I’ve been thinking a lot lately about happens when middle-class and wealthy people move into lower income neighborhoods en masse, which is often known as “gentrification.” I’m thinking about this because my wife and I, who are middle- class, plan to move into a neighborhood in Cincinnati in which the average person makes about half of the average Ohioan.
My knee-jerk reaction to gentrification is to say that it’s nothing short of modern-day colonialism rooted in trendiness. However, this position begs the question, “Should people then be segregated according to class?” I strongly believe segregation causes and perpetuates injustice. I’ve spend most of my life living in Metro-Detroit, the most segregated metropolitan area in the country, and I’ve seen first hand the devastation that segregation causes to all parties. One might then conclude that gentrification is a good thing. “People are going out of their way to live with those who are not like them socio-economically, culturally and often racially. Middle-class and wealthy people moving into lower-income neighborhoods is how to fix many of the injustices caused from segregation, right?” The answer is “yes and no.” “Yes” in the sense that people of different backgrounds living in the same neighborhood is the first step to righting many wrongs, but “no” in the sense that what usually happens is that middle-class and wealthy people inadvertently drive poorer folks out of their own neighborhoods. The influx of wealthier people usually causes a run on the real estate market, rents go up, and poorer folks are forced out by the market.
Clearly segregation is not the answer, nor is gentrification. So what is the answer? Dr. John M. Perkins, one of the fathers of the “racial reconciliation”movement and founder of the Christian Community Development Association says that the answer is, “the three R’s’. Relocation, Reconciliation and Redistribution.” Perkins argues that Christians, who have all too often perpetuated segregation and injustice, are actually the ones with the answer. Through moving in to lower income neighborhoods, genuinely befriending their neighbors, and spreading the Good News of Jesus not only by our words, but in sharing of resources in order to develop our neighbors, Christians can empower those with little power and present the answer to the injustice of our economic and social systems. By becoming part of the community and loving our neighbors, the answer to segregation and gentrification is offered.