Class trumps race in America’s inner cities

17 Nov

The marriage of wealth and power means disaster for those who have neither, and it’s a catastrophe for low-income people of color.

In urban centers across the country, minorities are being shunned to the side as real estate developers turn them out of their homes, and housing authorities turn a blind eye. The forced gentrification of majority minority neighborhoods is happening quietly and deliberately as bloated rents force impoverished renters to vacate in order to make room for the wealthier tenants. Public housing projects in inner cities like Oakland, Chicago and Brooklyn now face the threat of demolition as city-planned ‘urban renewal’ duplicitously masks city-conspired ‘gentrification.’

There is a shift of high-income families back to the urban centers. Real estate owners want low-income people displaced so they can bring in white-collar tenants who can pay more.

The city of Oakland, Calif., recently approved a plan called the Hoover/West MacArthur Vision Statement that would allow the redevelopment of several housing projects and result in the displacement of hundreds of low-income renters. This is all part of the city’s plan to “clean up” the Hoover/West MacArthur area.

In their vision statement, the West Oakland Project Area Committee wrote:

“This area is a containment zone for Oakland’s social problems… We need to attract residents with disposable income, who don’t soak up social services, who can fix up the housing stock, who will in turn attract retail businesses.”

This plan of fixing up the impoverished parts of Oakland is a thinly veiled collision between housing authorities and real estate developers to get rid of the poor. Land is money. Landlords are raising the rents to exorbitant amounts so tenants are forced to vacate, and developers can swoop in to renovate the buildings. This attracts upper-class tenants who can afford to pay higher rents, thus raising the property value.

It’s another classic example of low-income people being pushed out of their neighborhoods once their presence becomes an inconvenience. Blacks and Hispanics were once driven to the inner cities after World War II by the possibility of jobs and pushed out of suburbia because they were usually denied access to suburban home purchases. Now history is repeating itself in reverse, as whites flee back to cities and oust low-income tenants. Now it’s primarily class and not race that has become the separating line. Fifty-three outraged Oakland renters even filed a $53 million claim against the city in 2008 because they felt their rights had been violated.

The situation doesn’t bode any better in San Francisco, where the St. Peter’s Housing Committee faces an even bigger challenge since most of the victimized tenants it serves are immigrant Latinos. Landlords are raising rent prices while the incomes of Latino immigrants are dropping due to the recession. It all paints a dire picture for the low-income residents of San Francisco.

Rents have doubled in the last 10 years, which forces immigrant families to either move out of the city or live in overcrowded conditions. Picture three families sharing a household meant for one or a family trying to break their lease because they can no longer afford to live there.

It’s more of a class issue than a race issue.

High-income people don’t want to live near the projects either because of dipping property values or because of perceptions they have of the poor as criminals.

In the fight for equality, it looks like America has only managed to make a lateral move with the invisible barrier becoming class instead of race. The truth is being silently mapped out across urban grids everywhere, as income becomes the great de-equalizer. The war on poverty has finally turned into a war against the poor where class can substitute for race.


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