The booming renovation and restoration of America's inner city neighborhoods need not mean displacement of the urban poor, according to a new handbook put out by the National Urban Coalition.
The 94-page document catalogs a wide range of tactics employed successfully by community groups across the country to prevent the large-scale uprooting of low-income families as middle-class couples - white and black - return to the central city.
"If people think (renovation) is an inevitable wave that will sweep them up, then they will get swept up," said coalition president H. Carl. Holman. "But if there are public and private and voluntary things that can be done, they will intervene and make a difference."
Last year, the National Urban Coalition was one of the first National groups to document that the growing middle-class influx to conveniently located city neighborhoods was turning poorer residents into what it called "urban nomads."
After surveying 65 neighborhoods in 44 cities, the coalition found urban revitalization had caused severe economic and social disruption among low- and moderate-income families.
This year, the coalition is telling residents and organizations in these communities how to save themselves.
The coalition does not oppose refurbishing city neighborhoods, Holman said, but wants existing residents to share in the benefits.
"Neighborhood Transition without Displacement," the compact guide, details step-by-step how to accomplish that goal:
Organize at the first sign of increasing housing sales and evictions of long-time residents. In the early stages "it is easier to devise workable strategies to counteract displacement because there is less pressure on the neighborhood housing market."
Talk to churches and other charitable organizations and win their support. Then use their networks to spread information about hardships faced by residents forced to move. Call newspapers and television stations.
Go to businesses such as banks and savings and loans to obtain commitments to existing residents to receive rehabilitation loans. New federal legislation is forcing financial institutions to lend more money to inner city communities.
Determine which federal and local housing program can be tapped to get low-interest rehabilation loans and down payment loans for elderly or poor homeowners and rent subsidies for tenants.
Unite with groups in other communities fighting the same displacement problems and go to the city council or board of supervisors to lobby for legislation giving tenants more rights and the authority to purchase their homes or buildings.
Find other housing for residents who will be forced to move. Everyone will not be saved.
In 1972, when members of the Church of the Savior, 2025 Massachusetts Ave. NW, noticed increasing middle-class interest in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood, they organized a nonprofit housing corporation that started buying up low- and moderate-income apartment buildings. Jubilee Housing now owns five buildings with 196 units where the rents have remained low while the surrounding community has become a fashionable address for the middle-class professionals.
In Boston 14 years ago, the handbook points out, a Spanish group organized to fight urban renewal demolition plans in their South End neighborhood. Now it owns or manages more than 600 low-rent apartments in a neighborhood that is becoming increasingly middle-class.
In 1972, the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in Baltimore started a city-wide information and counseling service for groups and individuals fighting real estate speculation in poor neighborhoods. Such speculation is the first sign of urban revitalization.
Two years later, the group went into the real estate business and now buys, repairs, and sells homes at no profit to poorer black and white buyers.
In Seattle, 30 groups working to minimize displacement have formed the Seattle Displacement Coalition. They are now lobbying for a Tenants Bill of Rights to include rent control, a tenant's right to buy his home, and additional protections against evictions.
The coalition's handbook has received some criticism.
"It will be of some help to groups giving them some ideas but it won't help Mrs. Jones about where she can go," said James Harvey, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association.
"I don't know of anything that's been totally effective," Harvey said. "Some people have slowed it down but it is still a dilemma of how to revitalize without displacement."
The handbook was prepared under a $7,500 contract from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is scheduled for public distribution next month.