FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What Will Happen to the People? Urban Renewal Yesterday and Gentrification Today

In the late 1960s-early 70s, when the Young Patriots organized against Mayor Daley’s efforts to use urban renewal programs in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, they were fighting new versions of older programs. Slum clearance was not new to Chicago. It had been used to clear the poor from neighborhoods around the Loop in the 1940s and Hyde Park in the 1950s. In the 1960s Urban Renewal programs included building massive public housing high rises like Robert Taylor and Cabrini Greene. Although renewal displacement had impacted poor whites alongside poor blacks, the public  housing projects increasingly housed only black families. Poor whites displaced from neighborhoods like Harrison-Halsted and Uptown were pushed into the suburbs, either dissipating or hyper-segregating their communities.

When residents of Uptown were battling unemployment, slum living conditions, absentee landlords, police violence, lack of health care, malnutrition, high infant mortality rates, and disease, the city responded with urban renewal plans. Uptown was slated to be a site for a new community college, and the poor white residents were slated for displacement. A committee of landowners and business owners were selected by Mayor Richard Daley to oversee the process. A coalition of neighborhood leaders, including the Young Patriots, came together to propose an alternative: the Hank Williams Village. This community-envisioned development would include affordable housing, health services, community space, parks and a hotel for displaced southern migrants looking for work. But the city commission pushed through their own development plans and local forces began the displacement process, which included arson by property owners (murdering children and people with disabilities) and increasingly-repressive policing.

The Young Patriots interrupted urban renewal planning meetings and set up community services like health care and welfare application support to meet needs that the city had intentionally neglected. These were the same organizing tactics that were being used in poor black and brown communities across the city. Leaders from those kindred communities, like Bobby Lee of the Illinois Black Panther Party, recognized that being divided along racial lines was preventing people from seeing how the same forces were moving against them with the same tactics. The original Rainbow Coalition between the Black Panthers, Young Lords and Young Patriots was a threat to the controlling interests in the city, including those who were using urban renewal programs to grow rich. And so their attempt to come together across racial lines around class demands was swiftly and violently repressed.

Urban renewal and gentrification are never about meeting the needs of the poor or eradicating poverty. They are plans for stabilizing the economy of the city: maintaining a tax base of middle and upper-income residents and making the city conducive to business interests. While in earlier periods when the economy was expanding, urban renewal was able to include plans for public housing, low-cost community colleges, and other public services. In today’s contracting economy, where homelessness can increase even as the stock market climbs, gentrification consolidates a shrinking middle class in urban centers, pushing the existing residents out of the city or into homelessness. Vacant buildings held for speculation are part of the gentrification process, as the organization Picture the Homeless has well documented.

Gentrification not only impacts the poor in urban areas but is deeply connected to suburban and rural poverty and homelessness. These are the areas where poor people go when they are pushed out of cities. Poverty rates are highest in large urban centers, but most poor people live in suburban and rural areas. And poverty has been growing fastest in those areas. Half of the growth of poverty after 2000 has been in the suburbs, where poverty as grown by 57 percent. These non-metro areas are even less able than large metro areas to meet people’s needs with public transportation and health care clinics.

Gentrification today pushes rents to unprecedented levels, forcing half of all renters in the US—not just those below the poverty line—to pay rents that are unaffordable. (49% of us had unaffordable rents in 2015. Rent is considered affordable if it is less than 30% of your household income.) One in four renters spent more than half their income on housing in 2013. In 2016 rent in Miami consumed 72% of the typical income; in Los Angeles it was 51%; even in Hattiesburg, Mississippi it was 35.8%. Yet only one in four families who are income-eligible for federal housing assistance receive it.

Today we are experiencing a crisis of homelessness tied to the unaffordability of housing in a society where housing is not a right. Even a job does not guarantee that you will have a place to live. This is despite the contradiction that there are far more vacant homes than there are homeless people. One in eight homes in the US are empty, 17.2 million units.

Yet homelessness rose in 2016 for the first time since the Great Recession. This “point in time” count doesn’t include those of us who are living in double-ups, insecure housing, or are moving in and out of homelessness. It only counts who is on the streets on one particular night. School records show that 1.3 million school children were homeless during the 2015-2016 year.

Across the country the poor are living in tent city encampments, including in Uptown where the Young Patriots first learned that being white does not guarantee the right to housing. And across the country tent encampments are facing eviction and harassment. This harassment is part of the gentrification process, pushing people further out and down.

But people who are forced into homelessness have been and continue to fight back. When homelessness first started to take on a more permanent and widespread character in the 1980s, leaders from among the homeless formed the National Union of the Homeless in 20 states across the country.

After ten years of organizing, Picture the Homeless recently succeeded in passing the Housing Not Warehousing Act in New York City. Every year Young Patriot Marc Steiner hosts a remembrance day podcast to name those who died while homeless in Baltimore City. And Chaplains on the Harbor is organizing in rural Grays Harbor County in Washington. Calling themselves the “Freedom Church of the Poor,” they are coming together through survival projects, a School of Hard Knocks and jail ministry. Aaron Scott is their organizer and street chaplain, and he recently became chairman of the Grays Harbor Chapter of the Young Patriots.

Homelessness crosses race, gender and geography, impacting us in cities and in rural areas. And those of us who are not homeless tonight are but one job crisis or health care crises away from it. Those who are homeless tonight are the front lines of a crisis that is expanding. Without the right to housing, none of our housing is secure. The fight against Urban Renewal among the Young Patriots of yesterday inspires us to organize today against the manifestations of dispossession today, and the stakes are even higher.

Colleen Wessel-McCoy is the National Secretary of the Young Patriots Organization.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail