MontClairVoyant: Montclair’s Decrease in Diversity, and Lackawanna Plaza Perversity

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
The night before the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s January 15 birthday, we learned at a Board of Education meeting that African-American student enrollment has dropped sharply in Montclair. Awful news for a town that prides itself on diversity?

Sincerely,
Not Dreamworthy

Yes. African-American enrollment reportedly dipped from about 32 percent of students in 2010 to about 24 percent in 2018. At that rate, Montclair might someday have a white Christmas every year — and a white July 4th, too.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
But aren’t you forgetting that our town will remain a rich tapestry of people who drink coffee at Java Love, or drink coffee at Bonjour Montclair, or drink coffee at Starbucks, or drink coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts?

Sincerely,
Jean and Dean’s Caffeine

Not funny. Montclair will thankfully always have some diversity — racial, ethnic, gay/straight, etc. — but its African-American citizens are a huge/wonderful part of town history and identity. (You forgot to mention people who absorb coffee via IV drip.)

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Why the depressing drop in Montclair’s black population?

Sincerely,
Rhea Zinn-Sought

African-Americans obviously vary in income, but less-affluent black citizens have been among the people slammed by high property taxes, high rents, pricey new downtown housing units, and more. If Lincoln is ever reincarnated, watch for The Gentrification Proclamation.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
These days, our town’s developers never build big residential projects with ALL the units affordable. So, as housing costs set people’s savings on fire, should a Montclair that’s less diverse racially and economically be renamed in “honor” of mostly homogenous/affluent Summit and Millburn?

Sincerely,
Burbs With Curbs

Sumburn has a nice ring to it.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Meanwhile, Lackawanna Plaza’s developers continue to argue, or at least imply, that we can’t have both a supermarket and almost-complete historic preservation at LP. Do you agree?

Sincerely,
An Either/Or to Abhor

No! We absolutely can have both, along with a parking layout that doesn’t ruin the Bloomfield Avenue streetscape. LP’s developers just have to absorb community-mindedness via IV drip.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Sounds like a challenge for Dr. Frankenstein. Might his novelist creator Mary Shelley (1797-1851) attend the January 28 Planning Board meeting that will include public comment on LP?

Sincerely,
Boris Car-Loft

I think you’ve bumped your head once too often. The next time you’re in a car, remember that dogs — not humans — stick their necks out of motor-vehicle windows.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Have the LP developers nixed a temporary food market there in order to increase community pressure for a quicker approval of project plans that maximize profits at the cost of harming some of the former train station’s historic elements?

Sincerely,
Dee Cision

The many who believe that ask: Does the sun rise in the morning? Does it set at night? Sunrise…sunset. There could be a fiddler on the roof in LP’s architectural renderings.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
I thought it was a developer on the roof singing “If I Were a Rich Man.”

Sincerely,
No Shingles Vaccine

“If”?

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Yup, developers are rich but always want more. Heck, part of January 22’s Township Council meeting focused on upping the allowed density, from 65 to 90 units per acre, on the Church Street parking lot that once served the Hahne’s department store. Comment?

Sincerely,
Cram I Am

The developer-lovin’ TC seems agreeable (with some revisions) to a five-story, 74-unit, mixed-use building there. That’s three hyphens near the end of that sentence, and frankly downtown is already “punctuated” with too many recent and soon-to-come large projects.

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

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26 COMMENTS

  1. Dave,

    Some quick numbers you should consider:

    – In 1977 (year of desegregation order) Blacks represented 36%; by mid-1990s, they represented about 49% of the district enrollment
    – By 2010, the Black enrollment was back down to 35%; not sure where the 32% number came from; so it’s even worse
    – The 2019 24% figure reflects a 20+ year down trend, not just 10 years
    – The White majority enrollment remains unchanged at 51% from 2010 to 2019; unlikely we will have a 4 of July you humorously suggest
    – The total minority enrollment also remains unchanged at 49%
    – The free & reduced lunch participation has gone from 18.6% to 16% of enrollment

    I have a concern as to why free & reduced lunch participation is dropping. It may be due to a statistical aberration, rising incomes and/or gentrification. I suspect these don’t fully account for the drop-off. The BoE should examine this further.

