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3 housing myths, debunked: Poverty, property values, and gentrification

Darcel Rockett, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

CHICAGO -- Homeownership can come with a hefty supply of emotions, paperwork and financial planning. And as one grows more attached to a residence over the years, feelings often deepen as house becomes home and memories start to accumulate.

So when terms like gentrification, poverty and low-income housing are bandied about in your neighborhood, you may be somewhat wary. But not so fast. Common misperceptions surround these topics. Myths abound. Here are three such falsehoods -- and the truths behind them -- according to experts.

Myth 1: Gentrification has as much to do with morals as with economics.

What's the definition of gentrification?

Depends who you ask.

According to Jason Patch, co-author of the book "Gentrifier" and associate professor at Roger Williams University, it is the reinvestment into a devalued neighborhood to create a new residential and commercial infrastructure for middle- and high-income residents.

But on a recent Saturday afternoon in Chicago's Loop, several passersby had different definitions. When prompted to define the term, people offered a variety of responses -- and even more opinions flowed when individuals were asked if they considered themselves gentrifiers. All responses carried mixed connotations -- some expressed indifference, while others expressed frustration coupled with ambiguity.

"The assignment of the term 'gentrifier' becomes sticky only when we assign moral weight to the term. And many do so," writes John Joe Schlichtman, an associate professor in the sociology department at DePaul University, in "Gentrifier." Schlichtman is a co-author of the book, alongside Patch and Marc Lamont Hill. "Our interpretation of others' gentrification is inevitably and inextricably tied in some way to our understanding of our own housing choices."

According to Schlichtman, gentrification need not depend on the misplaced motives of housing consumers. To be a gentrifier is to be a middle-class housing consumer investing in a disinvested area in a period during which a critical mass of others are doing the same. This investment exerts pressure on the neighborhood -- in the form of rising rents, or perhaps a shift in the nature of local policing, a change in the rhythms of the neighborhood, and so on.

"Yes, there could be gentrifiers with bad motives out there, but you don't have to have bad motives to be a gentrifier," Schlichtman said in an interview. "We need to take the depth of ethical and moral disgust out of the name gentrifier so that we can get people together and say this is something that we are a part of, but it's also something that is bigger than us. ... So how do we move forward?"

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