According to a study commissioned by LISC Indy, five census tracts have experienced displacement, causing the percentage of African-Americans to drop some significantly in several neighborhoods. The study done by the Center for Community Progress shows the Near Eastside neighborhoods of Cottage Home and Holy Cross experienced a 56 percent decline in their African-American population from 2000–2014. During this same time, the overall African-American population actually grew citywide by 17 percent. In Fall Creek Place, dramatic displacement turned a predominantly African-American community into a predominantly white, more affluent community. Several statistics not included in the study is the 314 percent increase in residents with bachelor’s degrees or the 723 percent increase in households making over $150,000 a year in Fall Creek Place, all statistics I found in the same U.S. Census Bureau reports they would have used to complete their study.
Census tract 3910, which covers part of downtown and the near-west side, were mentioned in the study as having gentrified even further. The western third includes a lot of what was once known as the “Negro Meridian Street,” the center of culture, commerce and wealth for the African-American community. Having grandparents from both sides of my family who lived, worshiped, owned businesses and property in that quadrant, I know how disheartening it has been to previous generations who lived through the gentrification of Indiana Avenue and erasure of their cultural history and identity.
The numbers in the report show that the area surrounding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park is gentrifying, and the overall population has decreased. This directly corresponds with the affordable housing being demolished in the area and being replaced with lower density condominiums.
A total of five census tracts are considered gentrifying in this study, and most show a rise in home value, household income, residents with bachelor’s degrees, coinciding with a decline in their African-American population. The report also discusses general neighborhood decline and the growing level of poverty in Indianapolis as compared nationally. Even with these issues, the study concludes that only 2 percent of Indianapolis’ population lives in gentrified neighborhoods. However, statistics highlighting the actual number of residents displaced were not included in the report. In prepared remarks, Bill Taft, executive director of LISC Indianapolis, and several other panelists referenced this study at a July 25 community conversation organized by IUPUI SPEA. But does this gentrification study truly tell the full story about gentrification in Indianapolis? Is gentrification really just limited to a small percentage of Indianapolis neighborhoods?
A draft research study fraught
The gentrification study can be found on the LISC Indianapolis website and has been referenced and quoted by city officials, the IndyStar, NUVO magazine, Indiana Economic Digest and more, but the report itself has challenges. It is fraught with errors and clearly states on Page 1: “This is a draft research brief for limited public distribution. It has not yet been finalized for publication.” Simply put, some of the numbers do not add up. For example, Table 12(A) shows percentage changes for median household income and median house value that are inaccurate, because the numbers have been transposed on the table.
Table 13, showing the racial and economic composition of Indianapolis census tracts, has values that never add up to their citywide numbers listed at the bottom of the table. It also shows the percentage of African-Americans living in three different income tracts: lower, middle and upper. Inexplicably, this percentage only adds up to 75 percent, leaving us to wonder where the remaining 25 percent of African-Americans live.
Even allowing for the known mathematical errors, the study seems to treat each census tract as a remote island that has no effect or direct relationship to neighboring census tracts that, it concluded, had not experienced gentrification. To further clarify, it is important to remember that the census tracts that researchers collect data about are not aligned with natural neighborhood, commercial or typical geographical boundaries that define Indianapolis. The admitted gentrification going on in Census Tract 3910 logically has to have an effect on the Ransom Place and Flanner House neighborhoods in the adjacent census tract. The rampant gentrification going on in Fall Creek Place (Census Tract 3516) has to have an effect on the adjacent census tract containing Mapleton Fall Creek, where there’s been a 68.7 percent increase in median household income from the same time period and a drop in the African-American population in the past five years. Interestingly enough, Governing Magazine and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland have both produced studies on gentrification in Indianapolis neighborhoods using the same Census Bureau data, and both determined twice as many census tracts are gentrified/gentrifying as the LISC-commissioned report from the Center For Community Progress. If city officials and nonprofits charged with helping Indianapolis neighborhoods rebuild and improve the quality of life for residents are to be effective, they must have the most accurate, up-to-date information available to inform their decision-making and strategy.
The city of Indianapolis, LISC, foundations and all community development nonprofits have challenges ahead in implementing more equitable development. These are not challenges unique to Indianapolis, as a lot of major cities and foundations are taking a closer look at statistics trying to find out how they can better avoid funding gentrification and displacement while still developing a strong city core that is used by a diverse segment of the population. I have no doubt that solutions will be found by having more transparent dialog among metropolitan development departments, nonprofits and residents working to effect change in their own communities.