Is Gentrification a Smoking Gun in Police Violence?
Updated: Apr 28
A Supplemental Investigation of Covert and Murderous Investment Tactics in West Louisville
UPDATED: A Timeline of Louisville Metro Government Surveillance and Nuisance Abatement for Property Acquisition At 2424 Elliot Ave
November 2019: Louisville Metro Government (LMG) entered a grant agreement for project management of Elliot Ave development for approximately $264,000, that included lighting ($6K), acquisition ($58K), demolition ($90K), and project coordination services ($110K). LMG stated that "commmunity developers for the Elliott Avenue project have not yet been identified. At the completion of the public design phase, The Office of Community Development (OCD) will seek proposals from community-based developers capable of activating Elliott Avenue in a way that will revitalize and empower the community."
November 2019: This project summary also noted that "the OCD, in partnership with the LMPD continue to explore crime reduction measures on Elliott Avenue with an emphasis on place-based crime prevention strategies."
December 2019: The Place-Based Investigations (PBI) unit began working on Elliott Avenue in December and identified multiple individuals suspected of dealing drugs out of one or more homes on the street.
12/30/2019: LMPD arrest multiple individuals on charges of firearm and drug possession and drug trafficking.
1/22/2020: Following the Dec. 30 arrests, Codes and Regulations sent a letter of notice to 2424 Elliott Ave.'s owner, Gerald Happle, via USPS. The initial notice stated that 2424 could be deemed public nuisance by the city if additional criminal activity occurs at the property. (See LMCO 156.057 CRIMINAL ACTIVITY AS A PUBLIC NUISANCE.)
1/29/2020: Mr. Happle sends letter via mail to Codes and Regulations in response to the Jan. 22 notice saying he will abate the problem and asking if there is a donation process for the property
2/17/2020: OCD receives email from Codes and Regulations regarding the potential future donation of 2424 Elliott Ave. to the Landbank Authority.
3/13/2020: LMPD arrest multiple individuals on charges of drug possession and trafficking (Breonna Taylor murdered by LMPD).
3/17/2020: Notice of Public Nuisance Violation sent to Mr. Happle by Codes and Regulations via USPS following March 13 arrests.
3/19/2020: Donation application mailed to Mr. Happle by OCD
3/21/2020: Tenants at 2424 Elliot Ave recieve notice to vacate from landlord.
4/2/2020: Donation application signed by Mr. Happle
4/6/2020: Donation application received by OCD.
4/10/2020: Title report requested.
4/13/2020: $400 Citation and Order to Vacate sent to Mr. Happle by Codes and Regulations via USPS following April 8 incident
4/23/2020: Certificate of Member form mailed. Form is needed due to ownership structure.
5/14/2020: Additional form signed by owners.
5/18/2020: Received form by OCD.
6/2/2020: Jefferson County County Attorney (JCAO) reviews documents for closing, including forms, file, and draft deed.
6/4/2020: Landbank Authority Chair signs deed.
6/5/2020: Mr. Happle signs deed. OCD staff asks owner if property is vacant. Owner says that it is.
6/19/2020: Deed recorded. The property was a donation to the Landbank for which the Landbank paid the customary donation consideration of $1. That amount is shown on page 1 of the deed. The amount shown in the consideration certificate is the value of the property per the PVA’s assessment.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data, The West End (also known as West Louisville) is home to Kentucky’s largest concentration of Black residents. The West End comprises nearly a dozen neighborhoods including, but not limited to, Russell, Portland, California, Parkland, Chickasaw, and Shawnee. On July 5, 2020, the legal team of police murder victim, Breonna Taylor, filed court documents alleging that the search warrant that was issued for her house originated as part of a Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) effort to aid in the gentrification of Louisville's West End neighborhoods. According to Phillip Bailey and Tessa Duvall from the Louisville Courier Journal, "Lawyers for Taylor's family allege in court documents filed in Jefferson Circuit Court Sunday that a police squad — named Place-Based Investigations — had "deliberately misled" narcotics detectives to target a home on Elliott Avenue, leading them to believe they were after some of the city's largest violent crime and drug rings" (Bailey & Duvall, 2020).
