• Endiya Griffin

One Artivist's Fight Against Gentrification

Updated: Dec 30, 2019

Photo by Endiya Griffin

As the cost of living skyrockets in California, the idea of living a, “white picket fence,” American Dream seems to slip further from the grasp of most Californians. According to a study from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the median price of a California house in 2017 was more than two-and-a-half times that of the United States median.

People are struggling to simply afford the roofs over their heads due to the rapidly increasing housing prices, while long-standing, low-income residents in City Heights, San Diego are being pushed out of homes they’ve owned for generations by “higher-income, higher-educated arrivals.

But the marginalized folks within these communities are not going down without a fight. We've seen a significant increase in anti-gentrification and anti-displacement protest.

One first-generation Somali artivist [artist + activist] named Fahad Mohammed is using his art to fight against the forces of gentrification. Mohamed utilizes documentary and identity-based photography to make his voice heard. Rather than staying silent about the issue, he has made the decision to be vocal to promote awareness.

As he puts it, “Nobody’s gonna inform you that— hey, we’re gonna come take over your hood,” so it’s important that people stay informed.

photo credits: Fahad Mohamed

He describes gentrification as a process that gets progressively worse at the expense of neighborhoods and the people who live in them. “[Gentrification] comes into our neighborhoods and first the hipster kids are making cheap imitations of us, then before you know it they’re pushing us out altogether. And the house you grew up in is a vegan poke avocado toast bistro or something.”

When asked about his fears about gentrification in City Heights, Mohamed said, “Where I live- that’s an ‘opportunity zone’ and they’re all just picking their stake like monopoly. ‘Opportunity zone’— opportunity for who? For what? It doesn’t seem like it’s for us.”

City Heights, like 35 other census tracts within San Diego, has been designated as an “Opportunity Zone” by the U.S. Department of Treasury because of its poverty, business activity and geographic diversity. In accordance with the Opportunity Zone Program, investors who build in opportunity zones get a tax discount after five to seven years and ultimately pay no taxes on capital gains after 10 years. However, restrictions associated with the program are very loosely defined which leaves the specifics of what is built up to developers who don’t necessarily have the community’s best interest in mind.

Wary of new developments in the neighborhood he calls home, Mohamed anticipates that rampant displacement will come along with City Heights’ opportunity zone designation.

“I want to safe keep City Heights’ image. I want to archive it because I think it's changing a lot and will change more in the coming years.” says Mohamed,

“I want to take pictures of the buildings and the people and the food and the businesses that have been here for like 20-30 years- maybe even longer. They’re all gonna be gone soon.”

Community activists like Mohamed are leading the way to bring awareness to gentrification and the necessity for community-informed policies to affect change in City Heights. “We are here, we’ve been here, and we want to stay here”— that’s what Fahad wants to convey with his photography.

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