urban_renewal (2006-01)

Overlooked neighborhoods offer housing gems

Affordable Gentrification

by Matt Edens

Are gentrification and affordable housing opposing forces—an either/or alternative? Or is the reality, like so many things, a bit more nuanced. For starters, what’s gentrification and what’s affordable housing often depends on perspective—which is at least part of the premise of Garry Robson and Tim Bulter’s London Calling: The Middle Classes and the Re-making of Inner London.

Writing about central London over the last couple decades, the authors study how the city’s leading role in globalization has drawn ever-growing numbers of young professionals into the city, a trend that has had a two-fold effect on gentrification. The first is that prices in London’s housing market, particularly its traditional middle- and upper middle-class areas, are prohibitively high (London is, after all, one of the world’s most expensive cities). But it’s the gentrification of those areas the gentry have traditionally called home that drove the gentrification of London’s inner wards.

A young professional fresh from University arrives in London with two choices: live far out on the city’s fringe or find inexpensive housing in one of London’s dodgier inner-city districts. More middle-class residents follow and, inevitably, slowly the neighborhood changes (if only due to perception—often the original residents remain far more numerous than the newcomers, but visibility and involvement count for more than mere numbers).

The dynamic, as best I can determine, appears to be universal. Affordability, as well as architecture, was certainly a factor for many of Fourth and Gill’s “old-timers,” the original newcomers who moved in during the late ’70s and early ’80s. Mostly college-educated middle-class folks of modest means (schoolteachers were a significant part of the early pioneer demo), they were hardly what we would consider gentry, but they were, on the whole, younger and better off than the majority of the neighborhood’s inhabitants circa 1979.

Some 25 years later, and homebuyers are paying a premium to live in Fourth and Gill, and the people that made up the first wave of gentry find themselves priced out. And many, like those twenty-something Londoners, are looking at some previously overlooked neighborhoods—neighborhoods such as Old Sevier, Oakwood/Lincoln Park or Parkridge, where you’ll find this finely restored bungalow. Crammed full of historic features like hardwood floors and casement windows, this house compares quite well with houses you’d find in Fourth and Gill, but for a fraction of the price ($59 per square foot, while Fourth and Gill prices have recently pushed past $100 per square).

Oh, and if you’re having trouble committing to a transitional neighborhood, you may want to talk to the folks selling this house—shopping for a bigger house in a great neighborhood that they could afford, they found one just across the street.

2540 Jefferson Ave.