SOS Black Property Owners, This Message is for You: Hang on to What We’ve Got!

We, at The New Orleans Tribune, have watched for years—especially in the wake of Katrina—as historically Black neighborhoods across the city were eyed and taken over by gentrifiers. But we were more than a bit shocked to see the insidious call printed under the guise of a seemingly benign real estate story in the most recent Gambit that identified “neighborhoods on the rise.”

The Gambit article quoted local realtor William King as he described “up and coming” neighborhoods ripe for buyers. It read:

“The upper 7th Ward from Esplanade to Interstate 10 is an area where a purchaser’s dollar can go further, and it has undergone major changes, expansion and construction in recent years. The strongest growth has been between Esplanade and St. Bernard avenues, but the growth is starting to creep west toward the space where Interstate 610 and I-10 merge.”

We have known for years that the 7th Ward, an area that Black New Orleanians have called home for generations, was a prime target for gentrification. We saw it early on when prospectors came in, relatively quietly at first, making offers to residents to take their homes and property off their hands for cash. And we can understand that to many of those residents, beleaguered and struggling in the aftermath of Katrina, the chance to sell a property handed down by a grandparent or great aunt might have seemed more appealing than rebuilding or renovating and maintaining ownership, without fully appreciating the far-reaching ramifications on an entire community and on their own efforts to establish personal financial stability.

This is not a new topic for us at The Tribune. We warned our neighbors, nearly 14 years ago, to ignore the unsolicited phone calls asking if they were interested in selling their houses. We have devoted cover stories to the topic. Some heeded our warning. But as this move to takeover our neighborhoods becomes increasingly more brazen, we are screaming from the rafters—hold on to what we’ve got! Because unlike those efforts made by early intruders who used handmade signs and flyers attached to street post to spread their message, this article was a loud herald, a harbinger of of things to come.

Friends, we must hold on because we know that euphemistic language like “neighborhoods on the rise” is code for Black neighborhoods in urban spaces where gentrifiers, with a sense of undeserved entitlement and privilege, want to poach as they strive to get closer to city centers—some of which, like the 7th Ward and Treme, have been largely Black for as long as the city of New Orleans is old, and others that became so after White folk, because of their own hate and fear, picked up their families and moved to outlying areas rather than allow their children to go to schools with Black boys and girls, as if what the worst thing that could possibly happen.

No Place is Safe

The Gambit article also targeted Gentilly and the Carrollton/Leonidas area, which is very close to Hollygrove. So Hollygrove residents, beware. Your neighborhood is in their crosshairs too. Rest assured, once there are no more houses left to buy, no more longtime residents to push out of the Leonidas section of Carrollton, the move will “creep toward” Hollygrove, the sort of compressed urban center that is all the rage with the gentrifying types.

And with that, this is a Saving Ourselves (SOS) Announcement from The New Orleans Tribune. If you own or have inherited property in these neighborhoods or others throughout the city, hang on tight and don’t let go. And if you are able to do so, consider investing in other property in the area that you can sell or rent to friends and neighbors that appreciate “our” community as much as you do. To put it simply, ownership—that’s how we protect our communities. That’s how we protect our future generations.

It is also how we build wealth. We must protect what we have in order to create the generational wealth that our community, as a whole, lacks in comparison to our White counterparts—a reality brought about by policy and design.

To be sure, the history of housing discrimination is at the foundation of the staggering racial wealth gap that exists in America today. Property ownership has always been and continues to be the quickest pathway to wealth in America. The government knew that. The banks knew that. That is why they put in place the systemic, legal and racist policies that prevented Blacks from buying homes in the 1940s at the end of World War—a legal practice that continued into the late 1960s. That is why the government drew redlines around maps in neighborhoods largely inhabited by Black Americans and refused to allow developers to build homes there and, as a matter of policy, refused provide federal backing to banks to make mortgages there. Meanwhile, the banks were enacting their own racist policies when it came to lending to Blacks.

Because we could not get the houses, we were denied access to the equity they created—equity that allowed White Americans to send their children to college so they could learn, earn and, yes, own more than their parents and grandparents. Meanwhile this “redlining” only became illegal after the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and existed even longer with de jure practices that continue to foster a legacy of White privilege and Black disenfranchisement to this day.

That is why we must hold on to what we have. We are already so far behind that there is no way we will ever catch up if we lose control of our homes, our property and our neighborhoods now.

In fact, we have already lost too many parcels of land and houses to encroachers, who unabashedly attempt to come in and change the culture and fabric of our neighborhoods—complaining about outdoor dining and the sound of live music. Property taxes have already skyrocketed and threatened to force many struggling residents out of their long-time homes and neighborhoods. There is no time to waste.

Come folks, come on. We must be proactive, intentional and unapologetic in our efforts to protect our communities from gentrification. We must hang on to what we have.

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