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Churches, Celebrities Launch Affordable Housing Projects to Battle Gentrification

By Manny Otiko

Several Black celebrities have joined the fight against gentrification. According to news reports, rapper/actor T.I., Queen Latifah and former NBA great Shaquille O’Neal have invested in affordable housing projects. T.I.’s project is in Atlanta, Ga., while Latifah and O’Neal’s projects are in Newark, N.J.

According to a Black Enterprise article, TI said he created this project to fight against gentrification, which is a problem in Atlanta and many other urban centers. A 2020 Washington Post article profiled Joe-Ward Wallace, a former Los Angeles firefighter who opened a coffee shop in South L.A., a traditionally black neighborhood, to push back against gentrification. 

“It was a tactic for cultural preservation,” said Ward-Wallace. “We were on an upward swing right before covid to reclaim our community.”

The Post article also pointed out that gentrification may be hastened by the lack of funds distributed to minority-owned businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Traditionally, urban residents, often Black, get pushed out of neighborhoods when newcomers move in because of the cheap rent. Unfortunately, newcomers, who are mainly white, often drive up prices and make life unaffordable for the original residents.

This situation happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

T.I. is aware of how gentrification works. 

“…I didn’t want it to be one of those situations where luxury condos go up and people who are native are pushed out to the fringes because they can’t afford to live there. I wanted to provide development that would allow people from the area, who love the community, to be able to afford to stay,” he said.

According to a video posted on Instagram, T.I. said his affordable housing project is in the Bankhead neighborhood. He also said it was the site of a former grocery store where he used to shop with his grandmother.

T.I.’s new project will also feature a greenhouse, open spaces and will be a mixed housing community.

According to NJ.com, Queen Latifah is investing in a $14 million affordable housing project in Newark. The project is a joint venture with Latifah’s company BlueSugar Corp. and GonSosa Development.

Cristina Pinzon, a spokesperson for local developers, said that keeping the houses affordable was an important part of the project.

“They understand how difficult it is to make ends meet for many residents and want to be part of the solution. They remain dedicated to making life better in communities like Newark,” said Pinzon in a statement.

According to news reports, the rents on the units in Latifah’s project are pegged at $1,800 per month.

O’Neal is investing in a $150 million housing project in Newark. The project will feature two high-rise buildings and also be a mixed housing community.

O’Neal, a part-time Newark resident, has dubbed the project “the house that Shaq built.”

But it’s not just celebrities who are investing in affordable housing projects. Some faith groups have also launched projects. According to D.C. publication Greater Greater Washington, a group called Just Homes encourages churches in the D.C. area to turn some of their vacant property into affordable housing. Housing continues to be a problem in Washington, D.C. which is one of the most expensive markets in the country. Just Homes was created in 2017 by Pastor Aaron Graham.

In an interview with Greater Greater Washington, Just Homes Director Shiri Yadlin talked about the concept of “just housing.”

“Is affordability enough?” Yadlin said. “Affordability without [looking at issues like] quality of life, segregation, and opportunity. Affordable housing is just one piece of that. A ‘just city’ means everyone has a home, not just a place to live.”

According to an analysis by Just Homes, churches in D.C. have space for about 15,000 affordable housing units.

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