City of Gainesville considering moratorium on development in historically Black neighborhoods

by Deidre Houchen, Member, Moratorium Committee

The City of Gainesville Commission is considering a moratorium on major development in historic and historically Black neighborhoods. On Oct. 15, they will meet again in what we expect will be another long discussion on the merits of this proposal. We urge the Commission to vote for a moratorium. We urge you to contact your commission to support this proposal. 

On Aug. 31, the City Commission voted to direct the City Attorney and the City Manager to come back to the Commission with the first draft of an ordinance to enact a moratorium for a period of time to be determined by the city attorney and city manager effective immediately, for major residential and non-residential development with a map of boundaries encompassing Fifth Ave, Pleasant Street, Springhill, Duckpond, Duval, Sugarhill, Porters, North Lincoln Heights, Oakview and Northeast Neighbors, not including Downtown.

We want to live in a Gainesville that dares to dream that it can respect the life and vitality of our long term residents and balance that with the needs of our student and university populations. We do not want to live in a Gainesville that only respects our students, our wealthy residents, and those with political power. 

Many have watched as our historic African American communities dwindle in population – as they lose character and citizens to large student luxury housing complexes. We worry about those residents. Where did they go? Are they better off? They are not better off. They are just out of sight. I’d like Gainesville to be a part of a better solution.

First, the Commission will review the “Finding of Fact” drafted by City staff. The finding of fact will provide the City with information to base the moratorium upon. Each of these steps is one more crucial hurdle to overcome in the process to attain a moratorium. 

A time-limited moratorium is a good idea. It will provide the City with the opportunity to pause and create equitable policies that strategically lead development and growth in some of our most important neighborhoods. It also allows the City to design a thorough community engagement process to learn the perspectives of each of us, our citizens. 

Development pressure is already impacting Gainesville – especially historically Black neighborhoods close to the campus, which is leading to loss of affordable housing and steadily rising rents. Neighborhoods like Seminary Lane and Porters have already undergone dramatic shifts due to “studentification” – the process by which specific neighborhoods become dominated by student residential occupation. 

Gentrification and studentification are detrimental, especially to lower-income people of color, who often experience stress, depression, downward mobility, and displacement as a result of unfair housing policies. Especially now, given the economic and social climate created by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the moment to pause and think equitably. 

Equitable development would strategically create policies and practices to ensure that everyone participates in and benefits from new buildings, homes, businesses, and economic growth and change—especially low-income residents, communities of color, immigrants, and others at risk of being left behind. It requires an intentional focus on eliminating racial inequities and barriers, and making accountable and catalytic investments to assure that lower-wealth residents live in healthy, safe, opportunity-rich neighborhoods that reflect their culture (and are not displaced from them). 

What do we have to lose in enacting a moratorium? Nothing at all. The City of Gainesville’s own policy advisors stated that “the effects of  a development moratorium are almost entirely dependent, not on the moratorium itself, but on the policies implemented by the city during the moratorium period.” That means that the moratorium itself does no harm. We risk nothing by catching our breath. We risk everything by moving ahead without intention. If we craft equitable, sound development policies during this period, we can grow our city mindfully, soberly, in a socially just way that supports all of us in Gainesville.

We can do better. Call, email, or write letters to your commission urging them to vote yes for community, vote yes for Black neighborhoods and vote yes to a moratorium!

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