Neighborhoods on the periphery of Greenville’s explosive—and award-winning—development are experiencing what one community leader called a crushing wave of financial and social stresses, according to a first-of-its-kind study of local gentrification.
“As the tide lifts, everything is lifted. I don’t see it as a tide being lifted. I see it more of as a tsunami,” says one participant quoted in the report released Oct. 25.
Titled “Change in Greenville County Neighborhoods: Challenges and Opportunities,” the 87-page analysis caps off a collaboration between Furman University and United Way of Greenville County, which commissioned the study.
“It confirmed what we know: that people are struggling to make ends meet on the things that you and I care about for our families—quality transportation, affordable housing, access to quality housing,” says UCGW’s President and CEO Meghan Barp.
“It confirmed what we know: that people are struggling to make ends meet on the things that you and I care about for our families—quality transportation, affordable housing, access to quality housing.” -Meghan Barp, president & CEO, UWGC
Beginning in February 2018, students and faculty took to the streets of 10 Greenville County census tracts experiencing various stages of gentrification. Students distributed flyers to recruit 72 residents for focus groups in Brandon, Berea, West Greenville, Haynie-Sirrine and Simpsonville, among others.
“They would see a lot of different things going on in these neighborhoods,” says Shaniece Criss, Assistant Professor of Health Sciences and one of the study’s two principals, who earned her doctorate at Harvard and sits on Travelers Rest’s City Council. “So we really tried to give you an honest assessment.”
The report bristles with frank appraisals of housing affordability; rising rents and property taxes; access to public transportation and better healthcare; infrastructure and investors’ developments; “in-movers” and “out-movers”; and changing demographics, among other issues.
In the Haynie-Sirinne neighborhood, which straddles South Church Street and sits a mile and a half from the heart of Greenville’s Top 10 downtown, one resident told researchers that gentrification is inevitable.
“There’s the need or desire for development, but it almost borders on a mean-spirited ignoring of realities of other human beings that are being affected by the movements,” said the resident, who, like all other participants, is unnamed. “Not that it shouldn’t happen, it’s going to happen, but how to be more humane about it.”
Amelia Miles, one of three Furman students who researched and compiled the qualitative (people) and quantitative (numbers) study, says the results reveal an under-resourced Greenville needing more attention.
“A lot of this goes unseen,” says Miles, 21, now a Benefits Counselor at Greenville’s United Ministries. “We kind of always talk about the ‘Furman bubble’ and how we don’t see a lot of this poverty in Greenville.”
She says she was especially taken aback with rent increases. A 14-page Executive Summary accompanying the report says that from 1990 to 2016 real median household income across the studied census tracts fell by 5.3 percent while real median rent skyrocketed by nearly 24 percent.
In a neighborhood designated as “Across South Pleasantburg From Nicholtown,” one resident said, “Older folks get priced out of rentals that they’ve lived in for decades. They’re going to not just have to leave their houses, they’re also going to have to leave their support structures.”
Not every comment in the report painted such a grim picture of the county’s gentrification/displacement issues.
The study’s focus group consisted of 72 RESIDENTS in areas including Brandon, Berea, West Greenville, Haynie-Sirrine & Simpsonville
“Participants expressed the notion that affordability is relative; the cost of living in these neighborhoods is simultaneously what pushes people out and draws people in,” the study says.
As one Brandon resident is quoted as saying, “I like the growth. I like seeing the new buildings. I like the new homes around me. I like the new downtown area. I like it, I hate to see anybody get displaced, but I like seeing the community built up.”
Another Brandon neighbor put one benefit of gentrification more bluntly: “You don’t see as much shooting, you don’t see as much prostitution, you don’t see as much drugs.”
Lauren Prunkl, who joined the project as a student in January 2018, handled the GIS portion, or Geographic Information System, which transforms mountains of data into maps. (Those visuals can be found here.)
“From the data perspective, looking at different indicators across time was pretty sobering in the sense that a lot of things have gotten worse, which isn’t what you want to see,” says Prunkl, 23, who graduated in 2018 and continues at Furman as a quantitative analyst on a post-baccalaureate fellowship.
“But I think there’s definitely opportunities for further collaboration with local organizations.”
Barp shares those hopes.
“I think it really illuminated this path for us at United Way to say, ‘Gosh, we can do more and we can be really thoughtful and strategic about what our future looks like to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to ensure that everyone in Greenville County has a quality of life that we think is possible. It gave us some clear marching orders on where we can go from here.”
The report offers a sprawling array of recommendations, from rent controls to improved public transit, better access to healthcare and healthier food choices, more greenspace and increased interaction within neighborhoods.
Furman’s Dr. Shaniece Criss suggests local businesses and restaurants encourage neighborhood get-togethers. “We really have to cultivate how we can bring people together, talking, from the different groups.”
Meghan Barp, at United Way, agrees. “I think when we put humans at the center of all that we do, that’s where the magic can really happen.”