Make your home page

We Stand Together: Robert Hawthorne, Westside Community Development Corp.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Modern-day America in some cases is still being impacted by historical norms.

Some say, the distinction of so-called white and black communities through redlining has trickle-down impacts today. While the country continues fighting for social justice, where does equity in housing stand? News 8’s Katiera Winfrey spoke with representatives with the Westside Community Development Corp. in Tuesday nights We stand Together report.

Haughville, Hawthorne and Stringtown make up the near-west side of Indianapolis. Roughly 7,000 Hoosiers call it home. It’s also home to the Westside Community Development Corp. Robert Hawthorne is the executive director. The organization helps community members with housing needs and improvements, and also provides some merchant development.

For the many people here considered low-income, Hawthorne said, they are fighting against a system stacked against them, making sustained and adequate housing sometimes hard to find.

The work to change that, is constant.

Hawthorne: Redlining has basically created a generational problem. We have families who have worked hard three or four generations ago to build a home and to own a home. And then to be placed in a situation where you have gentrification come in those things continue to plague our communities. The urban flight piece. The circular movement of economics from the inner city to the suburbs. And then from the suburbs now back to the inner city. All those things are hinging upon how much your family can actually earn and how much their net worth has continue to increase over time. And when you prevent families from having an opportunity at home ownership, which is the biggest wealth-building piece, that a family could have, What you have done, you have to permanently push that person and family to an under class and you put them in a situation where they continue to struggle not just for that family but for generations to come.

Winfrey: How does what you all do combat that? I know you work with improving living, improving housing, educating people on what to do. How does your work fight against gentrification?

Hawthorne: I think we probably have a threefold affect. I think the first piece is really having the community, the neighborhood association, understand the value that they have here. And get people to understand that where you live, it is a great place to live. Now we don’t have that problem with a lot of long-term residents. But people who are just moving here or who’s new-thinking, Haughville has the highest crime rate in the city, which it does not. But everybody believes that, so just trying to convince people that this is a great place to live. But the piece that we affect directly is identifying homes within the area that need assistance, either as a vacant lot to build new homes or as a rehabilitation of a vacant house. For us, we spend a lot of time assisting individuals in their homes so that we can put new roofs on or put new siding on and things like that so that they can stay in their homes. Because what happens is with gentrification, once a new house gets built or a high-income individual comes in, it’s a new standard. And the standard that was here, that we’ve been living with and growing on the last 30 years is no longer the standard to be reckon with. So what happens is these people, these individuals are then pressed for different code violations. They don’t have the money to fix up the place, their home. They don’t have the money to put a roof new roof on their house and things of that nature. So we assess with those types of things in order to keep them in the unit. The other piece is education. It is recognizing that there is value here. And if you own property here this property is going to go up in value. And there’s not really much that’s going to stop it from going up in value except that you don’t believe that you live in a community that’s valuable that’s the only thing that’s going to prevent that.

Winfrey: You were saying how valuable it is to understand how valuable property is. I don’t know if that’s always … I don’t know if that’s always included in the conversation about equity, about fighting for ‘just do’ and things like that. So while we are fighting for all of these things, let’s not forget about fighting for our communities when it comes to pushing against gentrification, pushing or learning about homeownership, property ownership. Just the value in knowing that, too.

Hawthorne: The reality is it still comes down to people. It comes down to individuals. It comes down to systems, in the systems that we have continued to perpetuate in equity. Continue to go against an individual who is for the first time looking for a home and they have to walk into a mortgage company who sees them first as a black person and last as a viable candidate for mortgage. And until we as a country can begin to recognize the value of people, and understand that there has been a great injustice played and continues to get played to this day since the early ’30s, we’re going to be at a loss for actually providing equity in the community. But the only thing that’s really going to begin to change that is the rules. And as long as the rules stay the same, as long as the people that are making the rules do not value equity we’re going to continue to have issues and problems.