The economic boom that preceded the coronavirus pandemic saw development escalate in Fort Wayne and other cities but had unintended consequences.
A National Community Reinvestment Coalition study found that racial minorities and those with low incomes were squeezed out from areas they once called home by developments that included creating parks, building hotels and constructing loft-style apartments.
That's not been widespread in Fort Wayne, but researchers say the city is showing signs of gentrification.
“Some cities were booming, and that created unique and difficult challenges for longtime residents who were priced out and pushed out, but in most of the country, lower-income residents and neighborhoods suffered from a lack of investment, stagnant economies and fewer opportunities to accumulate personal wealth,” said Jason Richardson, an author of the report.
The Washington, D.C.-based organization was founded in 1990 “to champion fairness and end discrimination in lending, housing and business,” its website says. Researchers studied thousands of census tracts in U.S. cities, using factors such as income, home value and the percentage of residents with a college degree to find areas that gentrified or were “eligible to gentrify” from 2013 to 2017.
Gentrification occurs when neighborhoods are transformed from low to high value and can result in displacing long-term residents and businesses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The “Gentrification and Disinvestment 2020” report published in June shows 954 areas did gentrify during that period, and about half of those are in 20 cities.
San Francisco is the country's most gentrified, according to the report, with about a third of neighborhoods that met eligibility criteria gentrified. Indianapolis ranks 12th, with 17% of its eligible neighborhoods gentrified over that period.
Five of the 20 are in California, and the study says gentrification occurred largely in areas where white people are the minority.
Fort Wayne is not on the list, though it is included among other American cities on an interactive map that accompanies the study online.
The map shows four tracts – one on the city's southwest side, one on the southeast, one on the northeast near Purdue University Fort Wayne and one near downtown – labeled “gentrified in 2017.” Several other areas are “eligible tracts,” which researchers defined as having home values and incomes below the 40th percentile nationally.
In each of the gentrified tracts, according to Reinvestment Coalition data, incomes and the percentage of residents rose from 2010 to 2017.
The area downtown – roughly the West Central Neighborhood – saw its population with a four-year degree rise from 32% to 42%, and the median home price jumped from about $97,000 to $144,000.
Increases in other areas were slight.
In the southeast tract east of Hessen Cassel Road and bordered to the south by East Paulding Road, the four-year degree percentage increased from 5% to 10%. The median home value increased from nearly $62,500 to about $65,000.
Kelly Lundberg isn't sure the data indicates gentrification.
She heads the city's office of Housing and Neighborhood Services, which oversees federal funds used to help low-income residents with housing, and said she expected a gentrification designation to come with wider swings in some of the data.
“I don't believe that gentrification is a problem here in Fort Wayne but, obviously, it's something we keep in mind,” she said last week.
Bruce Mitchell, an author of the study, said because a widely accepted definition of gentrification doesn't exist, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition worked to examine criteria – population, home values, education – researchers thought best describe it.
“Gentrification is a bit of a mixed bag,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is no federal definition for gentrification. You look at different models and you get different levels of gentrification.”
About Fort Wayne, Mitchell said the city has “indications of gentrification,” referring to things such as increases in the percentage of residents with college degrees.
“Fort Wayne has a pretty low rate of gentrification,” he said. “I wouldn't say gentrification is a major driver in Fort Wayne.”
But some areas in the city have changed.
Over the past decade, houses in the West Central Neighborhood that once were divided into apartments have been converted back to single-family homes. Houses in the area are listed at up to $455,000 on Zillow.com, a real estate website.
“That's the one (area) that I think people would expect to be gentrified,” said Rachel Blakeman, director of the Community Research Institute at Purdue Fort Wayne. “Downtown and West Central has some significant investment.”
The question, she said, is whether that investment is benefiting existing residents. That's difficult to measure, though the Reinvestment Coalition study says people of color were not benefiting from Opportunity Zones – government-designated areas that allow investors tax breaks.
Opportunity Zones often overlap or are adjacent to gentrified areas, the report says.
Because the study highlights data from 2012-2017, it also is difficult to determine whether newer developments such as The Landing downtown has contributed to a move toward gentrification.
Lundberg said the city works to ensure access to affordable housing as developments such as Bottleworks Lofts are proposed. The $14.5 million development on East Pontiac Street has 31 rental units.
Money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ensures 25 rental units at Skyline Tower are affordable, said Mary Tyndall, a spokeswoman for the Fort Wayne Community Development. Tenants pay $611 per month for the affordable units, she said.
HUD defines affordable housing as whether it can obtained for 30% or less of a household's income.
Affordable units also are available at Superior Lofts and The Landing, Tyndall and Lundberg said.