‘Gentrification without displacement’: Wire actor’s property plan causes storm

Wendell Pierce says his $20 m apartment complex, which includes a cafe and and art gallery, will bring value to the citizens of Baltimore

Earlier this month Wendell Pierce, who played detective William ” Bunk ” Moreland in the seminal HBO television series The Wire, tweeted his excitement about a new block of Baltimore apartments in which he is a major investor.

Arguing that the Nelson Kohl building would bring gentrification without displacement, he celebrated its ribbon-cutting next month as a new step in the city’s development. He also touted the $20 m( PS14. 1m ), privately funded project as the new economic engine of the city’s Station North neighbourhood.” Economic Development is the Social Justice Movement of the 21 st Century. Development generates revenue ,” he tweeted.

Wendell Pierce (@ WendellPierce)

Economic Development is the Social Justice Movement of the 21 stCentury.Development produces revenue. How that revenue is allocated determines if gentrification has a negative impact or not.That takes political will& engaged advocacy. Demand& Determine how natural resources are used

March 9, 2018

The statements set off a Twitter storm, with participants largely falling into three camps: fans congratulating him on his investment in the city that brought him fame; critics lambasting him for high rents (” Nice gentrification, bro !”); and a inundation of memes wondering as to whether Bunk had become Stringer Bell.

Hinson Calabrese (@ DonnieCalabrese)

Holy Shit! The Bunk was Stringer all along !!

March 8, 2018

” The Wire is fiction ,” Pierce tells me over the phone from LA, as I sit at a dinner table in one of the depict apartments of the Nelson Kohl development.

The apartments certainly aren’t something his character in the depict would have had much contact with. Touring the unfinished apartments recently, the property director point out here that spacious bathrooms adorned with succulents and Scandi-chic details, picture windows, an art gallery, a dog operated and fitness facility, and a ground-floor cafe-to-be. Built on an empty lot, the all-rental units scope from around $1,400 a month for a one-bed to $2,100 -plus for a two-bed, inducing them mostly out of range for residents of Baltimore, where the median income is $41,000 a year.

An
An artist’s impression of the finished Nelson Kohl building. Photograph: SAA | EVI

The apartments overlook a develop station with frequent passenger service to Washington DC, and the district boastings a world-class art school, as well as a yoga studio and stylish eateries in a building owned by Pierce’s co-investor, Ernst Valery.

Critics have suggested that the new market-rate development amplifies gentrification, plain and simple.

King X (@ iOn_ATrill)

The current form of economic developing is not meant to benefit the poor currently living in the area !!! Stop the lies.

March 10, 2018

Angela Snazzbury (@ disnazzio)

Affordable rent for households attaining median income in Baltimore would be about $1000/ mo. or less. Which of your divisions is available at that rate?

March 9, 2018

* cries a lot* (@ _chelsearedd)

Economic development he says! They start at 1400 a few months. For a damn studio!

March 10, 2018

But Pierce and Valery insist their aim is to create mixed-income and mixed-use neighborhoods that will ultimately benefit low-income, minority ethnic Baltimoreans. The pair are clearly intent on shaking gentrification’s reputation as a dirty word.

They admit that the prices of the apartments are high, but say it is a wave of gentrification that all Baltimoreans can ride, bringing their own incomes and property values up with it and” mitigate blight ,” as Pierce sets it.

As for the comparison to Stringer, it’s clearly silly- but the two do have something in common.” A well-propertied man he was ,” Bunk said of Stringer, after he was shot dead on his own building site. To Stringer’s surprise, his foray into property development ran into bureaucratic hurdles and rejections for federal grants.

Similarly, the complex network of federal, state and local tax breaks, preferential interest rates and loan guarantees that guidebook affordable housing development in the US is tough to navigate, especially for those considered outsiders in local growth, Valery tells me. He says they applied for every federal grant programme running, without success.

Wendell Pierce (@ WendellPierce)

Gentrification is displacement of housing and business. When you take an empty and abandoned property and bring assets of housing and business to a community is different because you are bringing value to the citizens already there.

March 9, 2018

So they created it all with private equity, meaning the affordable housing quotums that come with public monies do not apply.

Baltimore’s market-rate housing construction may be booming, but the city is also in the grips of an affordable housing crisis. The city’s Inclusionary Housing Law, meant to encourage private developers like Pierce and Valery to fold affordable housing into their projects, is widely regarded as ineffective. From 2009 -2 015, the mandate assured merely 32 affordable homes constructed across four developments.

Critics have been sceptical that, in a city with approximately 16, 000 vacant homes( many of which are being demolished ), apartments overlooking a develop station that can whisk employees to DC in under an hour are there to meet the housing needs of Baltimore’s current residents.

Baltimore
Despite having about 16,000 vacant houses, Baltimore is in the grip of an affordable housing crisis. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/ AFP/ Getty Images

Pierce tells me that some of the units will be reserved for artists who can barter down their rent in exchange for displaying work, though the exact amount is as yet unspecified. The pair have also launched a” developer apprenticeship program”, which helps people get on the property ladder by restoring Baltimore’s ubiquitous vacant row homes, with Pierce’s squad acting as guarantors. The city and local nonprofits similarly offer awards to buyers who take over vacant properties.

But to achieve this broader vision, which goes well beyond the four walls of Nelson Kohl, there must be the political will to make sure development works for all , not just the rich. Pierce says he wants to see police, emergency medical technicians, teachers and firefighters receive 2% mortgages out of community development block grant monies. He wants a mandate for private development revenue to money workforce housing programmes for those earning under 80% of Baltimore’s median income.

Wendell
Wendell Pierce, centre, as Detective William’ Bunk’ Moreland in The Wire. Photograph: Everett Collection/ Rex Feature

And while he says constructing community gardens in blighted neighbourhoods is great, he bristles at the idea of temporarily beautifying low-income lots, only for them to be sold on when a developer swoops in.” It’s a bandaid on a gunshot meander ,” he says.” And they only do that in underserved communities. I’m not against community gardens, but you never hear of community gardens in Roland Park. In Roland Park, if a house goes down, they say:’ Rebuild it .’ We haven’t built the political will to go to those neighbourhoods and say we’re going to rebuild it, dedicating people an economic stake in changing neighborhoods .”

Pierce has experience in developing. After Hurricane Katrina, his nonprofit in New Orleans built affordable solar and geothermal homes in the area where he grew up, Pontchartrain Park, with the assistance of federal funds. Plans for a new project in Richmond, California include an Innovation Lab funded/ supported by Chevron. The team also have plans drawn up for swathes of west Baltimore, and a Real Estate Developer Index, which grades developers based on their community contributions.

All this suggests that Pierce might be inspired by a different Wire character: the ambitious politician Tommy Carcetti. But the “tri-coastal” actor-cum-developer insists he has no political ambitions.” I run from municipality to municipality ,” he says.” My role is town crier .”

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