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Property is Theft -- A Response to the In Other Words Forum on Gentrification (Oct 27)

Yes, it's impossible to talk about gentrification without discussing racism; but it's also impossible to discuss gentrification without discussing capitalism or social class.
Yes, it's impossible to talk about gentrification without discussing racism; but it's also impossible to discuss gentrification without discussing capitalism or social class.

The speakers at the forum referred to gentrification as something people choose to do when they move in to a neighborhood, placing the blame primarily on new residents. They ignored the idea of gentrification as a process endemic to the current economic system (it's not an aberration. Gentrification has existed at least as long as the urban United States has existed).

At least two people argued that new white residents should always defer decision-making power to people of color in the community. The idea that power should be doled out according to race is absurd; someone's racial identity does not predetermine their political position. There are non-white landlords and developers who also stand to profit from gentrification. Fighting gentrification is not about placing the right person in power, it's about erasing hierarchy entirely. All struggles against the effects of gentrification are a dead-end unless people find a way to reorganize economic relationships in opposition to capitalism.

We should be talking about revolutionizing our decision-making process to empower everyone in the community (old and new residents alike). (See Horizontalism, consensus, orparticipatory economics for example).

It does matter that people are displaced from their homes; but this displacement is a symptom of a larger disease. The severe class divisions and large economic disparities are the engine behind gentrification.

forum 28.Oct.2008 12:46


I was at the forum last night and agree with alot of what is written here. Some of the videos shown were interesting and well-made, but people seemed to ignore the elephant in the room; capitalism. I wondered if some of the speakers at this event even opposed capitalism at all. I remember one of them said something about working to make gentrification "less harmful." I don't understand how this is possible.


Lew Church, PSU Progressive Student Union lewchurch@gmail.com

It may have been that this forum sought to defend communities of color against gentrification (like North Portland, especially with SBA-financed African-American businesses going out of business, like restaurants, followed by the only female Africa-American Oregonian columnist taking a Fred Stickel buyout and quitting the paper), ipso facto. Of course, there are landlords of color who may also be slumlords--but most Portland landlords tend to be Anglo landlords.

Yes, attacking capitalism in Portland is certainly one direct approach to outlawing gentrification, but perhaps another way to look at this is to, rather, outlaw poverty, or at least provide both housing to the homeless community (there are tons of empty buildings available for shelter, if they were opened up -- like the old Federal Reserve Bldg downtown), and, getting slumlords (even large nonprofit ones downtown like Central City Concern, which is supposed to be "liberal" but with an apparent $30 million budget that doesn't go to habitability or addressing slumlord living conditions for Sec 8 tenants, etc.)... to observe Mult. Co. Health Dept. standards re livability and observe Oregon Landlord-Tenant law standards of habitability.

Race, like gender, can be one of several ways to keep communities powerless, just as class (Sec 8 tenants are 'subsidized' by Bush federal HUD money, and therefore 'don't deserve' to live in buildings that don't have systemic pest control problems which make visitors refuse to even enter such buildings, like Biltmore, which is across from the CCC main admin office of new CEO Ed Blackburn). According to one source, Central City has started for-profit businesses, one of which is their pest control business (CCC publications say their own pest control 'business' is their biggest 'profit center.'

However, because of internal CCC budgeting processes, CCC claims it can't afford to hire their own for-profit pest control business. Biltmore, after constant tenant complaints, finally went to a non-CCC pest control vendor and sprayed the building in Octorber (only once, for roaches, and in two units, for bedbugs)--first time the building was sprayed since last spring (So far, CCC has refused to provide a written record of the date of the last, previous spraying -- during spring, spraying was every other week).

Central City's slumlord argument is that when there are old buildings, 'nothing can be done' about livability, ipso facto, except for tenants to move out. However, Central City has 20 buildings (largest landlord in downtown Portland?) and management says that "all monies in the budget are out on services." Of course, none of the board members or main managers appear to live in infested buildings. In the last employee newsletter, Central City execs are seen gladhanding city officials like Tom Potter and others, and even promoting their for-profit pest control "business" to a visiting team from San Francisco. Apparently, the visiting SF team weren't invited to spend a week in Biltmore units using individual cans of RAID to hunt down bugs on the walls in the hallways, in the community kitchen or in the community bathrooms (Biltmore is a SRO building).

The logic here seems to be 'poor people should be happy to have a roof and be out of the cold.' But with millions (billions) available in our local and federal budgets for CEO (nonprofit or for-profit CEO) salaries/golden parachutes, shouldn't decent housing for people in Portland ('Little Beirut') take first priority over 'for-profit businesses,' and bailouts for the likes of AIG and their Wall Street brethren? Both presidential campaigns (and national and state campaigns) in the election have been silent re 'poverty' issues, reserving their rhetoric for "Joe the Plumber" and "helping the middle class." The problem is, from Portland to Pretoria, the working poor may be as many as half the 6 billion people who share the planet. In many Third World countries, the working poor make as little as $2 a day, under the Bush-McCain-Obama capitalist global economic order.

Author Mike Davis is correct in titling his latest anti-poverty book, "Planet of Slums." The last major Democratic politician to address housing and poverty issues (not Obama!) was Mario Cuomo (who wrote a book about low-income housing in New York state).


PO Box 40011. Portland, Oregon 97240

Gentrification vs. fairness and equitable housing 28.Oct.2008 14:46

Exile portlander_in_exile@yahoo.com

Gentrification starts long before the wealthy show up as residents. It begins with landlords, that notice the property values rise, and decide to cash out. This isn't so much a race issue. This is a class issue. Gentrification is also a two way street, as neighborhoods inside of the city gentrify, the suburban areas, such as outer SE, and Gresham begin to atrophy. The primary solution to gentrification, is home ownership, even in a cooperative sense. This ties people to their neighborhood, and creates an environment and desire to protect. Since home prices in gentrified neighborhoods have risen so high, only the wealthy, or the leveraged are able to live there. That is where the injustice is. What ends up happening, is a ring of poverty, surrounding the city of wealth.

Suburbia, will be the next ghetto. especially, once the election is over, fuel prices will resume rising, sapping the last of the strength out of the economy. People living in town, will have alternatives, those outside, will get extremely low rent on those McMansions.