Last week, reader Iain Burnett emailed us to say that gentrification isn’t necessarily a bad thing and criticized housing justice coalition ONE Wake for lobbying the Wake County Commission to create a grant to support homeowners at risk of displacement. On behalf of ONE Wake, Fr. Jemonde Taylor of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church and Rev. Lisa Yebuah of Southeast Raleigh Table take issue with a number of the assertions in last week’s letter, as outlined in the following response:

Iain Burnett’s letter to the editor last week (“Gentrification Needs to Hire a PR Firm”) criticized ONE Wake’s campaign to convince the Wake County Commissioners to create a new, countywide grant program to support long-time, low-income homeowners at risk of displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods.

The letter was inaccurate to the point of misinformation, so we at ONE Wake are writing to set the record straight. In his letter, Mr. Burnett equated our proposed grant program to Proposition 13 in California, which is statewide legislation that restricts property tax increases. ONE Wake is not proposing anything remotely similar to Proposition 13 (something which the Wake County Commissioners don’t have the authority to implement anyway).

Instead, ONE Wake is calling on the Wake County Commissioners to implement a grant program similar to what has already been passed in several other North Carolina counties, including nearby Orange and Durham Counties. This program would provide financial assistance for long-time, low-income homeowners who pay more than a certain percentage of their household income on property taxes.

Mr. Burnett also states that he looked up ONE Wake’s proposed “legislation” on our website, and that the cost “amounts to a 1cent/$100 property value tax.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Burnett is wrong again. It appears he mistakenly reviewed the details for an entirely separate ONE Wake campaign to create a designated fund to finance and preserve affordable housing developments in Cary. This campaign is limited to Cary; it is not designed to address the issue of rising property taxes, and the designated fund only has implications for the Town of Cary’s budget.

Throughout his letter, Mr. Burnett struggles with our idea to create a new grant that, in his words, would “distort the housing market” or break the “natural housing cycle.” This is a concept that deserves a strong refutation.

There is nothing natural about the housing market today. Many of the neighborhoods that have seen the highest increases in property taxes are historically Black neighborhoods where government at every level has intervened for generations to keep values artificially low through segregation and redlining.

Now, private investment is pouring into neighborhoods long considered undesirable by white lenders and families. The resulting gentrification in communities across Wake County like College Park and Rochester Heights in Raleigh, Kingswood in Cary, West Town in Wendell, and the Northeast Community in Wake Forest is the “kissing cousin” of this history of segregation.

ONE Wake is calling on the Wake County Commissioners to lead the way in addressing this injustice, either through a property tax assistance grant as we have originally proposed, or through a Homeowner Care Fund that could provide equivalent public investment to long-time, low-income homeowners.

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