‘Anything can be taken from you’ — crowd rallies against gentrification on Salt Lake City’s west side

The rally featured two speakers who had recently been forced to leave their longtime homes.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People put up a signs that reads “this neighborhood is not for sale!” in front of the home that Gaspar Valencia lived in for eight years before being forced out by a developer with plans to tear it down along with adjacent properties to build an apartment on the site. On Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022, the community gathered to protest the gentrification they see happening to their neighborhood.

In Spanish, Gaspar Valencia apologized, telling the crowd of around 30 people that he doesn’t speak English. But on Saturday, you didn’t have to understand his words to feel them.

The frustration. The pain. The hurt.

He spoke while standing just yards away from his former home, a white building with blue trim tucked behind a chain-link fence, decrying the powers that took it from him and his family.

The rally was organized by the Rose Park Brown Berets, a political group focused on empowering the residents who live on Salt Lake City’s west side, and Saturday’s event was in protest of the gentrification they say is taking over their neighborhoods.

Valencia’s old house is empty now, one of the organizers told The Salt Lake Tribune, along with a handful of adjacent homes. They’ve been that way since March — when Valencia, his kids and their neighbors were forced to leave — standing vacant until they can be leveled and new townhomes built in their stead.

It’s just one example of gentrification on the city’s west side, according to the speakers.

“It’s just happening mostly on this side of town, mostly to the Hispanic neighborhoods, you know, and it is gentrification,” said Tina Balderrama, another speaker, who was evicted from her Salt Lake City duplex last year. “No matter how you look at it, it’s gentrification. They’re not going into the rich east-side neighborhoods and tearing them up.”

After being evicted from her home last April, she said she couldn’t find a new place to live, despite never missing rent and having great references. According to her, there are simply no affordable places left in the city.

A recent study titled “Thriving in Place” seemed to support that sentiment and painted a grim picture of Salt Lake City’s affordable housing market.

With the help of Salt Lake City Council member Chris Wharton, Balderrama eventually moved into an apartment complex in Murray, which she calls “basically housing hell.” She brought a sign to the rally covered in pictures showcasing the overflowing trash, litter and general disrepair common at her new building, where she pays $1,500 in rent each month.

“I pay trash; I pay sewer, but there’s trash all over the place,” she told The Tribune. “There’s no safety. There’s no parking. You can’t go outside at night. It’s ridiculous.”

Where her home used to sit is now just an empty lot, she said, but she would rather spend time there than in Murray, where she doesn’t feel safe.

“I invested my life into that home,” she said. “I took care of the property. Nobody helped me. I took care of it. I invested my life into that land. I don’t care who owns the deed; that’s my home.”

She thinks what has been done to her and Valencia should be illegal and said that change has to start with the City Council and the mayor, but she doesn’t foresee anything actually improving.

“A lot more goes into a home than just the wood and the money,” she said. “And that’s all these people see is dollar signs. They don’t see the people, they don’t see our faces and they don’t care.”

She added, “Anything can be taken from you.”

Despite the somber topic, the crowd Saturday afternoon was lively, participating in chants, making posters and conversing with one another over tacos after the speakers concluded. Some of them were from the surrounding area, showing up to support their friends and former neighbors.

Before the rally, the organizers draped a tarp over the fence of Valencia’s old house, with the painted-on words, “Este Barrio No Se Vende!” which translates in English to mean, “This neighborhood is not for sale!”

However, it appears that parts of Salt Lake City’s west side are for sale, or at least for rent, just not for prices that everyone can afford.

“This is not the place anymore,” Balderrama said. “This used to be the place. This is not the place anymore.”