Gentrification takes on a nasty meaning for residents in mostly black neighborhoods. Years of no investment, high unemployment, and low wages take their toll on communities where high crime and stagnation becomes the brand. Proposed influxes of infrastructure and other forms of capital near the top of the list of remedies for these neighborhoods. I’m all for these remedies.
In my vision, no neighborhood in any city should have to endure urban blight. I get tired of seeing young men walking around looking idle and unproductive. The optics send a signal that the mindset of some residents is one of resignation to a life of no big ideas, no growth, no pursuit of opportunity. It is depressing.
Yesterday, Federal Communications Commission member Ajit Pai put out a proposal to create gigabit opportunity zones where local and state lawmakers would provide incentives to attract broadband deployment. Any area where average household income falls below 75% of the national household median income would qualify. Tax credits are expected to make up a part of the enticement for broadband providers to deploy facilities and provide services over them.
Commissioner Pai also wants to see job growth and to meet this goal proposes tax incentives that offset payroll costs for entrepreneurs. I also appreciate the additional shout out the Commissioner gave to entrepreneurs by discussing access to capital. Government, according to the Commissioner, should promote access to capital by increasing the appeal and availability of crowdfunding.
Again, I applaud the Commissioner’s initiative to not only promote more broadband deployment but to get more capital into the hands of entrepreneurs. My concern is that we simply call this what it is: gentrification. Why is this correct nomenclature necessary? Because accurately identifying the policy by what it does gives policymakers and lawmakers better insights into how best to sell this package to current constituents who, under this proposal, will pay for it with their property and sales tax dollars. Individual entrepreneurs already existing in these neighborhoods will want to know whether the price of capital will start increasing when word gets out about potential new deployment of broadband infrastructure. Will those entrepreneurs who were holding the line in these neighborhoods using slower speed internet access find themselves having to move to cheaper areas?
The plan would have more teeth if there were a way to guarantee low cost capital flowed to existing entrepreneurs that use broadband as part of their business models. Otherwise, the people this plan is intended to help will find themselves being cleared out, ironically, by people who already have capital.