  2. Thank you for those statistics and your thoughts, Frank!

    I agree — Montclair’s declining African-American student enrollment predates 2010. My older daughter was in the Montclair school system from 1993 to 2007, and I remember quite a few more African-American students during that time than during my younger daughter’s present school-system tenure that began in 2012. Perhaps the Montclair Connection that started one-ride-to-NYC train service in 2002 had something to do with that predating-2010 trend of declining African-American enrollment.

    If Montclair still has the same percentage of “minority” population — combining African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American, etc., students — I’m happy to hear that. Are you sure, though? I sense a higher percentage of white students than before, but I of course could be wrong. (My younger daughter is of Latina descent, so she’s among that “minority” enrollment.) Whatever the figures say, I still deeply lament the decrease in African-American enrollment.

  3. The minority total includes 8% classified as multi-racial which wasn’t a classification back in 2010. It was added within the last 4 years. The BoE can go back and look at the report year the multi-racial was added and compare to the prior year to see how this may have impacted the %’s.

    I can only speculate on the causes and their contribution to the overall trend. Maybe others have isolated some of the major causes.

  4. Dave, the 32% figure was put forth by BOE Vice President Kavesh at the 1/14 meeting, following the presentation by Dr. Harrison-Crawford. From the video, it appears that Kavesh was referring to the rapidly declining African American population in town (32% according to the 2000 census; then 27% per the 2010 census, which he termed an “alarming trend”). Many causes of the declining African American population, in the town and the school district.

  5. If Mr Kavesh was quoting census data about the Township overall, then this explains the different figures from what the MPSD student enrollment distribution report. The Township would have the most recent (2018) census estimates…this was the basis for their request for the new liquor license.

  6. Thank you for that information, John! I got the 32% number from a story; unfortunately, I wasn’t at the January 14 BOE meeting. I should have watched the video like you did!

    Montclair’s African-American student population is definitely down, but I guess there’s some uncertainty about what year that 32% number is from, the exact rate of decrease, and whether what’s being referred to is Montclair’s African-American population in general or Montclair’s African-American student enrollment in particular.

  7. Ah, yes, Frank — Montclair reaching the 39,000-population threshold to qualify for its 13th liquor license!

  8. The Fourth Ward’s Landmarks are disappearing… and possibly the community too. Fortunately, works of Montclair artist Don Miller that depict moments in Montclair’s past are permanently preserved by the Montclair Public Library. In the words of great American poet, William Carlos Williams, “All that remains of communities and civilizations, all that remains of their worth and dignity exists in the art they leave”

  9. Thank you for the comment, Frank! Yes, the Fourth Ward has taken a preservation hit — the potential loss of some vintage elements of Lackawanna Plaza, the old Washington Street Y demolished for Bullock School, the razing of the Aubrey Lewis house, etc. It’s nice that art can recall disappeared landmarks — and that’s a great/eloquent William Carlos Williams line you cited — but the art of course doesn’t replace the real thing, as everyone knows.

    And the Fourth Ward community as it existed for many, many decades is indeed “disappearing” in a way as it becomes whiter, more gentrified, etc.

  10. I really want to understand your point above. Are you saying Montclair is getting whiter?
    I’m missing something because the census data doesn’t seem to show this. The census data that granted our most recent liquor license. The Ward 4 is getting whiter (gentrified?), then the town must be getting whiter…and instead of integrated, it is becoming more segregated? Then we need to stop development! Development is what is gentrifying us? I’m confused.

  11. The term “gentrified” is outdated. It just means “monied” at present, not whiter.
    Neighborhoods all are around town are possibly becoming more diverse with monied people.
    It is said that the 4th Ward is becoming whiter because many of the long standing black families are leaving.

