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The Voice of the Black Community

Local & State

At 125, Cherry community wrestles with new affluence and history
Gentrification changes neighborhood’s trajectory
Published Thursday, August 25, 2016 9:45 am
by Herbert L. White

New upper-middle income housing construction dominates the Cherry neighborhood landscape. One of Charlotte’s oldest black neighborhoods is now 57.3 percent white, largely the result of gentrification.

As the Cherry neighborhood marks its 125th year, the community is in transition.

Cherry, which will host its annual reunion festival Sept. 3 at Cherry Neighborhood Park, 1509 Baxter St., was established in 1891 as an enclave for working-class African-Americans in Second Ward. It survived urban renewal in the 1960s and ‘70s when the adjoining Brooklyn community didn’t. Today’s Cherry, however, is a magnet for affluent homeowners, stoking fears among longtime residents they’ll be displaced by gentrification.

“That is a response to a lot of adverse land use in the neighborhood,” said Rocky Cabagnot, supervising attorney at the Community Economic Development Clinic, which advises neighborhoods on how to manage gentrification, including Cherry. “It’s the notion of conserving affordable housing.”

Cherry, which sits on the rim of Center City between the Myers Park neighborhood and the Metropolitan mixed-use enclave of housing and shops, attracts upscale market-driven development. Developer Saussy Burbank, which developed homes in Myers Park, Dilworth and First Ward, recently built 43 houses in Cherry, cemented it as a more exclusive community. Saussy Burbank’s homes start at $400,000.

In response to the shallower pool of affordable housing, neighborhood activists turned to the courts. The Cherry Community Organization filed a lawsuit against Charlotte developer StoneHunt LLC, which they say reneged on a pledge to develop affordable housing. CCO’s lawsuit is pending before the N.C. Court of Appeals. In its brief to the court, the plaintiffs contend StoneHunt didn’t meet its obligations and sold CCO’s land “for a substantial profit.” The original suit was dismissed in February.

StoneHunt’s managing partner, Stoney Sellars, has long maintained it met all obligations set forth in a 2004 agreement with CCO, which recruited StoneHunt to build affordable housing for Cherry seniors who lived in substandard housing.

The original CCO-StoneHunt plan called for a mix of condominiums, townhouses and senior apartments.

Cherry’s issues present twin challenges for Charlotte: How can working-class neighborhoods avoid being swallowed up by gentrification and how will the city address affordable needs.

With its proximity to Center City and access to amenities, Cherry is a developer’s dream. Since the recession, bungalows built in the 1920s priced near $200,000 have given way to $600,000 California-style homes bought primarily by upper-income whites. The change is reflected in the neighborhood’s demographics. Cherry was 57.3 percent white in 2015 according to UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute, compared to 37.4 percent black. Census data from 1990 reported Cherry was 66 percent black. In 2000, it was 55 percent.

“Cities all over the country are saying ‘Wait a minute – white people are coming back,’” said Mary Newsom, associate director of urban and regional affairs at the  Urban Institute. “This is disruptive in a number of ways, not all of them bad because it’s creating a healthier tax base for governments when you have more people of wealth moving into your city. Who’s going to be against that?”

While Charlotte benefits from affluent newcomers, lower-income residents have to live somewhere. The city, however, has few tools to keep pace with demand. One of the best alternatives – public housing – is short on funding at the federal level, leaving growing urban areas like Charlotte to their own devices. In 2014, the Charlotte Housing Authority proposed the $43 million Tall Oaks project  for working-class families. CHA is one of the largest land owners in Cherry.

Tall Oaks consists of a 200-unit apartment with the first phase – 81 single-family apartments – going for rents ranging from $300 to $1,000. The second phase will consist of workforce housing.

Charlotte-based developer Laurel Street Residential has plans to build another 30 affordable housing units along Baxter Street.

Another affordable housing option, land trusts, has been used in other urban areas but unproven in Charlotte. It would place control with neighborhoods in how developers build in their communities.

“I hope maybe some folks will explore that, but in terms of Cherry, by the time anybody figures out how to do a community land trust, I’m afraid there won’t be much of Cherry left, which is a tragedy,” Newsom said.

Another possibility is historic district designation, which would force developers to adhere to longtime aesthetics when building new homes or rehabilitating existing property.

Charlotte has six local historic districts – Dilworth, Fourth Ward, Hermitage Court, Plaza-Midwood, Wesley Heights and Wilmore – where property owners are required to comply with architectural design standards and notify the city Historic District Commission when making external changes to their homes.

Cherry’s saga is playing out in communities across the U.S. as formerly all-black inner city neighborhoods are being bought up by the parcel for their access to amenities such as retail and public transportation. In an ironic twist, neighborhoods that upper middle class whites wouldn’t have dreamed of buying into 20 years ago are now the place to be.

“Cherry’s problem today, which was not a problem in the past, it that its location is so wonderful,” Newsom said. “It’s right near Uptown, it’s right near some affluent neighborhoods and in the past Cherry was able to survive because white people were not all that interested in a neighborhood with mostly black residents. Today, some of that old attitude has changed and a lot of people say ‘Hey, great neighborhood, I’ll buy a house there.’”


The North Carolina Court of Appeals reinstated most of the original lawsuit filed by the Cherry Community Organization today. CCO will now be allowed to pursue its claims against Stonehunt for its failure to build all of the affordable housing in Cherry that it promised to build when it bought the land from CCO.
Posted on December 30, 2016

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