetings in the interim years; I was at one of them.

    It’s my understanding that until very recently, though, the full scope of the project was not really known — even to ICCF. There were numerous contingencies in the plans regarding land usage, commercial tenants, tax issues, etc. It need not be said that working through the myriad of issues inherent in developing such a large plot of land into a mixed-use project is a long and arduous process.

    This write-up also heavily suggests that residents were strong-armed out of their homes. For example, of the Williams family, the final paragraph implies they were “forced to abandon their property” after earlier saying that “after all the other land around them had been bought it became nearly impossible for the Williams family to stay.” What actually happened, though — was their situation resolved amicably?

    And to this point: “Despite being a resident of this neighborhood, I was not told of this project until it appeared in the news media.” Serious question: What would prevent your feeling “excluded from the process”? Should ICCF and its contractors hold a community meeting every time its plans change? If so, what constitutes a significant-enough change to form a basis for calling a new meeting? I’m sympathetic that you want to be aware of what’s going on in your own backyard — a natural feeling we agree on and share — but residents are neither entitled de facto nor de jure to be consulted on every new development in the area. Community happens with or without everyone’s participation and assent.

    By introducing the suggestion that this project is gentrifying the neighborhood, you’ve taken a worthwhile neighborhood rehabilitation and assigned it sinister motives, without supplying sufficient evidence for the [implicit] accusation.

  4. May 30, 2012 9:43 pm

    Christian, thanks for your comments. If there were other meetings since 2002 about this project they were not held in our neighborhood or with the full knowledge of the major changes in the project from the 2002 plan and the current plan.

    The reference I made to the Williams family, which I knew for years, was that they originally did not want to leave as they had been in that house for over 4 decades. When ICCF began buying the other surrounding properties it put them in a difficult position since their house did not fit into the plans. Could they have stayed? Mrs Williams told me she felt pressured to settle with ICCF and leave the neighborhood.

    I take exception to your minimizing my being excluded from the process. “Community happens with or without everyone’s participation and assent.” What the hell does that mean? Look, our neighborhood began the process of discussing longterm goals and then ICCF got involved. They told us that the 2002 plan was what they would be operating on and did not inform us that they had bought up a whole bunch of land to move forward with significantly revised plans, which meant that at least 7 houses had to be vacated. This is not community, not where I come from.

    I didn’t assign sinister motives, I merely articulated that there were major changes without the neighborhood’s knowledge of it, people were displaced when they were told this would not happen, dozens of mature trees were cut down and a new school is being built before any of us knew it was happening. As I said several times in the piece, the neighborhood was not opposed to the original development plans, what we object to is not being included in the process. Some of us have lived here for three, four and five decades. We deserve some respect when it comes to our well being.

  5. Carol L. Townsend permalink
    June 1, 2012 6:55 pm

    In Grand Rapids, I wish that we could have a real discussion on gentrification. For me, it has both a positive side as well as a negative side. Simultaneously, I would also like to see a discussion on mixed-income neighborhoods, a concept that has not gained much traction here. We have abundant examples of citizens participating in urban planning projects, which is fundamental. I am still waiting to see more resident-led redevelopment efforts.

  6. June 1, 2012 8:26 pm

    Carol, I agree that we need to have a real discussion about gentrification. Not sure about the mixed-income point, since I did not address it as such. My main point was that after 3 different major planning sessions, where the bulk of the residents of this area had direct say in the plans, those plans were changed without our knowledge and people who had been living there for decades were put in a difficult position of having to move because their house did not fit into the new plan. Were these home owners “forced” out? No one was taking legal action against them. However, when all the property around you in being bought it makes it hard for people to feel wanted. Also, as I said in my posting, this project began as a resident project, but then was taken over by ICCF.

  7. Christian permalink
    June 2, 2012 7:42 pm

    Jeff, sorry it’s taken me a few days to respond. I respect your having lived in the neighborhood for many decades. My question is, how are the changes in ICCF’s plans not respectful with regard to your well-being?

    To contextualize my question: I don’t see how the ICCF development isn’t a major win for the neighborhood. It’s revitalizing a derelict tract of land (quite probably raising property values in the process) and hopes to bring a sorely-needed grocery store to the neighborhood.

    Your concern in the article about the price of housing is not without merit, but this is still a world away from, say, quarter-million dollar condos and boutique street shops. How else could ICCF simultaneously encourage new growth while simultaneously keeping housing prices relatively low, relative to the rest of the market?

    Also, let me suggest a simple reason ICCF didn’t involve the community more: Perhaps they simply didn’t have time. Between 2002 and now, ICCF has completely refurbished 920 Cherry, relocated its headquarters, spun up a new mortgage business, done significant fundraising, and still run its core business of helping low-income families find sustainable housing.

    Ten years seems like a long time, I know, but as someone who works at a non-profit myself, it wouldn’t be hard for me to believe that ICCF planned all along to involve the community more, and simply never had the proper amount of time and resources to do so. The results may be a sin of omission, not commission.

  8. June 2, 2012 9:16 pm

    Christian, I wasn’t framing the new development as an either or, all good all bad………Of course a grocery store would be nice to have in the neighborhood. It seems you are missing the main points. First, people were displaced, even though the 2002 agreement stated otherwise. Second, I know that ICCF was in the process of moving, since their headquarters was in my neighborhood in building that is mostly empty. Moving to Cherry Street is not a legitimate excuse for not meeting with residents, especially since ICCF had been buying up property years before this development project began and in that time they surely could have made it a priority to communicate with residents what they were doing and how that was deviating from the 2002 agreement.

  9. Jennifer Sanalti permalink
    September 20, 2014 6:57 pm

    last year i rode my bike from grandville to the outdoor market on Michigan, on the way back i somehow missed getting back on Kent trails and just decided to ride Southward on Division. As I made my way up the road a car driven in the opposite direction, for absolutely no reason the driver and passenger decided to scream abuse at me for merely existing in a place where. apparently, they believed i didnt belong. Fucking White Person, they shreiked. This despite the fact that I was nowhere near them and was not interfering with them in any way; If gentrification means that I will be free to travel unmolested in my own home city, then I will not shed a tear because minorities who behave in a hostile maner toward me are encouraged to leave by selling their homes (no doubt for a profit) These minorities had their chance to settle in and get along and thrive. I dont think city planners should be faulted for encouraging growth and improving Grand Rapids. This city has been suffering under urban blight for too long.

  10. September 20, 2014 7:09 pm

    Jennifer, how awful it is for White people with all kinds of privilege to have to experience some form of verbal assault. I think you need to check your White Privilege and investigate the history of that neighborhood instead of making claims you know nothing about. The African American and Latino residents who were displaced by the gentrification project of ICCF did not make a profit, but were displaced and given no voice in the future of that neighborhood. As someone who lived in that neighborhood for 29 years I can tell you that the community’s suspicion of White people is well founded, since economic exploitation and police brutality is what they have experienced from White people. Again, check your White Privilege and learn to look at the context of the history of neighborhoods, particularly neighborhoods that are now the target of gentrification.

Trackbacks

  1. This Day in Resistance History: The 1967 “Race Riot” in Grand Rapids « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  2. Disregarding history & people: MLive’s take on the Division/Wealthy area « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  3. Disregarding history & people: MLive’s take on the Division/Wealthy area « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy
  4. Neighborhood wins battle against outside development forces in Grand Rapids 1997 | Grand Rapids People's History Project

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