Event focuses on reshaping older neighborhoods

Gentrification is workshop's target

Staff WriterJune 29, 2006 

— Gentrification, reshaping older neighborhoods through renovations, new construction and rising prices, is real in Raleigh.

So are the opportunities to create mixed-income and mixed-race communities, an Atlanta activist told a small group of area residents, financiers, builders and nonprofit agency leaders gathered Wednesday to talk about "Gentrification with Justice."

When Raleigh's planning director, Mitchell Silver, called a January meeting to talk about gentrification, more than 500 people -- mostly concerned residents of troubled, older neighborhoods -- showed up. Stories about displacement and distrust of redevelopment plans abounded.

On Wednesday, a much smaller group -- about 15 people -- showed up at a gentrification workshop coordinated by Building Together Ministries.

The Raleigh religious nonprofit got its start working with families in Halifax Court, a former public housing complex. The Raleigh Housing Authority has replaced Halifax Court with a smaller neighborhood of public housing units and market-rate rentals. A private developer has put up $300,000 homes nearby.

Now, Building Together runs low-cost after-school and day-care programs and wants to encourage "fair and just" redevelopment in the city.

Bob Lupton, who bills himself as a "Christian community developer," led Wednesday's discussion.

In the 1970s, the Vietnam veteran and former businessman sold his home in Atlanta's suburbs, moved to a troubled city neighborhood and got involved in turning it around. He has since developed mixed-income housing communities and written books such as "Renewing the City."

Lupton's biography and a personal invitation from Building Together founder Freddy Johnson drew property manager and developer Frank Gailor to Wednesday's meeting. Gailor's Hedgehog Holdings LLC specializes in adapting historic commercial space for office or retail use.

The event drew Southeast Raleigh resident, landlord and small-scale developer Danny Coleman and Habitat for Humanity's Veronica Bitting. It brought out the Raleigh Area Development Authority's Wallace Green, who works to encourage development in Southeast Raleigh, and employees of companies such as Landquest. The company's Web site says it specializes in "difficult regulatory environments."

Redevelopment, Lupton told the group, is not necessarily a bad thing. But redevelopment that pushes out the poor, does not allow their meaningful input or transforms neighborhoods to all-affluent or nearly all white enclaves is "unjust," he said.

Residents of targeted communities should not attempt to influence what happens with emotional pleas or publicity, he said. They and any agency interested in improving the community while looking out for the poor should focus on quietly buying or maintaining control of land. Developers interested in rehabilitating the area will be forced to negotiate, Lupton said.

As an example of successful gentrification, Lupton cited a former Atlanta debtor's prison in a gentrifying neighborhood. Donated building materials and pro bono work from contractors made the building's transformation to 67 loft apartments possible.

Staff writer Janell Ross can be reached at 829-4698 or jross@hotmail.com.

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