Don’t Price Families Out of Gentrifying Neighborhoods

Occasionally in Provo someone will talk about their desire to see the downtown neighborhoods gentrify. And while gentrification can get out of hand — and frequently connotes something negative — I’m inclined to agree in this specific case; downtown saw so many years of neglect and poor policy that at least the beginning stages of gentrification would be an improvement.

What sometimes gets left out of the discussion, however, is that gentrification doesn’t mean freezing neighborhoods’ composition. Instead, gentrification requires evolution and building new structures even as the old ones are preserved and improved.

Or at least, that’s the idea behind of a recent article in the New York Observer. The article points out that as multifamily buildings are restored to single family dwellings — a popular, if yet unfulfilled, dream in Provo — the amount of housing for middle class people drops. A smaller supply then increases prices for everyone and ultimately drives up the cost of living.

Translation: converting old houses back to single family homes makes it more expensive to live in a neighborhood.

A historic home in Provo that is badly in need of restoration. This house has also been divided up into multiple units.

The logical solution is to add housing. Though the article doesn’t quite move beyond lamenting the homogenizing effects of gentrification, the goal really is to maintain — or, actually, increase — the supply of housing. In other words, restore the old mansions but don’t price out the young families while doing it.

Like New York but on a vastly smaller scale, Provo has old houses that have been chopped up and used for lower income or student housing. Some of these homes are beautiful and would benefit from restoration. But if that restoration isn’t accompanied with more building in the same neighborhoods, Provo will become a place where families can’t afford to settle down.

Another historic home in Provo that is currently a multifamily structure.

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6 Comments

Filed under community, Development

6 responses to “Don’t Price Families Out of Gentrifying Neighborhoods

  1. So, should Provo zone for multi-family development outside downtown to compensate for rezoning downtown properties? And, how exactly do you rezone a house as single-family? How does that impact the property owner?

    • jimmycdii

      Good questions. First, rezoning a house is tough b/c it’s so profitable to keep it as a multifamily dwelling. You have to be really rich to do it and even then it only happens under some conditions. That’s why in Provo this hasn’t happened much. In NYC, though, it does happen.

      So, also to down zone a house from multi to single family lowers the value of the home as a rental, meaning it negatively impacts the property value. I can envision a scenario in which the change would actually raise property values, but that would probably involve taking very run down homes and doing major renovations.

      I think that all of Provo (and Utah County) needs greater density, so I’d say yes, lets rezone areas outside of downtown. But I’d also favor infill, meaning that as historic homes return to a single family dwellings we’re also building new homes in former parking lots, in streets, alleyways etc. There’s a ton of wasted land that could be converted to housing.

      • That sounds like a great downtown. I’d move there. Would the Wells Fargo building be the type of thing you would envision?

      • jimmycdii

        I think there’s a place for buildings like Wells Fargo, but generally, in the neighborhoods I’m thinking more like rowhouses and brownstones. So, generally on a smaller scale. People in Provo sometimes fear change, so I’d also settle for detached, single family homes that are simply packed into a tighter space. I see that option as inferior, but it’s better than what we currently have.

  2. Pingback: Another Reason to Build in the Streets | (pro(vo)cation)

  3. Megan Geilman

    That first picture is our old apartment (we were the first apartment on the left). Do I have much to say about that place! The owner was a space cadet lady from California who had probably never even SEEN the place since we think she inherited it from her Daddy and she only cared about fixing problems for the cheapest amount possible, even if it caused bigger problems down the road! My husband has problems with “Out of Town Owners” in Provo anyway but she took the cake! We managed the property and wanted to make a lot of improvements but unfortunately she wouldn’t have much of it. Terribly sad.

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