Illustration by Jynnette Neal.
Jonathan Maples doesn’t call what’s happening to Elm Thicket-Northpark gentrification.
“It is a hostile takeover disguised as gentrification, wrapped in racism,” he says.
Maples has lived in the neighborhood adjacent to Love Field Airport his entire life, nearly 60 years. His grandmother was the first person in his family to buy a home there, in the 1960s. Maples’ family owned it until 2002, and this year, it was torn down and replaced with a two-story home.
Elm Thicket-Northpark was settled as a Freedmen’s Town — composed of formerly enslaved people — in the late 1920s, when Love Field was still an air base. The neighborhood was mostly farmland, with no paved streets. Everyone paid a few cents for water at the local well. Hilliard Golf Course, Dallas’ first municipal course for Black people, was established there.
In the late 1960s, Love Field Airport was expanding, and the residents — who decades earlier were pushed to live in that area — were pushed out, along with the businesses they established. Many of them worked at the airport. The new neighborhood boundaries became Lovers Lane, Inwood Road, West Mockingbird Lane and Lemmon Avenue.
Growing up, Maples says, three values defined the neighborhood: community, unity and pride. Residents founded churches. They took pride in their children and their homes. Many group activities were centered around K.B. Polk, which became Dallas ISD’s first Talented and Gifted Vanguard school.
But recently, developers have been coming into the neighborhood, buying up properties, tearing down old homes and replacing them with new ones that don’t match the existing single-story cottages.
“I don’t get the whole concept of: We’re going to come into your neighborhood, we’re going to do whatever it is we want to do, we’re going to build whatever it is we want to build, and you can’t have anything to say about it,” Maples says.
He may not call it gentrification, but displacement is occurring. Wealthier groups are entering a historically working-class neighborhood, and their newer, bigger, pricier homes are driving up property values and taxes. For some existing residents, especially those on fixed incomes, this process is making living in Elm Thicket-Northpark more and more unaffordable.
“They were done paying for their houses in the late ’60s, early ’70s,” Maples says. “Now they’re afraid they’re going to be taxed out.”
As property values are increasing, the demographic makeup of the neighborhood is also changing. In 2000, Black residents made up 60% of the neighborhood; 14 years later, they only comprised 30% of the neighborhood. During the same period, the number of Hispanic residents rose to 42% of the total population, up from 26%, and white residents accounted for nearly 20%, up from 11% in 2000.
It’s not just the increasing property values and differences to the look of the neighborhood. For residents including Maples, the development is eliminating the neighborhood’s history.
And for years, residents have been standing up to development they see as threatening their neighborhood.
“I am not my grandfather’s grandfather,” Maples says. “We don’t live in fear.”
In the past, longtime neighbors have opposed proposed zoning changes that would allow what many of them see as unwanted structures. Elm Thicket-Northpark was also selected as the target area for District 2 in the City’s Neighborhood Plus program, and neighbors ultimately created an action plan to work toward goals regarding safety, stabilization, preservation, beautification and more.
For the past several years, neighbors have been meeting with City staff and council members to discuss zoning changes for the neighborhood overall. The latest in the process came during July’s City Plan Commission meeting, when commissioners voted in favor of Elm Thicket-Northpark residents opposing development plans. The proposed changes include limiting the lot coverage and building height of new developments, balancing historic structures with new builds. Effectively, the zoning amendments would prevent new construction from towering over old cottages.
Maples says he hopes the City Council will vote along the City Plan Commission’s recommendations.
“For the most part, we just want to be heard,” he says. “We don’t want to be run over.”
Map by Jessica Turner.
Redlining is one factor that could have contributed to the decades of affordable real estate in Elm Thicket-Northpark. That redlining process dates back to the 1930s, when the federal government started insuring mortgages as part of New Deal programs to prevent foreclosures following the Great Depression.
Guidelines were added to help appraise and vet properties and homeowners who would qualify for the mortgages. Color-coded maps showed which properties in more than 200 cities across the country were “worthy” of being granted loans.
Areas were ranked by riskiness. Those marked with “D” and lined in red were considered “hazardous,” unworthy of receiving loans. Many of these areas — including part of Elm Thicket-Northpark — were also predominantly Black neighborhoods.
The “best” neighborhoods were given “A” ratings.
The Federal Housing Administration’s Underwriting Manual, which was in effect in 1938, laid out instructions for underwriters at the administration when evaluating how risky a mortgage was, helping determine which loans should be insured.
Barriers such as highways, hills and parks could prevent “adverse influences” of business and industrial facilities, as well as “lower-class occupancy and inharmonious racial groups” from entering an area, according to the manual. In other words, the government’s underwriting manual dictated that a physical barrier should separate white neighborhoods from minority neighborhoods, and wealthy neighborhoods from poor ones; with such a barrier, the rating of a location would be lowered, making a mortgage riskier and typically more expensive.
The manual directed underwriters to examine a location’s surrounding areas to see whether “incompatible racial and social groups” were there. To maintain “stability” and property values, according to the manual, neighborhoods had to stay segregated.
Borrowers themselves also were rated.
Say someone wanted to buy a home in a lower-income or minority neighborhood. According to the manual, those existing neighbors would, over time, cause the borrower to lose enthusiasm for the property. So that borrower should be given a lower rating.
No mortgages often meant no homeownership. While white and wealthy families were able to purchase properties 80 years ago, many minority populations were robbed of that opportunity. As a result, many minority families haven’t been able to pass down assets — properties — and accumulate generational wealth, at least not to the extent of their white counterparts.
In 1977, to begin rectifying decades of discriminatory lending, the U.S. government passed the Community Reinvestment Act. It requires banks to create an assessment area map to show where each one does business, and it sets regulations on the maps. One of the rules prohibits assessment areas from excluding low- or moderate-income communities.
According to the redlining maps from the 1930s, only a section of what’s now known as Elm Thicket-Northpark was redlined. The rest of the area was mostly farmland, so it wasn’t redlined, and a neighborhood developed. As the population grew, residents opened businesses and restaurants, forming a kind of self-sufficient community.
Illustration by Jynnette Neal.