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616 Lofts Profile: The Art of Gentrification and Racism

February 9, 2017

616 Lofts is just one part of 616 Development. Founded in 2009 by Derek Coppess, the 616 Lofts mission offers the following narrative:screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-12-17-59-pm

We build unique, urban spaces where people can work, play and just … live. 616 Lofts are residential communities built to do better for the city of Grand Rapids and its people. Our properties are in the midst of some of downtown’s most popular locations. Modern apartments (most of them upcycled from old structures) fuse historic and contemporary features, offering some of the most unique interiors in the city.

This seemingly upbeat and attractive take on what 616 Lofts does, fails to mention that the kinds of “urban spaces” they create is not for the thousands of working class families and communities of color who could never afford the monthly cost of rent required by the company.

Can you say Gentrification?

Of the seven locations the company currently has apartments available, they are all listed as “market rate.” However, market rate is essentially a term that is synonymous with unaffordable. Here are the locations and the cost(s) that come with living in 616 Lofts:

  • Michigan Lofts: $1,100 – $2,300screen-shot-2017-02-04-at-9-32-45-am
  • Alabama Lofts: $900 – $1,950
  • Monroe Lofts: $925 – $2,400
  • Prospect Lofts: $800 – $1,800
  • Kendall Lofts: $950 – $1,700
  • Ionia Lofts: $1,100 – $2,700
  • Pearl St. Lofts: $1,000 – $1,600

Someone making $10 an hour, which is the reality for thousands of people in the Grand Rapids area, equals $22,400 a year. This makes none of the 616 Lofts affordable for this entire population. Even someone making $15 an hour ($31,200 a year) would have a hard time affording most of the 616 Lofts, especially after factoring in utilities, transportation, health care, food, etc.

In addition, many of the 616 Lofts projects contribute to the gentrification of Grand Rapids. This is particularly the case with the 616 Lofts that were created on Michigan, Prospect and on the westside, on Alabama Street. These neighborhoods have historically been working class neighborhoods that have seen drastic changes as a result of the various development projects that have taken over. With each new development project, property values go up, which increases the rent, resulting in working class individuals and families being displaced because those neighborhoods are no longer affordable.

There is a new project by 616 Lofts that will be on Plainfield NE, in the Creston neighborhood. This forthcoming project will also contribute to the ongoing gentrification of that traditionally working class neighborhood, which has seen new breweries, restaurants and an upscaling of a long-standing party store in recent years.

On top of the cost of 616 Lofts and their contribution to gentrification in Grand Rapids, it is worth looking at the kind of culture they promote.

One can get a sense of the kind of culture that are promoting by reading the 616 Lofts blog.  The blog postings are about where to find the best breweries, coffee shops, restaurants or where the best boutique stores are. You’ll find articles on exploring the night life and attending yoga class or you might find a piece about celebrating the holidays or where you can volunteer in town. In other words, the 616 Lofts are promoting a more professional, upscale, creative class culture that is highly privileged and disproportionately white.

In looking at the images of people that are used on their site, the mostly present white people. Even in their cute, upbeat video about how the company came to be, everyone is white.

What is also offensive about this culture, is that the staff are referred to as “the tribe.” Ironically, the staff at 616 Lofts is all white. The company is also hiring and they invite people to “Join the tribe.” It is not ok for people or businesses to use this kind of language, language that is racist and appropriates from other cultures.

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Grand Rapids is a city that is becoming stratified in terms of class and race. More and more of the development projects are forcing working class people and communities of color out of neighborhoods. We can ill afford to be unaware of these dynamics and need to begin to name the forces responsible for these dynamics. 616 Lofts is not the only business perpetuating gentrification and racism, but they are one of them.

In the next several weeks we will take a look at companies that are in the businesses of creating new housing and what role they play in the gentrification of Grand Rapids.

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