Is Gentrification a Smoking Gun in Police Violence?
Updated: 6 days ago
A Supplemental Investigation of Covert and Murderous Investment Tactics in West Louisville
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 Foreman 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. Teren LLC's mailing address is c/o (an abbreviation for in “care of”) Oracle Design Group, Inc., 119 S. Sherrin Ave., Suite 230, Louisville, KY 40207. Jointly, according to the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office, Teren LLC and Oracle Design Group both list Mark T Wright and D Kevin Ryan as either the current officer or individual listed at the time of formation. Returning to HPI’s transaction with Teren LLC, most of the properties in the earlier mentioned $3.2 million purchase, are 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 warehouse development at 30th and Madison St, the Louisville Urban League's Sports and Learning Complex, 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."
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 appears to be using a combination of police terrorirsm and code enforcement to 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 proposed Elliott Wellness Center 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.
Bailey, P., & Duvall, T. (2020, July 6). Breonna Taylor warrant connected to Louisville gentrification plan, lawyers say. Louisville Courier Journal .
Elahi, A. (2019, Feb 11). Long-Planned Portland Affordable Housing Complex Secures Funding. WFPL.