  12. Thank you, Frank R. I know you said the percentage of white Montclair residents may have remained relatively the same, with the “minority” population more varied — not as many African-Americans, but more people of Hispanic, Asian, etc., descent. I’m still not convinced of that — I’ll be interested to see the 2020 Census numbers. And with the white percentage of the Fourth Ward’s population increasing, is the non-white population of the other three wards increasing in a way that balances that? I’m not convinced of that, either.

    And I do think the kind of development we’re getting downtown — mostly geared toward higher-income people — is unfortunately “helping” to gentrify Montclair.

  13. Thank you, frankgg. I hear you about “monied” vs. “gentrified.” There is indeed some diversity among the monied people moving into Montclair. But whatever term is used, a town becoming more monied or gentrified usually ends up with a whiter population and a smaller percentage of African-American residents.

    And if many long-standing black families are leaving the Fourth Ward, the question is why. Housing costs don’t rise totally in a vacuum — decisions by town leaders and developers have at least something to do with the increase. That said, with home prices rising so high, I can see why some Montclair residents — whether black or white — would consider selling to get a windfall and avoid continuing to pay high property taxes. That certainly was one reason my wife and I sold our Montclair house in 2014 and moved to a Montclair apartment. Many other home sellers, of course, unfortunately move out of town because the rents are usually pretty high.

  14. “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In 2-Part Harmony)”

    ok, I’ll wait until the 2020 census is published

  15. Ha, Frank!

    The 2020 Census will be interesting, re the level of population diversity in Montclair.

    When filling out that Census form, I plan to identify as a Baristanet-Commenting-American…

  16. Let me get this straight. The percentage of minorities has not declined, just the percentage of African Americans. So now we are “alarmed” because we have the same percentage of “diversity” — it’s just not exactly the same kind of diversity we had before.

    Now we want to socially engineer the particulaar kind of racial diversity we have to maintain? Give me a break. The People’s Republic of Montclair will now become like Communist China to ensure just the exact population mix we want. Sorry.

    Yes, no doubt there may be some income gentrification of the racial diversity today, but communities are not static. Things change. Montclair is a very desirable place to live. If the 2020 shows a significant rise in incomes then ok, you can bemoan how lower-income folks are being priced out of town. That we are continuing to lose our economic diversity. But if the income increase is modest and the town still retains its racial diversity overall — just different now…then it’s time to stuff it.

    The U.S. is a supply and demand market economy and it’s demand and the market’s response to it — not township decision-makers — that are driving housing here. That is why prices are increasing. Not from racism…not from gentrification as some kind of conspiracy. From market demand and multiple people’s reactions to it. Renters, buyers, and sellers. Builders, owners and landlords.

  17. Thank you for your thoughts, therealworld! Very well said, though I disagree with some of your points.

    I’m still not sure I believe Montclair has the same percentage of minorities (of any kind) as it did in, say, 2000 or 2010. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I’d like to see the 2020 Census results when they come out.

    Also, the “supply and demand market economy” you mentioned is not the only thing that determines a town’s demographics. For instance, say hypothetical developers with a hypothetical social conscience had designed at least a couple of those huge projects on/near Bloomfield Avenue to have ALL the residential units affordable to middle- and lower-income people. Still profitable (albeit somewhat less profitable) for the developers, and there’d be a TON of demand for those units — from teachers, social workers, writers, blue-collar employees, and others who are not that affluent. Instead, developers and those Montclair officials who enable them are in effect social-engineering downtown Montclair to be more affluent.

  18. Frank, what a terrific idea such a concept would have been for downtown Montclair! Units affordable for teachers, paraprofessionals, other school staff… Another way to show how much we value educators, and how grateful we are to them.

    Thanks for mentioning the idea, and for the link!

  19. Dave Astor – here’s where your “wishful thinking” …or Frankgg’s “Teacher’s Village” concept has no basis in reality today. Maybe in lower income Newark which qualifies for all sorts of federal and state subsidized programs. Not here.

