By Barney Blakeney
In recent weeks there has been a lot of focus on redevelopment in the predominantly Black Ashleyville and Maryville communities West Ashly in the City of Charleston. But while that focus has resulted in attention to those communities, redevelopment throughout the West Ashley area of the city will impact many other predominantly Black communities.
The City of Charleston is developing a master plan for redevelopment West Ashley where nearly half the city’s residents live. Enclaves of predominantly Black neighborhoods in the city’s greatest land area which encompasses nearly 100 sq. miles, and where where the number of construction permits doubled from about 500 in 2015 to more than 1,000 in 2016, will be significantly impacted. And while a primary focus has been cast on the impact of gentrification that is sure to come to Ashleyville and Maryville, other Black communities should become prepared for encroachment as well.
Charleston City Councilman Keith Waring said there’s a huge positive in the focus that’s been placed on redevelopment in Ashleyville/Maryville. When the elected leadership begins to speak out about issues and lines are drawn, the positive result is that residents become informed. Over the past 30 years the mistake that resulted in displacement of Black residents from the peninsula because of gentrification, in part, was due to the absence of information, Waring said.
A series of community meetings prompted by S.C. House Dist. 111 Rep. Wendell Gilliard is serving to arm residents with information that can help them avoid displacement. An additional advantage Black residents West Ashley may have that most peninsula Blacks did not have is home ownership, Waring said. In Ashleyville, Maryville, Ardmore, East Oak Forest, West Oak Forest, Sherwood Forest, Orleans Woods and Savage Road most Black residents own their homes. Advantages such as tax shelters offered to homeowners provide some underutilized advantages, he said.
The Ashleyville/Maryville focus is facilitating more conversation on the front end before residents get to the point of displacement, Waring said. And in the meantime, city officials are developing more approaches to providing affordable housing. City council has approved a $20 million bond referendum for affordable housing development that will be on the November ballot, he said. And council is exploring ways that allow developers to share in the cost of providing affordable housing. But it takes residents being more involved in the process, he said.
Gilliard agrees the focus on Ashleyville/Maryville begins an effort to insure Black communities are part of the change coming to West Ashley. Gentrification is a rolling fire that can be quenched by economic development, he said. He pointed to the decline in Black business ownership as a major contributor to the displacement of Black families from the peninsula. Economic equality may be the most effective tool against gentrification and displacement West Ashley, he said.