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Economist: For Over-the-Rhine, 'the market is a segregation machine'

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Posted at 6:58 PM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 20:22:30-04

Over-the-Rhine’s Black population has declined by 43% in the last decade, according to the latest data from the United States Census Bureau.

The number of white residents? It's increased by 90% in the same span.

It’s a shift that coincides with greater-than-ever investment into the neighborhood, and Earlham College economics professor Jonathan Diskin sees a clear connection.

“The market is a segregation machine," Diskin said.

Diskin has studied the changes in the neighborhood’s population himself, examining what it could mean for the Black residents — many of them in lower-income households — who once made up the majority of Over-the-Rhine’s population.

His diagnosis is straightforward: gentrification.

“If this trend continues, and it looks likely to continue as development spreads above Liberty Street, the neighborhood is going to become unrepresentative of the city we live in,” Diskin said.

The trend has been facilitated, he added, by a lack of housing subsidies or restrictions on rental costs, plus the skyrocketing costs of its market-rate units, among other issues. And its knock-on effects could continue driving out the people who lived in the neighborhood before it was home to upscale restaurants.

Affordable housing advocates saw a bright side in the data collected by census workers, however.

Over-the-Rhine Community Council member Mike Bootes hopes hard numbers will provide proof of the trends people around him have noticed for years, inspiring neighbors and city leaders to take action.

“Issue 3 (a failed charter amendment that would set aside $50 million annually to an affordable housing fund) failed for lack of a significant coalition,” he said. “These numbers will help build the coalition I think is necessary. We need, I think, a political champion.”

But City Council Candidate Jim Tarbell believes Diskin and Bootes may be misdiagnosing the issue.

“Gentrification does not belong in this discussion,” Tarbell said.

Tarbell, a supporter of Over-the-Rhine's redevelopment, said the issue is much more complicated. He thinks misdirection and disinvestment in city planning are the real, bigger problems, and describes gentrification as a “misnomer” and “misunderstood” environmental factor.

“The real issue is lack of income, lack of stability, lack of political leadership. that was the issue," Tarbell said. "It was not gentrification.”

In his research, Diskin pulled figures specifying populations by race that included Pendleton as part of Over-the-Rhine. Census figures from 2020 were compared to figures detailed in the city of Cincinnati’s neighborhood charts for 2000 and 2010.