Historically Black Abilene neighborhood preparing for more gentrification

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ABILENE, Texas (KRBC) – Now that the City of Abilene has approved zoning changes in the historically Black Carver neighborhood, what does that mean for its current residents?

Carver in North Abilene is historically known for being a neighborhood where African Americans were allowed to live. Around the early ’70s through the mid ’80s Reverend Andrew Penns says it “had become very crime-ridden and began to be overrun with illegal activities, drug activities, and various other things.”

After generations of economic insecurity and racial disparity, Carver residents are standing their ground and stepping up to protect their community and its members.  

“I do believe that the city, city council, planning and zoning along with our nonprofit, we need to sit down at the table to reevaluate the plan to see what adjustments can be done,” said Rev. Penns.    

Rev. Penns started the organization Interested Citizens of Abilene North (ICAN) to develop, maintain, restore and enhance the Carver neighborhood.    

“I don’t want to see the neighborhood become eradicated from all the history, because history is important. The reason we have this here, the history, the black history, because so many years it was never noticed,” said Rev. Penns.   

With wealthier citizens moving in comes improved housing and light commercial real estate developments, which Rev. Penns says could displace hundreds of families and forget family legacies.  

Legacies like the late Reverend T.G. Oliphant, who was well known in the Carver neighborhood.  

“He was a pastor, civil rights leader, just an actionist. He was engaged in the processing in a way of really focusing on learning what his role was and how he could be helpful to the spaces around him that mattered,” said Damien Oliphant.   

Damien Oliphant is the grandson of the late Rev. T.G. Oliphant, and says he spent every summer visiting his grandparents’ home in the Key City.  

“I always credit my dad with making sure we had those experiences of being down here. It led to a very balanced upbringing of just understanding that there’s more to the world than where you live every day,” said Oliphant. 

Ultimately, Oliphant believes the gentrification of the Carver neighborhood is needed.  

“If our participation in Abilene from here forward can be helping some of those families and people participate versus being run past, I think that will be great for us to extend the legacy my grandfather had,” said Oliphant.   

But new housing in the neighborhood can also bring the possibility of raised property values, something one anonymous Carver resident says he wouldn’t like.  

“I don’t like the idea of it, I’m going to be honest with you. Property taxes going up, but whatever they go up to, I’m going to try and see if I can get them down. Not that I’ll be able to, but I’m going to see if I can.” 

Regardless of the potential of raised taxes, the long-term Carver resident says he’s happy to see the neighborhood get back on its feet.  

“I’m glad for the neighborhood, you know glad to pick the neighborhood up with different races of people, it’s fine with me. As long as they’re not prejudiced type, because I’ve experienced prejudice in the 70s pretty badly.”  

Abilene City Council has approved new zoning changes to take place in the Carver neighborhood. Rev. Penns believe that the need for gentrification in the Carver neighborhood may just allow them to continue to grow with the community. 

“That what they have put in has enhanced, has not deteriorated, and if we see those types of things come, then that’s pretty much in my favor,” said Rev. Penns.   

Rev. Penns says the four pillars of ICAN’s work in North Abilene are high-quality mixed-income housing, economic development, community development, and most importantly, preservation of history and culture.  

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