Why Do Black People Have To Be Displaced For A Building To Be Worth Living In?
In this essay, Rae Carter explains how gentrification in Dallas has caused her neighbors to be evicted and left her hanging on to her apartment by a thread. This essay is part of Bustle's Whose City?, which opens up a conversation around gentrification in America.
When I first moved into my downtown Dallas apartment building about a year ago, an entire community existed within the high-rise. The older women called to check on each other and met up at one of the patio tables in the afternoons. Men and women loudly joked and connected, while making sure to speak to everyone who picked up their mail. No matter how muggy and humid it was, the building's pool, its water laced with foliage and bird droppings, remained empty. At the front of the building, scattered groups of guys greeted the evening with wafts of weed. Despite the constant movement and noise outside, the floor I live on was always quiet.
Across the hall from me is the trash room, which once had bits of food and trash lingering underneath the garbage chute. It didn’t matter how clean I kept my kitchen. Roaches crawled out at night. When I first moved in, broken machines were common in the laundry room, along with out-of-order vending machines right outside. Sometimes the dryers would consume extra quarters just to finish a load. It wasn’t ideal, but it was cozy and felt like home.
My neighbors and I tolerated the filthiness and pests, because we had to make the best of a dire situation — until gentrification came for us. Familiar faces I’ve grown to love and cherish have been pushed out of their homes, and while I’m one of the few people who has been able to stay in their apartment, I’m struggling to hold onto it.
With hundreds of people moving to Dallas each year, housing prices have been skyrocketing. The average rent in North Texas has increased by 35% since 2010, while prices for houses on the Dallas market have increased by 24% from December 2013 to December 2018.
These trends make it even more difficult for black residents, who make up 25% of the Dallas population, to find affordable housing. According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of upper-income neighborhoods in Dallas are predominately white. Low-income residents, many of my neighbors included, relocate from apartment complex to complex. The only reason I can afford to live in my apartment building is because I qualify for discounted rent.
The unspoken message is that black people deserve the barest of minimums, that black people must be displaced for a building to be worth living in.
I saw the process of gentrification start first with the strict enforcement of rules, like limits on how long guests could visit, how the apartments could be decorated, and a three-day grace period to turn in rent checks. One of my neighbors was part of a homeless housing program that places people from shelters into their own apartments. He made his living styling hair, and worked out of his home until he saved enough to rent out a booth in a salon. About four months after I moved in, the building evicted him for having “too many visitors.”
Then there was construction and improvements the building management used to rationalize rising rents. In February, the patio and the pool area was cleared of trash and debris. The hallway and trash room are now mopped monthly, smelling of citrus. Today, whenever I leave the building, a dog squatting in the bushes may greet me — but the owner won’t. When I wash my clothes, the machines work (except for that quarter-eating dryer). I can even get snacks and a drink while I wait. Pest control comes by every few months to clear roaches out of the empty apartments that management seems to be reserving for wealthier tenants.
While the building is more livable, that has come at a steep cost.
It angers me that as my apartment building improves, it becomes less accessible to me and my community because of the cost. The unspoken message is that black people deserve the barest of minimums, that black people must be displaced for a building to be worth living in.
While my neighbors have been forced out, I am still here — for now. My lease was up for renewal in June, and in the same month I received an eviction notice because I was behind on rent. That means I owed rent, plus late fees, plus interest. I would have to pay even more money to get caught up.
I managed to find a way to survive when two different black women threw me a lifeline. After hearing about my imminent eviction, my granny took out some of the money from her retirement fund for a one-time bailout, catching me up on the money that I owed for June rent, plus all the fees. Once I explained my situation to the sole black woman working in the leasing office for my apartment building, she helped me to renew my lease. Still, the amount of my discounted rent will increase, and every dollar added to my rent is one taken away from my grocery, transportation, or utility budgets.
Eviction still looms over my head like a dark cloud. Monday through Friday for the past month or so, I’ve been playing phone tag with different housing assistance programs. “Sorry, you technically don’t qualify for this voucher, try calling this other number,” they keep telling me. I’ve reached out to the North Dallas Shared Ministries, which helps provide assistance, but I live less than a mile outside of the zone that they serve. I’m still hoping to receive a call back from the city’s Section 8 program to receive housing vouchers or to find another apartment I can afford. I applied last November, but with an 18-month waiting list, I doubt I'll hear anything in the midst of a statewide housing crisis.
This financial struggle is weighing down on the fractured dam that is my mental health. I’ve returned to my old ways of eating my stress away, savoring the vanishing moments of pleasure in a sea of anxiousness. I’ve sought low-income counseling, which is its own labyrinth of paperwork and bureaucracy.
For now, my saving grace is the compassion of those two black women mixed with temporary solutions. My next obstacle is saving enough money to pay next month’s rent. Once the rising tide of rental prices finally overtakes me, I can only keep watch for the signs of my community. Then I will join them in our new temporary housing, patiently waiting to repeat the process all over again.