The word carries negative connotations. When a neighborhood is “gentrified,” the immediate image is of people being forced out of their homes as values rise and taxes become unaffordable.
The truth is, that can – and does – happen, but it’s a part of a larger truth, which is that virtually all events are double-edged swords. The other edge of this sword is that gentrification provides a path to renewal for neighborhoods that are down at the heels. It is the salvation not just of neighborhoods, but of entire cities. It reduces crime, raises property values and injects life into dying areas. The question is how to balance these clashing interests.
It has been noted many times that census figures show Buffalo to be the third-poorest city in the nation. To change that, the city must – by definition – become wealthier. That’s gentrification.
So, it is overwhelmingly good news that property values are rising around the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
The Fruit Belt area is becoming interesting to those who want to live or otherwise invest in an area where thousands of people will be working and where thousands might want to live. It’s what Buffalo has been thirsting for.
Yet there are unintended consequences. When property values rise, so do property taxes, which are already too high in New York State. The result can be to drive people out of the homes where they may have lived for years or even generations.
That is one of the unfair aspects of property taxes, which measure latent wealth, as opposed to incomes taxes, which are based on actual wealth. Family income doesn’t rise just because property values do. True, families may be able to sell their homes for far more than their previous value, but it’s a heartless system that may leave people with no choice but to give up their homes.
Fortunately, city leaders are looking for ways to soften that blow without undermining the renewal that promises to lift this neighborhood. Last week Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen introduced a resolution seeking recommendations on what can be done to assist longtime residents of the Fruit Belt who wouldn’t otherwise be able to cope with rising property taxes.
Possible solutions include freezing or reducing assessments for a period of time. In Boston – ground zero for gentrification pressure – efforts are under way to allow some longtime homeowners to defer part of their property tax increases until they sell their homes. In Pittsburgh, longtime homeowners in gentrified neighborhoods can apply for a tax reduction when their assessment increases by more than 5 percent over the previous year.
None of these is a perfect solution and, in fact, each is likely to produce its own unintended consequences. That’s why it is important for the city to investigate its options closely.
There is a compelling human interest in protecting homeowners from economic forces that could drive them from their homes, while also acknowledging the overarching desirability of gentrification and, indeed, its inevitability.