Ellis Lake Park Debate: Improvements vs. Displacement

Ellis Lake Park Debate: Improvements vs. Displacement

By Edi Birsan

Some 11 years ago I marched with others from the greater Monument area to improve Detroit Avenue and then Meadow Homes Park and Ellis Lake Park and twice on different Monument Corridor redesigns all the while working with Monument Community Partnership (now known as Monument Impact).
It took years to accomplish one thing after another improving the streets and upgrading parks.
Now we come to another effort to secure a $6.8 million state grant that requires local non-profit support and involvement, ideally pointed at underserved areas, to do a major overhaul of the Ellis Lake Park.
With required and well-advised community outreach and the classic sort of argument of “playground there and not here,” came a new robust discussion. — what will the impact of the improvement be on the very people who have been struggling to get improvements done?
An overwhelming number of people who participated in the community outreach are scared that the improvements would result in them being priced out of their own neighborhood due to the expected increased market value.
This is called displacement. It is a very real and valid argument. When neighborhoods improve and become substantially more desirable, the demands to live there increase. Thus, rents go up as do housing prices. Score a big negative for renters and a positive for homeowners and landlords.
Interestingly, 95 percent (ballpark) of the people fighting for this improvement for years were in fact, the renters. In all the years, I do not recall any major landlord lifting a finger to help the effort, despite having a substantial economic gain at stake. As the renters pointed out, once Detroit Avenue and Meadow Homes Park were upgraded, landlords were touting the improvements in their advertisements and justifying rent increases throughout the region.
This can also be called gentrification. Some view this as a positive outcome while others still see it as a negative consequence.
This time the community folks that turned out want the city to address their fear of being priced out of their neighborhood and possibly the city. To be clear, everyone wanted the park, but some would rather there not be a park if there was no solution to the displacement aspect.
When I posted about this on Facebook, I got the classic argument against the displacement fear.
“Hey, I know, let’s turn all of Concord into a slum hole and prevent anyone from doing any improvements so there is no gentrification. That should make housing affordable. Let’s start with Edi’s neighborhood.”
You have to love the diversity of my Facebook followers including those who freely put their anger issues right out there.
Here is the simple reality. This is a great opportunity to give us a major improvement in a park and make it a citywide destination, especially with the expected stage area, a new basketball court, better lighting, shaded seating and a garden space to surround the bass and catfish inhabited lake.
The fear that this upgrade will cause a substantial increase in rents is valid and real. What comes unstated is an underlying fear that these folks have little confidence that their future economic status will grow to offset the housing demand-driven increases.

Balancing and rewarding those who have fought so long and so hard to be able to enjoy the amenities of their activism is complex. Possible solutions will get into issues of things such as rent control, rent subsidies, affordable housing and the like.
The City Council unanimously approved the grant application but did not attach any future anti-displacement protections.
However, the Council directed the Policy Committee (i.e. Mayor McGallian and Vice Mayor Aliano -whose district this is in) to figure out pathways and strategies working with the community to tackle this hard problem of displacement. Otherwise, the non-profits could veto the project by pulling out. If that happens, the Committee will then have to answer to the community of folks who want the park upgrade. There is much at stake here. This is not going to be an easy time for anyone.
Then again, we may not get the grant in the first place. Regardless, the fear will remain on the next effort. And there will be other upgrade efforts.

The views here (or delusions), are those of the individual Edi Birsan and are not statements of policy by any organization or the Super Bowl advertisement committee and halftime show.