By Maria Palma and Abby Ocampo
What’s happening on Wells? How is the area changing? Is the district becoming gentrified? This Is Reno presents this four-part series focused on the Wells Avenue area and what neighbors, business owners and experts have to say about how the area is evolving.
Ana Alvardo’s boyfriend in 2004 purchased a house in the Wells Avenue area. A few years later she moved in with him. She said the prices have gone up quite a bit.
“We’ve just slowly seen Wells turn from a working-class, mostly Hispanic neighborhood, into a really gentrified white neighborhood,” Alvarado said.
“If he hadn’t purchased [the house] when he purchased it, it would be unattainable for us to live in that neighborhood now,” she added.
“We’ve seen houses in our neighborhood that are selling for half a million dollars and they’re just being torn down and, you know, new buildings are going up. There were three or four empty alleys when I moved in. And now they’re just building houses anywhere they can build. It’s unattainable. And the neighborhood has unfortunately completely changed,” she continued.
Alvarado moved to Reno from Guatemala and she said the Wells Avenue district makes her feel closer to home, yet she said it saddens her to see how some Latino-owned businesses have been disappearing.
“The one thing I have noticed also, particularly on the west corridor, is a lot of Hispanic-owned businesses have been pushed out. You know, there were bakeries, restaurants, and now they’re just kind of getting pushed out for businesses that are not Hispanic-owned. And as a Hispanic person, it makes me sad to see that we kind of got pushed out of that neighborhood,” she said.
What is gentrification?
Gentrification as a concept is hotly debated. The Urban Displacement Project defines the term as “a process of neighborhood change that includes change in a historically disinvested neighborhood — by means of real estate investment and new higher-income residents moving in — as well as demographic change — not only in terms of income level, but also in terms of changes in the education level or racial make-up of residents.”
Lindsay Miller, writing for the National Civic League, said the “debates about gentrification fall into one of two camps.”
The displacement of people is a “primary threat to low-income communities,” Miller wrote. On the other side, “people argue that gentrification is good for cities because it brings a higher tax base, revitalizes previously derelict neighborhoods, improves public safety, and attracts newcomers to boost the economy.”
Both views are evident in Reno.
The good and bad of gentrification
Jaime Chapman is a Reno entrepreneur and owner of Pineapple Pedicabs, a bike rental service that helps tourists and locals get to their destinations the fun way. She moved to just east of Wells on March 1 of this year when she and her partner purchased a house on Wilkinson Avenue.
She said that part of what motivated them to buy a house in the area is the proximity to her work and the personality of the neighborhood.
“I absolutely love the location and I have my business here,” Chapman said. “There is so much going on, on Wells. There is really no need to go all the way to Virginia. It’s a giant street with loads of things happening–nurseries, nails, herbs, Mexican food and food trucks.”
Chapman said that her favorite thing about living near Wells Avenue is her neighbors.
“I have some of the best neighbors,” she said. “We have driveway wine parties and they’re always there if ‘I need a cup of sugar.’ There are a lot of old-time residents in this area, people that are established and at the same time, there are tons of houses going up for sale and lots of new faces moving in. This is exciting.”
What about gentrification? As a new resident, Chapman thinks that the phenomenon is happening throughout the region.”
“I think gentrification is happening everywhere, but I don’t think it’s always a bad thing,” she explained. “I think Wells, over all other districts in Reno, already has its identity. Wells is already a thriving business district with culture, so I don’t think we will lose our flair and culture to the growing trend of gentrifying Reno.”
Another Wells resident, who goes by Morpheus, is struggling with rent increases. He has rented a two-bedroom apartment between Wheeler and Taylor streets since 2019. He said that his landlord raised his rent by 15%.
“I have problems paying the rent,” he said. “I don’t make much money, but it’s not minimum wage, nor do I have any children, which disqualifies me from any assistance. They always get their damn money though, every single month, on time. I’m not OK with it going up, but what choice do I have?”
Morpheus, who was born and raised in Reno, thinks that gentrification is definitely happening but, “It’s certainly not limited to just Wells, either.”
“Reno has a problem with addicts, homeless and rough sleepers. It breaks my heart to see a…‘coming soon’ sign in the window of a broken building, knowing that it’s going to sell expensive food and overpriced cocktails…when there are six people sleeping out in front of it,” he said.
Miller with the National Civic League noted that cities, in order to be competitive, “must attract highly educated, highly skilled talent and encourage urbanized, technological, and creative growth.”
But, she added, “growth accompanied by vast economic inequality is not only unstainable, it deepens the social problems created by policies past.”
Read the whole series
Wells Avenue is one of the most popular and picturesque neighborhoods in the city of Reno. It is known as a great place to see art murals, visit small Latino and Hispanic restaurants, salons, tattoo parlors, clothing and pet stores. Over the past few years, Wells Avenue has seen numerous new businesses flourish and has also begun to see its share of housing problems similar to those affecting neighborhoods in other parts of the country.
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