As we noted in our earlier blog post about the role of the police in gentrification in the Russell neighborhood, SMART Russell is NOT Safe: How Metro is Spinning Increased Surveillance as Technological Advancement, "police departments are the security apparatus for private and state investment" and police violence is the primary means to enforce racial banishment in gentrifying neighborhoods. As scholar Ananya Roy noted in her Louisville talk on March 6, 2020, banishment is profoundly different from displacement. In her words, "displacement is when people have a place to go, banishment is when people have no place to go, except jail or death."
Like many Louisvillians, we asked the question, how did we get here? What events led up to Breonna’s gruesome murder and the inevitable subjugation and assumption of control of Elliot Avenue? And finally, what individuals, organizations, institutions, other incidents, and initiatives (if any) are connected to and allegedly responsible for the gentrification efforts happening on Elliot Avenue in the historically Black, Russell neighborhood?
The events that activated gentrification efforts in Louisville's West End can largely be traced back to developer Gill Holland's speculative investments in the Portland neighborhood. Holland is a member of Kentucky's wealthiest family, who are the heirs to the Brown Forman whiskey dynasty. In 2013, Holland launched the Portland Investment Initiative in the Portland neighborhood (just north of Russell neighborhood), with the goal of bridging the “financial gaps that hinder” investment in the area. The Portland Stroll district was created along Portland Ave between 18th and 28th Streets. In the spring of 2019, Holland partnered with the Housing Partnership Inc (HPI) on a 24-unit multi-building complex at 2506 Montgomery St., next to Holland’s historic Dolfinger Building. The $2.9 million complex was partially funded by Louisville Metro Government’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (Elahi, 2019). The developers received $1 million for this project from the Trust Fund with an expected $900,000 payback. Although this money is allotted for "affordable housing," their contract for the project allows rent restrictions to be set at 80% area median income, meaning that a one bedroom apartment could rent for as high a $1,100 per month, in a neighborhood where the annual median household income is less than $25,000 per year. Louisville Metro Government disclosed their intentions for the development in an 2019 Courier Journal editorial, "Neighborhoods such as Portland and Russell deserve higher income projects just like any other neighborhood in the county. While it is true that affordable rents for 80% area median income households could reach $1,100, it is also true that you cannot charge more than the market will bear in ANY community. Thus, rent for Montgomery Place Apartments in the Portland neighborhood will start at $725 and $830 for two- and three-bedroom units. One day, the market may bear higher rents because incomes have risen enough to sustain them. But we’re not there yet."
HPI is a nonprofit housing developer and, along with LDG Development, is one of the largest recipients of housing subsidies from Louisville Metro Government. According to their website, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer serves as an Exl Officio Member on HPI's Board of Directors. In October of 2018, HPI purchased 95 properties in the West End for $3.2 million from Teren LLC in one acquisition, most of which are located between 22nd and 28th streets in the Portland and Russell neighborhoods. These properties are also in proximity to other major West End development projects, such as Holland's Portland Initiative, the Russell Place of Promise (RPOP) warehouse development at 30th and Madison St, the Louisville Urban League's Sports and Learning Complex at 30th and Market St, and Louisville Metro's Cedar Street development. Twenty of the properties are on or near the Elliott Ave development project, where Breonna Taylor's friend (and alleged former boyfriend) Jamarcus Glover lived and where he was targeted for the no-knock search warrant that ultimately led to Breonna Taylor's murder. Breonna Taylor's lawyers assert Glover's Elliott Ave home was one of the "primary roadblocks to the development project."
In April 2020, LDG Development announced plans "to construct a 283-unit apartment complex on nearly four acres at 2901, 2919 and 2929 Magazine Street and 2900 West Chestnut Street." This location is directly south of the Louisville Urban League's Sports Complex and the RPOP mixed-use site and a few blocks to the west of the Elliot Avenue development project (see map below). Along with being one of the nation's largest developers of affordable housing, LDG has a long history and close relationship with Louisville Metro Government and the Metropolitan Housing Coalition. LDG also shares an office address with the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund in a building owned by LDG, even though LDG is the largest recipient of LAHFT subsidies. As part of our Slumlord Mapping Project, we found that LDG owns 94 properties in Jefferson County and over 40% of those have had code violations in the last 5 years. A quick search with the Kentucky Secretary of State shows that they are connected to a host of other development interests and property management companies that also have numerous property maintenance issues.
