Blentrification: Hindrance to Progress or Responsible Urban Policy?

The term "gentrification" has been often used in the context of urban redevelopment by both proponents and detractors. Proponents tout benefits of redevelopment such as a decreased crime rates, increased property values, and improved local economies in defending it. Detractors, on the other hand, cite to the displacement of impoverished populations who have little to no say in the matter, loss of minority culture in an area, and social marginalization for long time residents. But is the issue strictly one way or the other?

As some community groups, urban policy think tanks, and politicians posit: perhaps not. These advocates see a middle ground in which effective local policy might mitigate the perceived negative effects of unchecked gentrification while still enjoying the positive effects of urban redevelopment. Oakland California's Mayor-elect Libby Schaaf has oft insisted that Oakland "does not need to sell its soul for growth," and urges that the city officials have a responsibility to preserve its "tasty secret sauce."

In its effort to mitigate gentrification in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, Nuestra Communidad Development Corporation proposed a number of building policies that could be enacted at a local level to protect long time local residents from marginalization and forced migration. Those policies maintaining certain include minimum low-to middle income housing requirements, property tax breaks for long time residents, caps on luxury development, federal housing vouchers for low income residents facing displacement, and protection for seniors.

In Oakland, Mayor-elect Schaaf seeks to impose local art requirements for new development projects and measures to ensure incorporation of existing local culture into whatever improvements are made. In so doing, Schaaf hopes to prioritize not just economic development, but promoting the "Oakland brand."

"Blentrification," a portmanteau of "blend" and "gentrification" may well be the answer to the ongoing battle between community groups, city planners, and real estate developers. These principles present a compromise between harmful unfettered capitalism and local governments' responsibility to all their residents, even the poorest or most marginalized.

Certain experiments in such policies, such as the San Francisco BMR Inclusionary Housing Program, have been considered failures despite their good intent. In its ideal form, the BMR Inclusionary Housing Program required luxury project developers to sell or rent at least 12% of units to qualified low income residents. However, the regulation as drafted at SF Planning Code Section 415, allows developers to choose between building the units onsite with the principal project, offsite, or even to buy out of compliance altogether by paying a fee equivalent to the percentage of units required by the program.

Such concessions erode the purpose of blentrification policies and might be seen to render such regulations as mere lip service to what should be a serious government concern.

On the other hand, local governments must be careful not to cool the market too greatly with overreaching policies, as private developers are still corporations, and must return profits to their shareholders despite efforts at social responsibility.

Michael Rooney is an attorney and real estate investment consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area with offices in San Francisco and Oakland. He may be reached through his website at http://www.mikerooneylaw.com

This article was published on 07 Dec 2014 and has been viewed 1581 times
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