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Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Revisiting Porters Quarters: The ongoing challenge with gentrification

Lack of communication leaves unclear messages, residents say

Faye Williams at Porters Quarters Community Farm on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.
Faye Williams at Porters Quarters Community Farm on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024.

In a teal house flattered with trinkets and plants resides Breanna King and her grandmother Beverly King. In a quiet corner of Porters Quarters, the family’s tranquil life is often interrupted by frequent commotion from downtown developments.

Now, a development the 25-year-old resident and her grandmother were unaware of is taking place in their backyard. 

New construction began on Southwest Second Street and was started through a partnership between Bright Community Trust and Habitat for Humanity Jan. 25. 

Porters Quarters is a historically Black neighborhood in East Gainesville founded in 1884 by Canadian physician Dr. Watson Porter, who only sold real estate to African Americans. 

As the neighborhood continues to battle gentrification among student housing and downtown expansions, the lack of communication between the city and the neighborhood worries residents. The most recent construction has left residents perplexed. 

Only one resident from Porters’ homeowners association was notified of the construction, and she gave permission for building to begin. No other residents were informed.

Breanna King said growing up in Porters led her to see the neighborhood slowly fall victim to an overbearing expansion of student housing, but now a larger concern of the community is the lack of communication.

“You don’t let anybody know what’s going on, but you expect people to be okay with it?” she said.

Lisa Jackson, who is temporarily staying with her niece Janet Lewis in Porters, was also concerned to see the sudden construction taking place.

The 59-year-old visitor, still from Gainesville, said residents wanted to use the land for a farmers market or keep it as a field for children to play.

“But we didn't know that it was gone until they showed up with a tractor,” she said. 

Faye Williams, a 74-year-old Porters resident, said she’s also concerned about the neighborhood’s vulnerability and the lack of communication with the city, especially from an inactive homeowners association. 

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“We have not had a meeting in seven or eight years,” she said. “That is not right.”

Williams is pushing for the homeowners association to go active again; she said some agreements can be reached among the neighbors to face the city with a structured plan.

Williams also said despite the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area targeting Porters as one of the communities it interacts with most, she feels she hasn't seen the direct improvements the team has made. She said she also doesn't think they keep up with communication.

Janie Williams, an 89-year-old Porters resident, said she also believes the sudden development was uncalled for. Many residents, including herself, also didn't know what was being built.

“It should have not been done without notifying the homeowners,” she said. “It’s strange.”

Frank Wells, president and chief impact officer of Bright Community Trust, said it’s been about a year since the nonprofit talked with the city about what land was available to start construction.

Bright Community Trust is a nonprofit organization looking to provide long-term affordable housing. The organization partnered with Habitat for Humanity to begin construction of a single-family-home in Porters. 

Wells acknowledged the organization failed to notify homeowners of the construction occurring in Porters.

“Community outreach is happening after the fact,” he said. “I wish that were not the case.” 

Wells said Gainesville is a unique place to live, as the city simultaneously deals with the rapid development and attraction of a college town and maintaining an affordable lifestyle for native residents.

“That is putting a lot of pressure on neighborhoods in the city,” he said. “What we're trying to create are some affordable stepping stones for people who are already there.” 

One issue all Porters residents are familiar with is contracting companies showing up to the neighborhood eager to buy their property.

James Jones, a 69-year-old resident of Porters, lives on the west side of the neighborhood with his wife. He often receives letters from contracting companies encouraging him to sell his home.

“I wish they would leave our neighborhood alone,” he said.

Jones said he has no intention of leaving Porters. He wants to dedicate his time to taking care of his wife in that home, which he grew up in.

Initiatives meant to help East Gainesville exist, yet they don't seem to be creating direct contact with residents or considering their input.

The GCRA lists several programs on its website catering to the needs of underrepresented neighborhoods, yet according to residents like Faye Williams, these programs have not carried out their promising results.

GCRA director Rick Smith wrote in a statement to The Alligator the organization has been investing in Porters since 2011. Currently, GCRA is budgeting two planned projects focused on residential development on city-owned land at the corner of Southwest Fifth Avenue and Southwest Fourth Street. 

Development should start in six to nine months, and GCRA will be conducting engagement with the community in the next few months to discuss the proper amount of units and design, he wrote.

GCRA has also budgeted $600,000 for neighborhood improvements in Porters meant to improve infrastructure.

Williams said she hasn't seen outreach from the team and is hoping the organization will be more responsive to face-to-face communication.

Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said she heard about the miscommunication between the construction companies and the neighborhood and believes better communication is a good start to assessing larger issues in the community. 

It’s important to embrace growth in a way that caters to students and a college town but also preserves the history of Black communities in North Central Florida, she said.

“Most of these African American communities, all of them, have been marginalized and left behind historically,” she said. “It’s very easy to see the disparity.”

Duncan-Walker said she’s pushed for a framework, coined equitable development, which ensures each community in Gainesville is receiving the attention it deserves through adding policies and programs encouraging affordable housing, transportation and food access. The goal is to create an equal amount of attention among all neighborhoods, she said.  

She also believes in analyzing both qualitative and quantitative results, discussing with community members what their individual needs are as well as gathering data on the neighborhoods.

Duncan-Walker said she asked GCRA to ensure it’s collecting data to support how its programs can be improved to help East Gainesville and Porters.

Faye Williams believes it’s vital to put these problems out there especially during Black History Month, when the community can highlight its enriched culture and carry on a legacy beyond a college town, she said.

“Porters Quarters residents will stand up and resist,” she said. “It hurts to have to resist the city.”

Contact Nicole Beltran at Follow her on X @nicolebeltg.

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Nicole Beltran

Nicole Beltran is a second-year journalism and economics major. This is her first semester as the race and equity reporter. She has previously worked as a translator and editor for El Caimán. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, trying new foods and drawing.

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