Echoes Downs the Corridor: Gentrification Poses Threat to Historical Heritage of Berkeley Neighborhood
24 April 2017
The Daily Californian
By Malini Ramaiyer
Photo: Julian Kilchling
Sixty-eight years ago, the black businesses of South Berkeley — beauty shops, dry cleaners, real estate offices, a jewelry store and a theater —held the community together. Now, that community is gone. In their place are coffee shops and yoga studios.
This change in the neighborhood’s character is a common observation of the longtime residents of South Berkeley. According to the Bay Area Census, between 1940 and 1970, the Black population increased from 4 percent to a peak of 23.5 percent. But the population had decreased to 10 percent by 2010.
During the Great Migration of African Americans to the American West, South Berkeley was populated by Black people fleeing the South — many of whom found blue-collar jobs as longshoremen or porters, according to local resident Willie Phillips.
South Berkeley emerged as a Black community because of residential segregation, a process known as “redlining,” with Martin Luther King Jr. Way serving as one of the boundaries that divided Black communities from the eastern portions of the city.
Malo Hutson, UC Berkeley associate professor of City and Regional Planning in the College of Environmental Design, said many communities of color formed out of discriminatory housing practices. Now, the property is cheaper, attracting more development and, in turn, leading to surges in rent costs.
Since the 1970s, Black families began to move out of the area as they struggled to pay off their home mortgages or keep up with rising rent costs.
Hutson said this history of segregation and city disinvestment in South Berkeley is part of a larger trend of discriminatory housing practices across the country. Redlining has roots in the 1930s as a guide for home-lending practices. Government loan agencies would rate neighborhoods as blue, green, yellow or red based on various factors that determined the desirability of granting loans to people from that area. Black neighborhoods were typically marked as red, or “redlined,” because of discriminatory housing policies, so private banks denied loans to Black residents, causing the price of land in the area to decline, according to Hutson.
Now, Hutson explained that because developers are looking to buy cheaper property and rent it out for higher prices, longtime residents are being displaced because they cannot afford market-rate rent. Hutson also stated that with more investment and newer residents, the community begins to change. The mom and pop shops close down, and organic coffee shops longtime residents cannot afford crop up. For the construction of new units to prioritize the community’s needs, Hutson said, there must be enough affordable housing for all income levels. He added that similar redevelopment plans in other areas have invested a lot into the community, but they have failed to deliver on affordable housing. According to Hutson, building more housing is necessary to diminish demand and lower prices across the board, but he added that new housing should have a combination of market-rate, moderate-income and low-income housing units.