Local organization raises awareness for gentrification in Ann Arbor, Ypsi

Sunday, September 24, 2017 - 6:28pm

Revolutionary Youth Alliance, A2/Ypsi, a locally-based organization aiming to fight against imperialism, racism, misogyny and other forms of oppression, held an informational meeting about the effects of gentrification and counter efforts Sunday afternoon in the Diag.

LSA sophomore Jeff Smith, one of the leaders of the presentation, explained gentrification refers to the process by which less wealthy people are displaced from their neighborhoods by wealthier people.

“People start moving in, individuals start moving in, unsupported by any government … After that, wealthy individuals, real estate developers take notice of the waves of people coming in and they begin to buy up property and open more and more expensive businesses,” Smith said. “Young people are flocking in. New restaurants are opening, along with coffee shops, bike stores, and places where juice costs seven dollars per bottle.”

He said the influx of such businesses may seem like a “cultural revival,” but the reality is that businesses and landowners are simply making more profit — something that can be observed in Detroit and Ypsilanti, specifically.

Smith also said as wealthy newcomers acquire more property and high-paying jobs, life becomes more expensive for the original residents; Monetary values go up, residents are evicted and policing tactics change, based on the composition of the neighborhoods.

“After a time, the level of wealth in gentrified neighborhoods begins to rise exponentially,” he said. “The richer replace the rich, high-rise condos begin to erase even middle-class housing, anyone who is not rich or at least middle class is displaced and gentrification begins spilling over into other, less gentrified neighborhoods.”

Smith said every time a new high-rise development goes up in Ann Arbor, the rent goes up approximately two percent, even though the quality of the residence has not changed. 

Students have expressed concern over the new developments, such as the one going up on South Univeristy, as it results in increasing rent costs and a lack of affordable housing options. 

Smith explained gentrification is the result of city councils providing tax breaks and cheap land to businesses that move into impoverished cities, as well as landlords who raise rents and evict longtime residents to attract new residents who are able to pay more, among several other factors.

Casey Adams, who works with RYA and led the presentation with Smith, explained there are very few manufacturing jobs available in Ypsilanti, and so people who do not have a college education are pushed into jobs in food service or retail.

Adams noted there is a push for people to go to college, but that college tuition, such as at the University of Michigan, is increasing dramatically; she also noted the median income of University students’ families is well above the average median income.

“More and more rich undergrads come to U of M. Think about what that does to Ann Arbor — half the city is the University,” Adams said. “People can’t afford to live here, straight up. That means that, even people who go here, like graduate students, some undergrads … they have to live in Ypsi, because there is no … housing in Ann Arbor.”

Attendees also received a packet to supplement the talk, which highlighted the main speaking points. It discussed gentrification in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood of Los Angeles that is predominantly immigrant and Chicano. An organization called Defend Boyle Heights comprises of several organizations that aim to combat gentrification, including a group called Serve the People LA, which distributes food and clothing in the neighborhood.

The packet notes in February of this year, PSSST Gallery — a “gentrifier” art gallery in Boyle Heights — was forced out of the community as a result of protest; Defend Boyle Heights was active in this event.

Speakers used the Boyle Heights incident to show attendees that direct action against gentrifiers can be very effective.

An LA Times article about the art gallery incident from February explained PSSST was one of many art spaces that opened in the neighborhood. 

Adams explained the event’s location in the Diag would be a good way to get the word out about gentrification.

“It helps us unite some of the progressive forces that we’re trying to reach here,” Adams said.

She said the group tries to reach workers at the University, working class students that might be interested and students who are minorities among others.