The Columbus Dispatch
Some may be forced from Driving Park
A few days ago, real estate agent Daniel Perez was on his knees touching up some kitchen cabinetry with black paint on a Geers Avenue house he was listing in the Driving Park neighborhood.
The refurbished bungalow — with its original hardwood floors in the living room and two first-floor bedrooms, new appliances, gray carpeting, and a loft bedroom upstairs with a walk-in closet and new bathroom — had been put on the market on New Year’s Day. Three days later, on Tuesday, he already had seven showings and two offers. By
Thursday, the house was in contract.
The four-bedroom, 2,080-squarefoot house, built in 1951, was listed at $289,900. It sold for a little more than that, Perez said, another sign of the growing popularity of the Driving Park neighborhood. The current owner, from Astoria, New York, bought the house for $90,000 in September 2021.
Elsewhere on the same street, a fourbedroom house on Geers Avenue is selling for $225,000.
Not that long ago, houses were selling for much less. In 2016, one three-bedroom house on Geers sold for $10,000. Another three-bedroom on Geers sold for $8,500 in 2012.
Perez, who works for the Top Gains Group at Red 1 Realty, said there are close to 15 homes that have been or are being renovated on Geers Avenue alone.
“That one’s redone, that one’s redone,” Perez said, pointing to other houses on the street south of East Livingston Avenue.
But while the neighborhood is becoming more popular with homebuyers, others worry that increasing gentrification will push out longtime residents.
“The NAACP is always concerned about Black people being forced out of their homes,” because of property taxes or other forces, said Nana Watson, president of the NAACP’S Columbus branch. “It’s always problematic for us.”
Watson said she hasn’t talked about it with any residents of Driving Park, a majority Black neighborhood. But she said the potential ramifications are troubling.
Beverly Barrett, a Black resident who has lived on Lilley Avenue in Driving Park since 1973, said she doesn’t like the trend either. Beverly said her property taxes increased 20% last year, and she worries that they will continue to go up because of what’s happening to home values around her.
Barrett, who is in her 80s, said city inspectors are telling senior residents to repair their homes. But she said she and other people don’t have the money to do that. At the same time, some don’t qualify for the Franklin County Office on Aging’s minor home repair program, she said.
Meanwhile, Barrett said she receives constant calls from people offering to buy her house — so many that she blows a whistle into the phone to let them know she’s not interested.
“I paid a lot for that whistle,” she said. “It’s brass.”
Michael Wilkos, who has studied demographic changes in Columbus for years and is senior vice president of community impact for the United Way of Central Ohio, said it appears that white residents are moving in with higher incomes than Black residents living there.
“I would suggest that the area shows early signs of gentrification, in that homes are starting to get renovated,” Wilkos said. “Renovated homes are commanding prices two and three times what the historical average is” because of the city’s lack of available housing and an overall increase in its population.
According to 2020 census numbers, the overall population in two census tracts that include Driving Park dropped since 2010, and a decline in the number of Black residents is driving that.
In the census tract north of Livingston and south of Interstate 70, the population dropped 3.2%, from 2,151 to 2,082, including a 16.5% decrease in the number of Black residents
(from 1,862 to 1,554). At the same time, there was a 79% increase in the number of white residents (from 177 to 317), and a 6.5% increase in the number of people who reported two or more races (from 76 to 135).
In the census tract south of Livingston to East Whittier Street, the population fell by 3.9%, with the Black population dropping by 17.6% (from 3,605 to 2,969) while the white population more than doubled, to 687. The population of those reporting two or more races increased 27%, from 215 to 273.
The population of both tracts had been steadily declining for 50 years. According to 1970 census numbers, the population of the tract north of Livingston
was 4,286 that year. The population of the tract south of Livingston was 7,909.
Wilkos said that what’s going on in Driving Park is the same thing taking place in Columbus neighborhoods everywhere: The scarcity of available homes is driving up prices.
In Driving Park, that is magnified because a major anchor nearby — Nationwide Children’s Hospital — also is creating scores of jobs.
“That’s creating significant change in Driving Park and is continuing to do so,” he said.
While homebuyers have been priced out of larger houses on the Near East Side, Olde Towne East and the Franklin Park areas, they can afford Driving Park’s smaller homes, even as they grow in value.
“This market demand could be driven by a huge increase of job opportunities at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, offering job opportunities at every single income band possible,” Wilkos said.
According to the hospital, 10,992 people work at its main campus at Livingston and Parsons avenues about 1.5 miles west of the heart of Driving Park.
Danielle Warner, a spokesman for Nationwide Children’s, said the hospital doesn’t steer new hires looking for a place to live toward any specific neighborhoods. She said many employees do live in Driving Park, as well as German Village and the South Side in general.
Sheila Straub, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Bexley, is familiar with the Driving Park area and Southern Orchards, just south of the hospital. She said she sold homes last year in the area to a nurse at Nationwide Children’s, an art teacher, a couple of attorneys — all under 40.
“I think that in Driving Park, Southern Orchards, you can get a lot of square footage, a lot of old charm,” Straub said. “Young people are gravitating toward opportunities.”
They end up paying less in Driving Park than Olde Towne East while they are still close to the hospital and Downtown, she said.
She also suggested that Connect Realty’s trolley barn project in Olde Towne East north of I-70, with two bars now open and eateries and a butcher and grocery shop ahead, might also be a draw for the Driving Park area.
“Where it will go from there, who knows?” Straub said of Driving Park. “But it’s a pretty darn good investment.”
This story is part of the Dispatch’s Mobile Newsroom initiative, which is currently focused on Driving Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Visit our reporters at the Driving Park branch library and read their work at dispatch.com/mobilenewsroom, where you also can sign up for The Mobile Newsroom newsletter. email@example.com @Markferenchik