In 2017, Brent Woodcox, the special counsel to the Republican-run General Assembly, started an organization called YIMBY Raleigh, whose stated mission is to make housing affordable to all. The group sought to achieve this progressive-sounding goal through decidedly conservative means: deregulating the housing industry, creating incentives to develop large infill projects, removing zoning restrictions, and reducing outputs for citizen input such as neighborhood conservation districts.
Accessory dwelling units were the gateway drug to attract millennials. The real prize, however, is gentrification, and the inevitable victims of this YIMBY progress are the poor.
It’s simply not as profitable to develop a high-rise in, say, the Leesville area as it is in Southeast Raleigh. Leesville residents are rich, white, and know their way around City Hall; the land is also expensive. In areas inhabited by low- and middle-income Black and Brown residents, property is undervalued, and profits are there for the taking.
The adverse reaction some Raleigh residents have to the YIMBY agenda isn’t just about fear of change or boomerism. Across the country, a drive toward density as a remedy for cities’ housing crises has shown mixed results; some areas have actually seen a decrease in subsidized housing. The reason: Density goes where land is cheap and there are few homeowners. Landlords kick out tenants or hike their rents, and poor people find themselves on the street, a good vantage point from which to watch their former homes become luxury condos. The condos, then, increase property values, which increase property taxes, which drive out the remaining original homeowners. (These neighborhoods are often easy to spot because wealthy NIMBY residents protect their communities from public housing projects and other “undesirable” developments.)
There are political ramifications to YIMBYism, too. State courts are cracking down on Republican gerrymandering, but there’s another practice that has much the same effect: blockbusting.
Traditionally, blockbusting took the form of realtors scaring white homeowners into believing that Black people were attempting to integrate their neighborhood. The homeowners sold their property as quickly as possible, often for less than market value, to move to a more exclusive community. The realtor then turned around and sold the property at an inflated price to a Black family escaping the inner city.
What’s happening in Southeast Raleigh is a new kind of blockbusting. Developers are harassing Black and Brown homeowners into selling their homes for cash, sometimes at below tax value. Then, these same developers flip the home and sell it for a 300 percent markup, raising property values and taxes and ensuring the next-door neighbor’s home will be up for grabs by the next valuation.
I have a hard time believing that Woodcox is only interested in providing Raleigh with affordable housing and nothing more. He wants to see the GOP rise again in a blue-trending city. And he believes he can attract educated millennials by focusing on issues that affect them: housing, traffic, and the desire to make money, including through short-term rentals.
However successful Woodcox is at flipping Raleigh over the next decade, he and his YIMBY stan page affected this year’s election, in which development-friendly candidates dominated.
But even under the current council, like many cities, Raleigh has sat idly by while development interests took advantage of Black residents and under-resourced neighborhoods.
Just last week, activists forced the city to discipline a developer who built a larger-than-agreed-upon home in a neighborhood in College Park set aside for affordable housing. Though the developer can no longer build in that neighborhood, the company can keep the home and finish other projects in the city.
Many of the new YIMBY-endorsed council members, who will take office in December, support policies that will allow more of the same.
Just as we must stop calling gerrymandering “politics as usual,” we can no longer call what is happening in Raleigh “gentrification.” It’s instead an attack on the civil rights of underserved communities.
The new council will face many of the same barriers to meaningful housing reform that its predecessor did—including prohibitions against inclusionary zoning and requiring landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers enacted by Woodcox’s friends on Jones Street.
They campaigned on a promise to do things differently and create change. But whatever their intentions, if they’re not careful, their embrace of YIMBYism could make things worse than ever for Raleigh’s underserved residents.
COURTNEY NAPIER is a Raleigh native, community activist, and co-host of the podcast Mothering on the Margins.
NEXT WEEK: BARRY SAUNDERS, a former News & Observer columnist.
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INDY Voices—a rotating column featuring some of the Triangle’s most compelling writers—is made possible by contributions to the INDY Press Club. Visit KeepItINDY.com for more information.
How are market forces at play an “attack on the civil rights of underserved communities?”. If poor black folks don’t want to sell the land the own, they shouldn’t. If they do sell, good for them. It’s a choice they made. To suggest that developers are “blockbusting” people using racist scare tactics with no evidence is irresponsible journalism. I’m not sure why Ms. Napier is allowed to write these statements, providing no evidence, and then have them published. She’s also disrespecting every young, progressive Democrat in Raleigh who voted for this new council, suggesting we can’t think for ourselves. It’s pretty sad watching these NIMBYS cry about their loss. Maybe Courtney can go see a movie with Cox and Mendell, make sure they’re ok.
As someone who has lived in the South Park neighborhood for the last 3 years and follows the real estate trends there closely, I don’t think your claims about developers paying below market value to push out poor homeowners hold water. First of all, an enormous proportion of the homes in the South Park neighborhood – which has been portrayed as ground zero for gentrification in SE Raleigh – are landlord-owned and rented out to low-income tenants. For better or for worse, there just aren’t that many low-income homeowners in this neighborhood. Additionally, anyone selling land or property in South Park right now is getting WAY above the tax value for their land and property. From what I’ve seen, other places in SE Raleigh where there are higher homeowner rates are also seeing prices paid far above tax value. It’s also worth noting that tax value is not an accurate reflection of fair market value anyway, especially in rapidly appreciating markets. Reasonable people can disagree about the nuances of gentrification in a capitalist society, but to paint this picture as developers taking advantage of poor homeowners by forcing them to take below market-values for their property is an inaccurate portrayal of what is happening. It would be more correct to say that landlords are choosing to sell because they are receiving – in many cases – a 10x return on their original investment from developers interested in meeting a demand from middle and high-income home buyers who want to live close to downtown. This, in turn, leaves nowhere for the tenants to go, which is what everyone should be worried about and what the city should be trying to address. However, these are decisions by landlords and homeowners based on market forces and opportunity, not greedy developers strong-arming residents. To paint landlords and homeowners – who are choosing to cash out in a hot market – as victims denies them their agency in this complex landscape. I appreciate the larger point being made about a need for more attention on this issue, but it’s important to understand the particulars of gentrification as it is happening here in Raleigh before casting blame on developers.
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