And, what do we have here

December 7th, 2018

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

Recently, people I known have had to move to new apartments when a change of ownership caused their rent to double.  In the paper there have been several references to “market rate” developments.  The discussion about market rate condominiums on the American Legion site and some proposals in the Town of Geneva about market rate housing on the old golf driving range at the intersection of County Road 6 and County Road 4.  The proposed prices of the townhouses by the tunnel running under Routes 5 & 20 by Seneca Lake have continued to climb and the selling prices for some of the homes in this city are also climbing into a range that make me blink in surprise.

a downtown scene Until recently I have not paid much attention to gentrification; it was something that happened in other, larger cities. I am now starting to wonder about that idea…I think it may be happening here in Geneva, New York.  Gentrification, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.  I was a bit uncertain about the “middle-class” part of the definition.  So I did some research and while there seemed to be many definitions I settled on the Pew Research Center definition from February  2018 which describes the United States middle class as “those earning two-thirds to twice the median household income, which was $59,039 in 2016, meaning middle-class Americans were earning between $39,000 to $118,000.”  It goes on to say that the dollar amounts shift as they are broken down by state and/or city.

Many people I know who fall into the “middle class,” especially on the lower end of the range, are finding that they are being priced out of some “desirable areas” of the City. Older folks, who find themselves in a lower or fixed income bracket and renting, are buying homes with 30 year mortgages they can’t hope to pay off in order to have a stable, reasonably priced place to live.  Young families looking for starter homes find themselves buying more expensive houses than perhaps they can comfortably afford.

aerial photo of a cityPeople who own their own homes are staying in them and trying to renovate them to suit their needs so they can “age in place.”  This helps create a sellers’ housing market where a nicely maintained house is going for a very nice price.  There is very little “bargaining down” these days.  So what is wrong with that you ask?  If you are the owner getting higher rents, or the seller of a home getting a very good price, the answer is… nothing!

Suppose, however, you find yourself in what used to be a nice neighborhood that is slowly (or quickly) being converted into college rentals.  Large homes that used to have charm are often sold to people who are altering them to rent to several college students.  Some of these students are respectful of the property and their neighbors and some are not.  What happens to that neighborhood of single family homes as the single families move out and the student renters move in to the homes?

cars in front of buildingsSuppose you are a lower middle income earner or one of the working poor?  You are living in a small friendly neighborhood, a bit worn around the edges, but still a functioning community with family and friends close by and suddenly folks earning more money than you see your neighborhood as a good place for the value.  Can you be priced out of your apartment? It is possible.  Will you jump at the opportunity to sell your house at a “nice” price?  If you do, where in the city will you find another home you can afford?  These are all questions I don’t have answers for, but I think they are discussions we should have before Geneva loses the diversity we rightly value and find ourselves like many other cities in this country. I am not certain that what is happening in Geneva is gentrification, revitalization, renewal, renovation or renaissance, but I do know that some people are finding it hard to find an affordable place to live and that is sad.


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