I’m pretty sure I unintentionally helped gentrify a neighborhood in the 1970s before gentrification was a word.
My then-husband and I bought a house in a tired neighborhood in Vancouver, Wash., cleaned, painted and refurbished it, and sold it a year later for a 19 percent profit.
That put another $6,000 in our pockets to turn around and buy a house big enough to have the refrigerator in the kitchen instead of the back hall.
At the same time, it surely pushed that creaky three-bedroom, one-bathroom house out of the reach of many potential buyers.
Still, I have a hard time thinking that what we did was such a bad thing.
And yet, the acceleration of gentrification in Denver and many cities in Colorado since the Great Recession has been breathtaking. The displacement of established communities, the creeping economic exclusivity, the dramatically changed character of so many neighborhoods make the social cost of skyrocketing real estate values seem like an awfully high price to pay for prosperity.
But proposals to address the problem, such as zoning a couple of acres in the city for tiny houses or negotiating with developers to put a few affordable units among the luxurious digs in the high-rise apartment complexes, are laughably inadequate.
They create the illusion of doing something when all the while nothing changes.
It’s like telling teachers you’ll give them a deal on a mortgage so they can buy a house in Colorado instead of paying them a living wage.
The real problem just keeps growing.
It’s the yawning chasm of income inequality. And as long as we’re unwilling to address that, all of the indicators of inequality from limited access to educational opportunities and increased political polarization to labor unrest and runaway urban gentrification will continue unabated.
A few signs have emerged that a movement is forming to confront income inequality. Not surprisingly, they’re coming primarily from Millennials, who often have found themselves victims of the economic injustice — in debt for obscene college tuition costs, stuck with stagnant wages and priced out of the hyper-inflated housing market.
Not just coincidentally, this year they also have found themselves infiltrating the U.S. Congress.
As unsettling as it is for the old guard, 26 Millennials now serve in Congress, and the upstarts have begun to exert considerable influence over the stodgy Baby Boomers who have chosen to ignore income inequality for too long.
Except ignore may be too kind a word. Boomers rightfully can be accused of creating the situation and then exploiting it for their own self-interest.
When the Boomers came of age, income inequality was not much of an issue. The top federal tax rates on high-income individuals and families were close to 80 percent, the publicly funded Interstate Highway system was creating a transportation miracle and state taxes generated sufficient revenue to keep K-12 education systems strong and college tuition affordable for most families.
The middle class was robust.
Boomers surfed the wave of a mostly vibrant economy, then kept slashing tax rates as they hit their peak earning years.
The way Millennials see it, Boomers have accumulated great wealth by sheltering their income from taxes and abandoning future generations to trillions in national debt. They are leaving behind a crumbling national infrastructure and an unfolding global climate catastrophe.
The top federal income tax bracket now is 37 percent. Colorado’s extreme tax limitation measures have gutted the state treasury, leaving transportation, education and health care needs unmet.
And the once-dominant middle class no longer represents a majority of Americans.
So it’s no wonder the audacious 29-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is getting traction with her proposal to increase the tax rate on the highest incomes to 70 to 80 percent.
And the suggestion of 40-year-old tech columnist Farhad Manjoo that we “abolish billionaires” found its way into the New York Times recently and then rocketed around social media.
Trillion-dollar deficits and income inequality are their targets. The greedy Boomers and their dishonest voodoo economic theories are seen as obsolete.
If we’re serious about keeping our cities vital and building an economy that works for everybody, the first step has to be dealing with the rapacious gentry.
Everything else is merely telling the estimated 400,000 Colorado Millennials, the cops, restaurant workers, carpenters, plumbers, auto mechanics, nurses, journalists and, yes, teachers to eat cake.
That’s the message when we suggest they find a few roommates, get a tiny house, commute from the exurbs, or live in their parents’ basements because rents are out of sight.
It’s the message when we say the city needs more $2 million houses, but can’t afford to save the $300,000 townhouses and bungalows.
It’s the message when we tell people who have lived in close-knit urban neighborhoods for generations that the developers have arrived.
Now it’s time for you people to leave.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.@dccarman
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