Tucson Residents Discuss Gentrification in the Barrios

Once the new Caterpillar Inc. building began moving into Anthony Nelson’s neighborhood, the quails he used to see around were a thing of the past. He grew up in Menlo Park and now lives in Barrio Sin Nombre and has seen all the effects caused by gentrification.

Nelson was an attendee at a forum last Saturday about the impacts of gentrification on Tucson barrios, put on by the Southwest Fair Housing Council. Tucson citizens from different neighborhoods throughout the city came out to listen, learn and voice thoughts and concerns on the matter.

With over 100 people registered and a waiting list, the people of these communities came together to discuss how commercialization, economic development and the University of Arizona have (mostly) negatively affected their neighborhoods.

Sandy Shiff, a local insurance broker, said he may have a different perspective on gentrification because he thinks it’s a good thing for Tucson.

“I’m here to learn why gentrification can be both a good word and a word to fear,” he said. Having grown up in Tucson, Shiff believes the economic and commercial benefits of gentrification outweigh the cultural and historical loss that generally accompany it.

He reminisced on his childhood, attending Sam Hughes Elementary where he viewed himself as a minority because he was white and Jewish. While talking about his position at the forum, Shiff was surrounded by people who mostly took the opposite stand: Gentrification in Tucson neighborhoods is a bad thing.

Les Pierce, president of the Arroyo Chico Neighborhood Association, said that she understands business and people wanting to make money, but says they shouldn’t profit off others’ misfortune.

“Don’t make money from ruining my neighborhood,” she said. “This, to me, is systematic of ‘city is chasing yet another shiny thing, and neighborhoods be damned,’” referring to how the city is profiting from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

A major concern looming over seemingly the entire crowd was the new Caterpillar building, a $58 million structure being erected near downtown Tucson by the construction and mining equipment giant. While the participants at the forum acknowledged that the new presence of such a large company will likely bring a large number of jobs to the city, they also voiced concerns about excess traffic and the detriment to the physical scenery of the area.

Diana Hadley, former two-time president of the Menlo Park Neighborhood Association, expressed her concerns about “house-flippers.”

“To me, ‘flipping’ is a bad word,” Hadley said. She mentioned SolveMyHouse, which buys, renovates and either sells or rents homes. She said the company has 150 former residential properties within the greater UA neighborhood areas that they are turning into student-housing.

Hadley mentioned she has three grandsons in student-housing and doesn’t have anything against students, but her comments captured the overall sentiment of the crowd. While good for students, Hadley is concerned about the permanent loss of affordable housing for the general population.
Hadley also had concerns regarding the Caterpillar building.

“When Caterpillar went in, they said ‘We’re really respectful of the neighborhood and the building is going to be stacked so it’s higher closer to the freeway and lower closer to the neighborhoods,’” she said.

What she didn’t realize at the time was that the total height of the building was going to be much higher than residents expected.

The Southwest Fair Housing Council is hosting its next event, “Tucson and Beyond: The Fight for Fair Housing in the Southwest,” on Friday, Oct. 26th in the Dunbar School Lander Auditorium.
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