Leonidas, Hollygrove residents fear gentrification


Photo credit: Andrew Callaghan

Andrew Callaghan

Some Leonidas and Hollygrove residents are fearing gentrification as students move into the neighborhood for short-term housing rentals and sublets.

Leonidas, known informally as “Pigeon Town,” is a lower-income, historically black neighborhood on the western fringe of the Carrollton neighborhood. Adjacent to Leonidas is its northern neighbor, Hollygrove, which is also predominantly black and low-income.

Both of these neighborhoods border East Carrollton, a more affluent area traditionally rented by Tulane and Loyola students.

According to a 2015 study conducted by the New Orleans Data Research Center, average gross rent in East Carrollton is $1,555 a month. In Leonidas, rent is $972 a month, and in Hollygrove, it’s just $875.

For some students, the proximal convenience of renting in East Carrollton doesn’t justify its costly price tag. Many students are willing to live further away from campus for a cheaper rent cost.

Isaac Worley, a popular and commercial music junior, echoes this feeling. This semester, he moved from on-campus dormitories to a house in Hollygrove.

“It’s close enough, and it’s considerably cheaper. It’s 300 bucks less than living in Carrollton, so it’s pretty worth it,” Worley said.

Laci McBride, sociology junior, moved to Leonidas last spring. Despite inexpensive rent costs, she is uncomfortable living there. Both of her neighbors are now Loyola students, and relations between locals and students are increasingly tense, she says.

“I didn’t realize there’d be so many families, so many old families who’ve always been here,” McBride said, “Whole generations upon generations of families in houses, and college kids scattered in between. I definitely feel the resentment toward us from [locals].”

HousingNola, an affordable housing advocacy organization, recently noted Leonidas as a “Diamond Zone.” This indicates that the area has seen “drastic increase in household income, home prices and rents,” making the area “more susceptible to the displacement of low-income residents.”

Ideally, neighborhood homeowners would benefit from this influx of renters. However, Paul Baricos, interim general manager at Hollygrove Market and Farm, explains that many of the landlords who own these rental properties are from outside the community and aren’t interested in neighborhood revitalization.

“In terms of rental property, we have a lot of absentee landlords. They don’t live here, so they aren’t part of the neighborhood, all they want is that rental check,” Baricos said, “so you probably have a lot of long-term renters really feeling the pressure.”

Craig Gemellus, a 21-year-old graphic designer and musical artist who grew up in the Hollygrove and Leonidas area, now finds himself “priced out,” and unable to find affordable rent in his native neighborhood. He blames student renters and absentee landlords for the inflated rental market.

“The people moving in are from a different financial background. These [students] aren’t supporting this neighborhood, they’re going to Tulane and Loyola and putting their money into these campus stores instead of putting it into local businesses,” Gemellus said, “So in five years, these businesses won’t be around.”

Julianna Padgett, president of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association, is aware of Leonidas’ redevelopment and has spent the last six months developing a plan to protect affordable housing in the neighborhood. She plans to approach the Housing Authority of New Orleans with a plan that will optimized affordable and subsidized housing units in the neighborhood.

“If students are moving further into the neighborhood, that can impact housing prices, and if a lot of apartments are dedicated to students, then regular folks might have a harder time finding an affordable place to live,” Padgett said.

McBride, who now sees herself as a gentrifier, said she is compelled to make a positive contribution to the community while she completes her lease in Leonidas.

“Because I’m privileged enough to choose where I live and many of these people aren’t, I would definitely be interested in helping out my neighbors,” McBride said.

Padgett suggests that students concerned with the negative effects of their economic footprint could consider local volunteer work to engage the community’s youth.

“Nicole Bouie owns and runs a community center at Leonidas and Spruce, and would appreciate volunteer tutors for kids in her after-school program. I can imagine that there other are initiatives that students could get involved in. We’d welcome that,” Padgett said.

Gemellus, who was priced out of the neighborhood, is more pessimistic about the idea of students helping the neighborhood while simultaneously contributing to its gentrification.

“Really, it’s a tricky situation,” he said.