Gentrification is not a recent concept in Jersey City.
In fact, the gentrifying of New Jersey’s second largest city has been happening since the 1970’s when “urban pioneers,” or upscale folks bought homes in rundown neighborhoods and fixed them up before selling them for a profit. That’s how the Downtown section of the city transformed from a haven for car thieves and drug addicts into a hotspot for luxury rentals and gourmet pizza places.
Yet, gentrification is not as genteel as it sounds as it is essentially a process whereby people with money and means are able to push out those with less money. And it is still happening with more and more high-income individuals coming to Jersey City as Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The Wall Street Journal reported in September that statistics kept by Mayor Steven Fulop show that over 5,600 residential housing units are currently under construction and another 18,000 have been approved for development.
A recent indicator of how much Jersey City has gentrified was a recent survey by the rental listing website Apartment.com that found the average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in the Downtown Jersey City area was $3,068 as of this past August, over three times the average rent nationwide of $939/month. For example, eight of the nine one-bedroom apartments available for rent at the Windsor at Liberty House, a luxury apartment building in a historic section of Downtown known as Paulus Hook, were listed on Zillow.com at prices ranging from $3,010 to $4,000/month.
However, the prevailing notion is that the further you get away from the Downtown area, say a five to eight-mile trek south to the city’s Greenville section, housing and amenities becomes less expensive and more removed from the effects of gentrification. But does it really?
Several Greenville-based residents and others share their take on gentrification and how it would impact upon their part of town.
G Is For Going Nowhere
Elizabeth Deegan moved to Jersey City’s Greenville section eight years ago after the Queens native tried to find a house of her own that she could afford in New York City’s five boroughs. Deegan, 35, who works for Federal Express as a delivery person, is well-known in the Greenville area for the Project Greenville art space based in her garage as well as for organizing an annual Winter Wonderland Weekend in recent years.
Deegan said in an interview recently that she doesn’t see gentrification having an impact presently in Greenville since she has not seen a great influx of newer, more affluent residents moving into the area.
“I think the main thing that keeps gentrification at bay here, or at least for now, is simply its geographic location. Most folks, if they have more money to spend on housing, will tend to buy or rent in an area that either has more to offer in regards to their commute or to their extracurricular activities,” Deegan said.
Rafael Orellana has made Greenville his home base for 30 years since moving from the Downtown area.
Orellana, a realtor, remembers a time when Downtown was undesirable enough to live in that it prompted him to relocate.
Orellana, who owns his own home, is in agreement with Deegan that gentrification will not seep into Greenville any time soon. He said it is not just because of much of it is not immediately accessible by public transportation, but also because of perception.
“There’s a bad perception of Greenville amongst those who want me to show them houses,” Orellana said. “They’ll say the Heights, Journal Square, but not Greenville because they say there’s too much crime.”
However, some believe that Greenville could be in for some gentrifying depending on certain factors.
Lorenzo Richardson, 44, lives with his wife and infant son in a Greenville-area home he shares with his mother. Richardson, an accounting manager for the Urban League of Hudson County in Jersey City, sees gentrification creeping into his part of town to some degree.
“I have looked at several properties to buy but it’s tough because everyone I have been beaten out by an investor,” Richardson said.
Richardson explained that individuals as well as larger entities have been buying up properties in various parts of Greenville that were priced for short sale, then fixed up and sold at a profit.
He also sees signs of gentrification coming down the road with the new Public School 20 on Ocean Avenue currently under construction, which he believes will attract parents from the tonier sections of Greenville such as Port Liberte to send their children.
Richardson thinks city policies and initiatives such as more construction of affordable housing can help retain longtime Greenville residents who could get priced out.
City Council President Rolando Lavarro, who holds a citywide seat, said while Greenville has seen upscale development over the years such as Port Liberte, Society Hill and middle income housing along Gates Avenue west of Kennedy Boulevard, he thinks “most would agree that these developments have not displaced established residents.”
Lavarro said that he is working with the Mayor on a policy that will increase affordable housing options for Jersey City residents. He also said it will not only focus on low-income and senior housing, but also workforce housing so “more police officers, fire fighters, teachers and working families can continue to call Jersey City their home for years to come.”
Ricardo Kaulessar is a member of The Citizens Campaign's Jersey City Storyteller Bureau, dedicated to telling the stories of citizen leadership and showcasing civic innovation. To read more from the Jersey City Bureau, visit Focal Point JC. Ricardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.