    There are apparently no monies for this kind of “workforce” type subsidized housing — as you hope for. As you ‘wish’ someone would just do or should do. Otherwise, more developers would have proposed it over the past 20 years. Therefore, the decision what to build remains based on direct profitability….not “officials who enable them”. The underlying premise of your beliefs are flawed. There are no subsidization monies for workforce or low income housing here. However, you believe someshow that we live in a socialist economy that can be fully managed. We are not. The properties are privately owned…and owners are going to respond to market demand and their desire to maximize their private interests. The type of housing built for what income level is not something that be legislated. It’s not something that can be mandated in codes.

    The cost of new construction for either rentals or condo builds are based on what a developer believes the market will bear. No one is “enabling” them…in fact, the 20% affordable housing local law is actually preventing more development and construction I suspect. Because it’s actually limiting profitability in some cases when the numbers are crunched.

  20. Thanks for your response, therealworld.

    You mentioned “owners are going to respond to market demand and their desire to maximize their private interests.” I agree with the second part of that statement — developers want to maximize profit, even if they’re already very rich. The first part of that statement? Well, there is market demand for upscale housing (a demand being met), but there is also plenty of market demand for more affordable housing (a demand NOT being met, whether in Montclair or many other places).

    Yes, it would certainly help if there were more federal and state subsidies for affordable housing. But I still think developers could make SOME profit building housing for the non-affluent. Developers of the past certainly did that in Montclair and elsewhere.

    Maybe I AM a wishful thinker, but why isn’t there a major developer in Montclair today community-minded enough to accept a modest profit constructing affordable housing rather than pushing for a bigger profit constructing housing for the affluent? I know the answer: most developers with lots of money want even more money, and if Montclair becomes much more homogenous economically, so be it, according to their way of thinking. Not very admirable.

  21. Dave, Keep in mind that Affordable Housing that benefits some also makes housing less affordable for others. (you got taxed out of your house) Montclair history didn’t begin when you moved to town. Many large older houses that are being “gentrified” at one time were owned by the wealthy. In many cases it is an example of Montclair reverting back to what it once was. Mandating affordable housing may seem honorable but it is not a fair solution. Maybe you can start a gofundme or kickstarter and raise money to build an affordable housing project. Many years ago I invested in a project like that. It was a win/win. Affordable housing was built and the investors eventually received a decent return. Talking about it never makes it happen. Hoping the government mandates it only means it will be botched and lead to unintended consequences.
    Your negative view of developers is a bit disturbing. Sure, not every project is what it should or could be but development does create jobs and economic vibrancy. Building high end apartments may not seem community-minded to you but their is obviously a need. I am sure the merchants in town are very happy when they get an influx of new costumers. (so are the painters, carpenters, etc.)

  22. Thank you for the comment, flipside! Well said, as always, and you make some good points.

    Yes, there’s demand for high-end housing, and it does create jobs for carpenters, painters, etc., and bring more customers for merchants. But there’s even more demand for affordable housing, which also creates jobs and brings more customers for merchants. Non-affluent people should be able to live in Montclair, or we’re going to become another Short Hills (with more train stations).

    Obviously some major developers are better than others, but there’s at least one in Montclair with a pretty sorry track record. And while government mandates can be botched, private companies do plenty of botching themselves. Think The Siena (leaks and mold) and Valley & Bloom (ugly, hulking, things falling off).

  23. Non-affluent people can live in Montclair but there are trade offs. People have choices. Live in a small old run down place in Montclair or go to another town or state and live in better conditions. Most of the people that that move to Montclair are escaping NYC for that reason. Hey, I would like to live on Upper Mountain Ave with a view of the city but can’t afford it. Should the public subsidize me so I can? I think not!

  24. Thanks for the follow-up comment, flipside! Sorry for the delayed response — I was in NYC today studying gentrification. (Actually, visiting friends.)

    Very true that people have choices. Unfortunately, there are not that many “run down” places left in Montclair. So, for people of lower income, it increasingly often means living NO place in Montclair. People of somewhat higher income can live someplace in Montclair, albeit not “on Upper Mountain Avenue with a view of the city.” I agree — no one should be subsidized for that! (I wouldn’t mind living on Upper Mountain Avenue with a view of the city…of San Francisco, but it might be difficult seeing SF from 3,000 miles away.)

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