We were all pretty disappointed. Soon our disappointment grew into feelings of disbelief and then anger. The houses we were walking through last week, owned by a prominent institution in the city, were in really rough shape--sewage leaking in the basement rough; mold and major roof leaks rough; odor and pest problem rough. The properties, all on the same block, are part of an assemblage of 10 that are up for sale. Several of us in the neighborhood are trying to figure out how to save these properties because we've learned that the best way to maintain affordable housing is to protect our existing affordable older homes. But what we were seeing wasn't giving us much confidence these properties are going to be salvaged.
You see, these properties are in a prime location for a developer to make a big return on investment and the owner is a motivated seller. They are close to downtown, in a vibrant neighborhood, close to public transportation, across the street from a future elementary school and zoned for multi-unit dwellings. It's a developers dream. The story is a typical one: buy up a bunch of derelict homes in an up-and-coming part of town, tear them down, build a new and shiny apartment building or set of condos and price them high enough to make a hefty profit. Seems like a decent business model. If done conscientiously and in partnership with local residents, it can be a blessing to a neighborhood like ours. But all too often, these ventures mine a neighborhood of its best resources, displace lower income people and contribute to a clean and uniform "mono-culture" often called Gentrification. Those being displaced often find themselves in low income ghettos with few services, poor educational opportunities, limited access to healthy food and little transportation into places of opportunity.
But it's not only bad for the people being displaced. It's also bad for the people moving into their new, sterile neighborhood where everyone seems to be pretty much the same. These new residents don't get to see the beautiful face of people who earn a lower income than them. They miss out on building friendships and being challenged in their perspectives. They lose the opportunity to acknowledge their own need for community, relationship, support and common mission with neighbors creating a community together. They miss the opportunity to use their influence and privilege for the good of their neighborhood.
We believe this is a Kingdom issue. We believe this is something the church should be in the middle of, working to find solutions for, and building bridges between developers, residents, wealthy homeowners and poor renters.
It is a Kingdom issue because it is a stewardship issue. A neighborhood is like a well balanced eco-system. Over time, ecosystems grow, nurture, morph, decay and give birth. And every eco-system is both vibrant and fragile. It only takes one small shift to impact it; and a large shift can be catastrophic. When redevelopment and Gentrification happen to established neighborhood, it often has deadly neighborhood ecological results. Whole demographics of people, industry and architectural styles are often lost in a matter of years. These are generally replaced by structures that have profit, not people, as their highest value.
It is a Kingdom issue because it is a human issue. As our friends at Bridge Church are fond of saying, "We are Better Together!" Our humanity is strengthened when we live at peace together. In regards to urban planning, it has been well established that economically diverse neighborhoods are the most resilient in the face of crisis and pressure.
Presently, our community is working with fellow resdients, the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association, the City of Omaha, neighborhood organizations, and other neighborhoods with similar challenges toward a solution for Gifford Park. We want to find ways to slow Gentrification so that we can preserve the life and vitality of our neighborhood while also encouraging smart development and redevelopment that strengthens the neighborhood ecology rather than destroys it. We're encouraged to be discovering that we have more of a voice than we thought we did! But, as anyone who has dipped their toes into this area knows, it is an ardous and complicated road. So as we walk it, we are tangilby praying, "Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven!"
What about you? What challenges have you faced? How have you addressed them? What solutions are working?