Black People Removal Part II | Citizen Servatius | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Black People Removal Part II

The white-washing of Double Oaks


For the "Uptown crowd" of the 1960s, black people removal was much simpler and way less expensive.

Those that ruled Charlotte during that era set up something called the Sawyer Redevelopment Commission to demolish the African-American Brooklyn neighborhood. Back then they called this "urban renewal."

Brooklyn stood in a part of Uptown they wanted to "reclaim" for whites, a goal they were open about in local newspaper coverage at the time. In less than a decade, the homes of more than 1,000 families and buildings that held more than 216 businesses were demolished. The land was then resold to developers at reduced prices.

It sounds a lot like what is going on right now in the Statesville Road Community of Double Oaks, except now they call it urban "redevelopment." Things will go more slowly than they did in the 1960s because today you have to worry about appearances. You can't just redline African-Americans out of a place and come in and tear it down, as the banks and the government did in the first half of the last century. You've got to build credibility by partnering with quasi-government agencies that redevelop largely poor areas. You've got to add the sheen of poverty eradication and tuck some "affordable" units in here and there for the poor.

Then you build high-end housing and subtly help the inevitable gentrification along.

A year ago, the oh-so-broke Charlotte City Council raised your taxes by 10 percent because they claimed they couldn't afford to provide you with police protection. But two weeks ago, they somehow miraculously found nearly $12 million from city coffers to subsidize the "redevelopment" of Double Oaks. It's part of the $25 million in loans, grants and infrastructure various governments will pump into the city-backed project.

As with Brooklyn 50 years ago, the city and federal money will subsidize developers who will build upscale housing on the 70 acres that currently houses a barracks-style slum of 576 units. The new development will have 940 residential units and 108,000 square-feet of retail or office space.

Incredibly, the city and other governments will be paying $27,000 a unit to subsidize the construction of 34 single-family houses that will sell for between $250,000 and $300,000, 34 more that will sell for $150,000 to $200,000 and more than 200 townhomes and condos priced between $100,000 and $250,000. Of course, 300 "affordable" units for the poor will also be added, replacing the 385 that are occupied in Double Oaks now.

In its present form, as The Charlotte Observer pointed out, Double Oaks is "one of the last run-down communities in the area a few miles from Uptown." So is Belmont, where a similar black people removal project is underway.

It's no accident that some slum further away from Uptown wasn't chosen for this particular "redevelopment."

The project the city is doing at Double Oaks is what developers call a "town center." Without a definable town center in an area (think NoDa or South End), developers have difficulty getting loans from financial institutions to do the infill projects that will raise property values, push out the current residents and ultimately cause gentrification. Essentially, someone has to go first before developers and renovators can colonize the place and make it hip. And that's exactly what the city is doing.

Looking at a map, the city's strategy is pretty obvious. Double Oaks is an ideal spot for a town center anchor for the only corner of Uptown that hasn't begun to gentrify.

Buried in the Double Oaks Redevelopment Feasibility Report are a few paragraphs that make it obvious that what the city is doing with Double Oaks has little to do with the poor.

"It is thought that this community will follow more recent market trends being seen in close-in neighborhoods [to Center City] such as Lela Court, Wesley Heights and Plaza-Midwood, where young professionals are attracted to areas that are considered emerging markets and great investments," the report reads.

The report also said this: "Developers also thought that there would be opportunities to build townhomes and condominiums throughout this redeveloped community."

It's traditional in Charlotte to wait at least a decade after city government pushes poor black people out of a neighborhood to hire a consultant to figure out why the "tragedy" occurred. The gentrification consultant will then produce a $10,000 study for the city that assures everyone city leaders are on top of the distressing problems of gentrification and racial displacement. By then, the memory of who exactly was responsible has faded, and it's safe for the holier-than-thou do-gooders on a future city council to blame the "gentrification" in a neighborhood on the Volvo-drivers who now live there or some other dark, mystical, racist force.

I say to hell with tradition. Why wait? Let's hire a consultant right now to document the taxpayer-funded white-washing of the Double Oaks neighborhood area. What's going on in Double Oaks should outrage black leaders (if we had any) and fiscal conservatives alike.

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