I moved to Raleigh five years ago because I was impressed with the job growth and new amenities, and I wanted to take advantage. We have our pick of restaurants and bars as well as appealing new arcades and museums, an old standby. But not all of us can afford Raleigh’s new offerings. Luxury apartment complexes and expensive retail shops feature living spaces and items that would be a stretch for many Raleigh families.
Raleigh is growing fast, but while it is growing, we have to make it livable for everyone, including poor black people.
At the edge of downtown is mostly black Southeast Raleigh. As more companies move downtown, bringing recent college grads and transplants, downtown may soon run out of room. Growth will spill into Southeast Raleigh and displace the residents.
It might have begun over 15 years ago when the Raleigh Housing Authority received federal funds to demolish and rebuild what was called Halifax Court, a low-income community behind Peace College, into a usable, mixed-income community. The Raleigh Housing Authority gave Section 8 vouchers to residents who were displaced when Halifax Court was torn down, telling them that some would be able to return using the vouchers, but not all, because they would not be building the same number of units in the new development. Many residents couldn’t return to the same community; there just wasn’t room for everyone.
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This trend is continuing. The Lincoln, a relatively new luxury apartment complex, sits on Hargett and East streets, adjacent to downtown. Convenient for young professionals who work nearby, it offers amenities low-income residents can’t afford. Recently the Citizens Advisory Council of District C marched around the The Lincoln in reaction to the sale of the Killo Extermination site for $1.1 million, protesting how low-income residents are being forced out.
It demonstrates that the residents of Raleigh want more intervention, from the city or from smaller organizations like Raleigh Housing Authority, to keep large sales from making poor black residents feel they are no longer welcome.
Because we can imagine that as these new developments continue, black residents from Southeast Raleigh will continuously be shuffled around and eventually forced to move out of the city.
Federal funds, like the ones used to demolish Halifax Court 15 years ago, exist so low-income residents have the opportunity to live in higher income areas. Studies show that concentrating low-income people in mostly low-income neighborhoods makes them less likely to escape poverty. People who live in mixed-income areas have better access to jobs, better schools and the right connections to perhaps lift them from poverty.
When we don’t use the funds to build enough affordable housing so low-income people can live in their original neighborhoods as Raleigh grows, these residents lose the opportunity for upward mobility.
It’s time for organizations to intervene and protect living spaces for lower income, indigenous Raleigh residents. Instead of building limited affordable housing units farther away from original neighborhoods, we could build just as many or more units that offer housing lower than the market rate.
Or better yet, next time the city has an opportunity to do something with the land it owns, like back with the city was negotiating the sale of the Stone Warehouse, it can work with the Raleigh Housing Authority to build affordable housing instead of selling it to developers who want more luxury apartment complexes and retail shops.
Downtown is growing, and with the help of the Raleigh Housing Authority, the city, and groups like the Citizens Advisory Council, affordable housing can be a part of the growth plan.
There is enough room here in Raleigh for all of us who want to live here. We just have to make the effort.
Emma Akpan is a community activist.