By Connor De Mill and Manny De Jesus
It’s never easy to accept change.
In the last few decades, some of the nation’s largest cities have experienced change at unprecedented levels at unprecedented rates, and it’s getting more and more difficult to get a grasp of these changes before these transformations become permanent. In The Atlantic’s review of Peter Moskowitz’s new book “How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for a Neighborhood,” Gillian White makes references to how Detroit, San Francisco, New York and New Orleans have heavily gentrified at the expense of several marginalized communities, and while the review focuses on how larger cities have battled with these changes, we think it’s time we start turning our focus towards America’s smaller urban hubs.
Conrad Damian, who has lived in South Bend’s southeast side for 48 years and has worked alongside the Southeast Organized Area Residents (SOAR) neighborhood development organization, believes that the city is experiencing more change than it realizes.
“Here in the northeast, gentrification has come through fairly quick in the last five years, and it’s clear to see that,” Damian said. “All you have to do is go down Notre Dame avenue, or Francis street or any of these other streets, and now it’s going down to Napoleon and going west gobbling up more of the smaller more middle class and more black parts of the neighborhood that we don’t want.”
The majority of South Bend’s recent changes have come since 2008, when the city began its Eddy Street Commons development project south of Notre Dame. This project, which is set to undergo the second phase of the development, according to a report by WNDU, has developed a strip where the Notre Dame community has enjoyed national chain restaurants like Chipotle, Five Guys, Jimmy John’s along with an Urban Outfitters, Notre Dame Hammes Bookstore and the Eddy Street Foundry apartments.
Damian said that he is not completely opposed to the recent developments, but he believes the new project wasn’t made with the intention of including the entire South Bend community.
Looking in-depth at the data provided by Simply Map, Damian’s concerns about gentrification are real.
In understanding how gentrification has slowly made its way through South Bend, we have determined three key indicators highlight the phenomenon: median household income, which has been used as an indicator by the National Bureau of Economic Research and in a study on gentrification by Macalester College in 2015, median rent and total number of people 25 years or older with a bachelor’s degree or higher. These three indicators were chosen based on the idea that those who gentrify an area are generally a wealthier group of people moving into a low-income neighborhood. Those who are wealthier are also arguably more educated.
As expected, those three indicators proved that there is definitely a movement towards gentrification in the southern neighborhoods near Notre Dame. From 2010 to 2015, the median increased from $693 to $766; from 2010 to 2016, the number of people with bachelor’s degrees increased from 24.41 percent to 25.92 percent; and from 2010 to 2015, the median household income jumped from $48,717 to $56,722.
Andre Stoner, who works closely with the Near Northwest Neighborhood organization in South Bend, confirmed that gentrification has made its impact in the neighborhoods south of the university, specifically regarding those who first moved into the neighborhood when the project there was completed.
“I know some of those people who live in those mansions,” Stoner said. “They are living in huge houses, and I don’t think they’re engaging with poor neighbors at all. So we have a re-segregated class-based neighborhood in the city that’s really convenient for people close to Notre Dame, which is good, but what happened to the other people in the process?”
Stoner also brought up the interesting distinction of a type of gentrification that doesn’t necessarily push residents out financially, but they do so on a cultural level, excluding certain residents from participating in some of the new projects and businesses that are following the wealthier, newer residents.
Danielle Wood, who works within Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns, is also convinced that the type of gentrification seen in South Bend today is much more of a cultural shift within neighborhoods than a financial shift.
“South Bend has no shortage of low-priced housing for purchase,” Wood said. “The dynamics of what’s going on with the rental market is a combination of pressures from student renters, and we have a neighborhood that has a lack of access to capital and a lack of income, so even when people can buy or make the payments on a $50,000 or $40,000 home to stabilize a neighborhood for homer occupancy, there is not a lot of capital to make it anything other than a renter’s house because of the lack of a path of homeownership for many of these people.”
South Bend, which was ranked sixth by Niche.com in 2016 on a list of America’s most affordable housing, does have plenty of affordable housing, but the recent changes revolving the culture of neighborhoods, especially when talking about the Eddy Street Commons project, changes how poorer neighbors feel about living in a place they don’t feel comfortable calling home.
In an ideal situation, Damian, Stoner and Wood all reiterated that having heterogeneous socioeconomic neighborhoods isn’t a negative because wealthier homeowners pump their property taxes right back into struggling neighborhoods, but the issue is a matter of combining these different classes falls on combining them in a way that makes everyone in the neighborhood feel comfortable.
Gentrification isn’t running in full swing in South Bend, but it’s clear through the data and with the perspectives of some of the local neighborhood leaders that there are small pockets surrounding Notre Dame that are experiencing levels of gentrification. With the second phase of the Eddy Street Commons project expected to begin soon, the neighborhood organizations are doing everything they can now to ensure South Bend isn’t the next city to become negatively affected with the phenomenon of gentrification.
“The city needs homes for working class people,” Damian said. “We can’t have a city that gentrifies and moves people to the near suburbs to the other city neighborhoods that are very vulnerable…those neighborhoods are vulnerable to the [gentrification] movement of the northeast and the near northwest if the movement continues to happen, and that’s sad. I don’t like the idea of people having to move unless they choose to move.”