Louisville residents push law to help curb gentrification of Black neighborhoods

The Historically Black Neighborhood Ordinance would establish a process to evaluate whether developments envisioned for Smoketown and seven other Louisville neighborhoods would result in eviction.

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Residents of Louisville, Kentucky, are pressing for the passage of a city ordinance designed to stop gentrification and prevent the displacement of low-income people.

The Historically Black Neighborhood Ordinance would establish a process to evaluate whether developments envisioned for Smoketown and seven other neighborhoods would result in evictions. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, if the assessment’s result determines it would, Metro would not provide the initiatives with any land, funds or other resources.

Shameka Parrish-Wright, head of VOCAL-KY, believes the ordinance is necessary to halt gentrification and assist locals in transitioning “from surviving to thriving.”

Joe’s Neighborhood Food Mart in Louisville, Kentucky, is the only grocery store within walking distance in the Smoketown neighborhood. A proposed ordinance aims to curb gentrification and the displacement of residents in Smoketown and seven other predominantly Black communities. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube.com/WHAS11 News)

“We are all surviving failed policies here in Louisville, and Black communities are surviving them more than any other community,” said Parrish-Wright, the Courier-Journal reported. “They’re asking for this ordinance. We deserve this ordinance.”

Metro Councilman Jecorey Arthur, elected in November 2020, sponsored the proposed ordinance, which he expects to file for review soon. For the past two years, he’s toiled with area residents to craft the anti-displacement measure’s details.

The ordinance would prioritize residents of the eight areas for municipal assistance programs and create a “pathway to restore land that was wrongfully taken from families by the government,” said Smoketown native Jessica Bellamy, who struggled to return to the neighborhood amid changes.

Bellamy said some of Smoketown’s transformations began when Sheppard Square, a public housing complex, was demolished and later rebuilt as mixed-income apartments between 2012 and 2016, bringing rising property taxes and rent costs.

The overall objective of the Historically Black Neighborhood Ordinance is to combat racist policies that have deprived Black communities of assets and added to persistently high poverty rates.

“Rather than ripping a family out of its community,” Bellamy said, according to the Courier-Journal, “let’s make it to where that family can stay.”

U.S. Census estimates indicate that as of 2021, Smoketown’s median house value was $182,900 — a rise of 180 percent from the median value of $64,800 in 2010. As more individuals with higher salaries moved in during that time, its median household income increased by 120 percent, from $17,875 to $39,760.

The main components of the ordinance would also prioritize residents of historically Black communities for city programs, including home repair, down payment and small business assistance, plus establish a commission to investigate whether someone wrongfully confiscated properties from residents.

The investigative commission, which would decide who has a legitimate claim to land, would be made up of 16 residents and representatives from the Louisville Human Relations Commission and other municipal agencies.

In his 10 years of experience working on housing policies, John Washington, an activist with People’s Action’s Homes Guarantee campaign, said he hasn’t ever encountered a “gamechanger” legislation like the one proposed in Louisville.

“I think it establishes that race and explicit race policies are important,” said Washington, the Courier-Journal reported. “This is a solution that reacts to the reality of the experience of Black people in America.”

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