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The Future Of Blacks In West Ashley Is Being Determined By The Cycle Of Gentrification
5/18/2016 4:44:27 PM

Rodney Williams

Keith Waring
By Barney Blakeney

Development West of the Ashley in Charleston will transform communities in the foreseeable future. Some Black residents are concerned the development and gentrification that transformed the city’s peninsula could be reflected there. We asked City of Charleston councilmen Rodney Williams and Perry Keith Waring what they think.

The population of West Ashley is projected to grow from a current 60,000 to about 100,000 over the next 15 years, Williams said. That means unprecedented growth in both commercial and residential aspects. It is growth that must be monitored, he said, particularly by the area’s Black residents.

A lot of the growth in West Ashley will include new development as well as redevelopment, Williams said, and that will require land acquisition and land transition. Some of that transition already is occurring in West Ashley’s older communities. And while a key focus must be affordable housing, Williams emphasizes the perception of affordable housing must not be racial.

Gentrification in predominantly Black neighborhoods such as Sherwood Forest, East Oak Forest and West Oak Forest already is beginning as the lure of cheaper housing costs averaging about $230,000 attract young middle income whites, Williams said. As Black homeowners vacate their properties, white home buyers are moving in, he said.

Redevelopment of areas like Dupont and Wappoo roads (Duwap), where ‘gathering’ junctures are being proposed will further facilitate growth.

Most new development almost exclusively attract white residents reflecting a continuing trend towards a region that is becoming increasingly more predominantly white, Williams said. He thinks Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg is sensitive to that dynamic and understand it as an equity issue, Williams said.

But to achieve the diversity that equity brings will require more than sensitivity. Williams thinks West Ashley's growth also must include specific initiatives to finance affordable housing that will be available to all the city’s residents. He noted the city has passed only one bond referendum in the past 15 years to facilitate affordable housing creation. Some comparable cities have passed similar referendums totaling five times as much, he said.

Waring cautioned, “We know what happened on the peninsula. That same formula is emerging in West Ashley as we see property values rise.” White flight from the peninsula produced many West Ashley communities. In time, those communities were usurped by Blacks who later fled the peninsula, forcing whites to move even further from urban centers.

That cycle is being reversed as Blacks move further from urban centers and whites return, Waring said. Even in traditional Black communities like Maryville, Ashleyville and Washington Park, white home buyers are taking advantage of cheaper housing costs while Blacks choose housing options outside those neighborhoods.

“In many of our communities you still can find vacant lots. Our young professionals are not returning to the neighborhoods where they grew up. It’s like walking past a rock when all you have to do is pick it up and shine it to discover it’s really a diamond,” Waring said. “Our kids go away, but when they come back, they don’t look for housing in their old communities. That’s a huge mistake,” he said.

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