Since August 2017, Louisville Metro Government has purchased twenty-two properties on Elliott Ave between 24th and 26th Streets, with fourteen of the purchases happening after the HPI’s aforementioned large property acquisition. Metro has used the Louisville & Jefferson County Landbank to acquire these properties, both through foreclosure and outright purchase. Louisville Metro uses a combination of police terrorirsm, surveilance and nuisance abatement take properties in key areas in the West End. For instance, in March of 2019, Louisville Metro Government used a code violation ruling to purchase the lot at 2531 West Broadway. This lot is directly across from Dino’s Food Mart, where David McAtee was murdered by the Kentucky National Guard on June 1st, during the Louisville protests against police brutality.
The interactive map below shows recent property transactions in the areas and includes links to each deed.
This map highlights the major development projects in the West End as they relate to HPI’s land purchases and the home of Jamarcus Glover at 2424 Elliott Avenue.
To further highlight the significant investment in the Elliott Avenue area, the Olmsted Parks Conservancy is in the process of completing an Elliott Park Master Plan, to “enhance this beloved neighborhood greenspace and better serve the surrounding community.” According to the Conservancy, “other than the wonderful new playground installed in Elliott Park last year, the park hasn’t seen significant capital investment in decades.” The sudden interest in the park is typical of gentrification projects, where, after decades of fiscal neglect, neighborhood public spaces are prioritized to secure white speculative investment.
Based on the discoveries of this brief and initial supplemental investigation, we were confronted by the following key takeaways:
The case for motive: Louisville Metro Government—by way of investments, developer subsidies and the concentration of budding development initiatives surrounding Jamarcus Glover’s home—has clear and vested interest in the gentrification of the historically Black, Russell neighborhood. Furthermore, according to Breonna Taylor’s legal team, those interests required multiple properties on the 2400 block of Elliott Ave to be vacated and subsequently demolished to make way for new development. As stated by USA Today’s article on this story, renderings of the Elliott Wellness Center design project were included in their court filings.
The documented use of police and other means of law enforcement to gain control over properties: It appears that Louisville Metro Government will use the tactics of police terrorism and code violations as a means of property acquisition and racial banishment in West End development.
These development projects are a risk to housing security for current West End residents. There are no protections in place to assure current residents in the area (Portland and Russell neighborhoods) that they will be able to afford living there once improvements are made. Despite the implications of the use of the word “affordable,” the $1 million investment from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund into Gill Holland’s and HPI’s Montgomery Apartments in the Portland neighborhood, does not mean that those apartment units will be reasonably priced or inexpensive enough for current residents to afford on their current income. In fact, Montgomery Apartment property managers will be able to charge as much as $1,100 per month for a one bedroom apartment, even though it is in a neighborhood where the annual median household income is less than $25,000 per year. Concerning the long term effects of this potential rent increase—as we noted in our previous blog post, Russell: What is the Right to Remain? Part 4—a 2016 study found that a $100 increase in median rent is associated with a 15% increase in homelessness in urban areas.
Tomorrow, on Friday, July 10that 11AM EST, HPI, Gill Holland, and Louisville Metro Government will be hosting a ribbon cutting ceremony for the completion of the Montgomery Apartments in Portland.
On Friday July 10th, Louisville protesters responded to the Montgomery Apartments riboon cutting ceremony with the following action.
We will continue to document and investigate the relationship between police violence and redevelopment in Louisville. Here is a clip from Vice News on the role of gentrificaiton in the Breonna Taylor murder.
Bailey, P., & Duvall, T. (2020, July 6). Breonna Taylor warrant connected to Louisville gentrification plan, lawyers say. Louisville Courier Journal .
Finley, Marty, Nearly 300 new apartments proposed in West Louisville, Louisville Business First (April 7, 2020) https://www.bizjournals.com/louisville/news/2020/04/07/nearly-300-new-apartments-proposed-in-west.html
Elahi, A. (2019, Feb 11). Long-Planned Portland Affordable Housing Complex Secures Funding. WFPL.