Gentrification is good according to real estate panel

Gentrification is a problem a lot of cities would love to have according to the founder of Northeastern University’s School of Architecture, who spoke Wednesday about the effects of redevelopment in the community.

The Northeastern Real Estate Club hosted the panel discussion, titled “Cranes and the Community,” in Shillman Hall. The 4 speakers discussed gentrification, the renovation and improvement of a lower income area which tends to push poorer residents out due to the higher cost of living.

While some see gentrification as a problem because it increases the cost of housing for long-time residents, NU’s School of Architecture Founder George Thrush said he doesn’t see a downside.

“I can list 2 dozen cities in America that would love to have a gentrification problem because it would mean there was tremendous demand to move to their city, and that would be nothing but good,” said Thrush.  

The panel members discussed the gentrification of Chinatown, which parallels the ongoing changes in another historically ethnic neighborhood, the North End. The population of the North End area, that has most recently been Italian, was once Black, and before that, it was Irish, according to Thrush.

Gentrification is not about loss according to Kathy Spiegelman, the head of planning and development at Northeastern. “There are things people can gain from change,” she said.

The demand for housing for students from Northeastern and other colleges also impact the housing market. Landlords in neighborhoods around campus try to charge $1,000 each from four students, rather than the $1,800 they could ask from a working couple, real estate developer Peter Sougarides said. This problem is central to why locals are being pushed out of communities around Northeastern.

Students are important to Boston’s economy, but the challenge is how to welcome students without pushing locals out of affordable housing, according to Jonathan Greeley of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

“How do we find ways to embrace students? How do we incentivize universities to build on campus housing?” Greeley said.

Some NU students at the event argued that while gentrification has a negative connotation, it doesn’t need to.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing. You just have to make sure you’re not doing harm in the process,” said Elise Gehling, an economics major who attended the event.

No panelists or interviewed students argued that gentrification was a bad thing for the community.

The panelists asked the audience how many of them lived off campus and around half raised their hands. Several students, including Gehling, said they moved off campus to escape expensive campus housing costs and rules.

Freshman business major Angie Hourihan said she thinks gentrification in Roxbury is a good thing, but with many different opinions out there, it’s a difficult subject.

For freshman like Hourihan, the question of whether or not to move off campus is a few years off since the school requires freshman and sophomores to live in on-campus dorms.

In Gehling’s opinion, new housing and development help the city grow. “In a way, the make the city more successful and attractive, you do need change.” she said.

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