North Charleston Gentrification – Where Will Black Folks Go?

By Barney Blakeney

The subject of affordable housing came up recently when a lady called me about being displaced from a complex intended to provide senior citizen housing.

For the past few years, I’ve been focused on affordable housing, so her call hit a nerve.

As a senior citizen, I know personally there ain’t no pain like getting older with the uncertainty of housing looming over your head.

I’m peeved that there’s so much talk about workforce housing when our most vulnerable citizens are being left to their own devices in terms of housing.

As I started working the story, I also began to focus on North Charleston, which became an alternative to many for low cost housing.

As Black folks were displaced from peninsula Charleston, Mount Pleasant and other areas being inundated by gentrification, North Charleston became a haven for many seeking low cost housing. Well, that ship has sailed.

I spent part of my formative years in North Charleston, or the North Area as it was called back then. Those were some of the best days of my life.

My playmates and I wandered like nomads through the segregated communities of Five Mile, Six Mile/Accabee and Seven Mile. Much of what’s now called the south end of the city that’s become North Charleston was our playground.

I recently read an op-ed that called the south end underappreciated. I think that’s code for its value has been depreciated.

Since the Navy left North Charleston, home values haven’t skyrocketed like it did on the peninsula.

The military used to be a big piece of North Charleston’s economy back in the day. There were mills and plants, but the Navy yard was where the money was for many Black folks. It enabled them to buy homes.

My family left North Charleston just before I started high school, so I wasn’t there as the city incorporated and evolved.

Years later, I moved back to North Charleston as an adult during the decade of the ‘1990s and did a 10-year stint. Many of the old neighborhoods had changed.

They still were segregated, but the race of the residents had changed. Previously all white communities had become all Black. But housing costs still was low income affordable.

I moved back to downtown Charleston in 2000. Over the previous 20 years, white flight had also changed the segregated communities of the peninsula just as they had changed segregated communities in North Charleston.

Black folks had taken up residence in previously all-white neighborhoods. But a reverse trend had started to take place.

White folks were reclaiming their old neighborhoods and the Black folks who had replaced them were being pushed to North Charleston. The old practice of redlining was being instituted.

In those days my editor, Jim French, constantly cajoled me to write stories about gentrification and the displacement of Black residents. “Where are Black people going?”, he encouraged me to ask.

His predictions that Black folks in downtown Charleston eventually would be displaced never really struck home with me. But by 2010 the picture of downtown gentrification had become much clearer.

I remember a conversation with former S.C. Dist. 113 Rep. Seth Whipper during which the subject of low income affordable housing in North Charleston came up.

Whipper said that the availability of low income affordable housing was deliberately coming to an end.

I understood what he was saying. My old neighborhood along the Spruill Avenue corridor had already changed. New development was creating higher cost housing.

Today, my old neighborhood near Park Circle and the ‘Duck Pond’ is vastly different from the deteriorating blight that was there during the 1990s. And that’s continuing across the south end.

Today, a ride through North Charleston is reminiscent of downtown Charleston during the early 2000s – out with the old, in with the new.

A lot of new stuff in neighborhoods where low cost housing once served as homes for working class white folks who were replaced by low and moderate income Blacks, is evidence of gentrification similar to that which changed the Charleston peninsula.

It’s as if former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley passed on his blueprint for gentrification to current North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.

And here I am, 20 years later asking myself the same question my old editor Jim French asked: “Where are Black folks going?”

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