New Helvetia demolition mistaken response to gentrification

Community reorganization results in increased rents

On Aug. 25, the Sacramento City Council passed the “West Broadway Specific Plan” (WBSP) which greenlights the demolition of New Helvetia, a public housing community that sits on Broadway adjacent to Seavey Circle.

The passage of this plan officially opens the door for the introduction of “high-rise residential housing,” also known as commercially owned housing facilities, that would encourage “Mixed-Income” residents. Housing officials hope that this changes the low-income status of New Helvetia and “integrates” low-income residents with middle-class folks.

This proposal of demolition is staunchly opposed by New Helvetia residents and Sacramento activists, and for good reason — it would displace thousands during these already unprecedented times.

The demolition is part and parcel of a larger trend of gentrification which is gripping low-income and working-class communities across the city. This violent process of community “reorganization” materializes in the forms of big corporate conglomerates flipping properties, increasing rent prices, as well as the influx of affluent and expensive food and retail locations. Community leaders and activists point to Oak Park, Dos Rios, and South Sacramento as communities subject to gentrification that has often been greenlighted by City Council leadership.

Communities most affected by gentrification and complete demolitions of public housing structures are already vulnerable black, brown, and disabled communities. Gentrification and the systematic infiltration of white-middle class families distorts the neighborhoods that were predominantly black as a product of historic violent redlining practices and emplacement that forced black populations to survive in the inner cities despite constant policing and violent policy procedures.

This demolition and reconfiguration of New Helvetia is  being executed by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA). SHRA’s website parades around their mission statement of “Community Revitalization,” where they claim to “rehabilitate” the “disadvantaged communities” of Sacramento. They post the sparkling documentation of their work creating “safe and affordable housing,” but those words are a mere smokescreen for what the process of community revitalization actually looks like.

WBSP says that demolition is “necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its residents” which is in tension with the past actions of the Sacramento City Council which included the allocation of millions of dollars to the Sacramento Police Department’s (SacPD) budget for the purpose of surveillance and policing the public housing communities of Seavey Circle and New Helvetia. When has the city of Sacramento ever cared about protecting the “health, safety, and welfare” of poor black and brown communities?

WBSP and SHRA say that post demolition, they would ensure that there are still “751 available housing units,” yet the notion of “mixed-income housing” almost completely ensures that the same demographic of low-income people won’t be allowed to live in those “available housing units.”

WBSP includes an ambiguous statement of ensuring “affordable housing” post demolition, but community activists and public housing residents are unsure as to what this looks like, and where they will be relocated when SHRA initiates the process of demolition.

SHRA and the City Council have nodded to the possibility of placing people in various motels across the city during construction, yet a specific plan for this idea is rather unclear. Recent clarifying statements released by both SHRA and the City Council seem to indicate that the timeline for demolition can potentially be changed and altered at the will of SHRA. SHRA can also reportedly choose to not demolish New Helvetia but instead, make extreme alterations to the housing community that still allows for the “integration” of “mixed-income” families.

The Sacramento City council quietly approved the WBSP plan, and thus, granted power to SHRA to make policy and construction determinations that will affect thousands of people.

The extreme autonomy that is given to SHRA, a private corporation, who has no incentive to protect the residents of the public housing community that they are bulldozing, should trigger public outrage. Why has the liberal and seemingly neutral Sacramento City Council approved this detrimental project? Are these the same public figures who tweet “Black Lives Matter” and “Protect Black Youth?”

Where is the outrage of the white liberal families from the suburbs that after attending a single BLM protest washed their hands clean of a need to dismantle the institutional inertia that systematically attacks black populations?

We, the white people of Sacramento, have to stop “stanning” liberal politicians simply because there’s a (D) by their names. Gentrification is still anti-black racism only disguised as “community improvement.”