Lentis/Gentrification

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Gentrification is a process of change in a historically disinvested neighborhood.[1] Changes include economic change - resulting from real estate investment and new higher-income residents moving in - and demographic change in income, education level and racial make-up of residents.[1] This socio-technical issue arises from the effects of urban renewal efforts. Gentrification has compromised affordable housing, a key social determinant of health, highlighting its significance. This chapter will examine historic conditions that contribute to gentrification and look at its impacts in cities across the United States.

Mission District in San Francisco, CA known as the "poster child" of Gentrification

Background[edit | edit source]

Historic Conditions[edit | edit source]

A variety of historic conditions contribute to neighborhood gentrification:

Redlining

  • The systematic denial of various services by federal agencies, local governments, or the private sector to disadvantaged poor and minority communities. Redlining may include credit, insurance, or loan denial to individuals from neighborhoods classified as risky for investment.
  • Redlining originated from 1930's federal mortgage programs which ranked neighborhoods based on loan worthiness, from least to most risky.[2]

White Flight

  • The phenomenon of white people moving out of urban areas, particularly with significant minority populations, and into suburban areas.
  • White flight greatly affects the distribution of capital, reducing urban area capital for schools, infrastructure, or other community programs.[3]

Urban Renewal & Highway System Expansion

  • Funded under the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, highway system expansion aimed to reduce unsafe, packed roadways.[4]
  • Low-income households and communities of color bore the brunt of highway system expansion and urban renewal programs. This resulted in widespread disinvestment following the displacement of residents, businesses, and neighborhood institutions.
  • As a result, 475,000 households have been displaced across the nation, and air quality, noise pollution, and real estate value have all been affected.[4]

Central City Investment & Disinvestment Patterns

  • The phenomenon of people and capital returning to historically disinvested neighborhoods due to housing affordability, the appeal of older homes, proximity to city centers, and improved transit infrastructure.[5]

Subprime Lending & The Foreclosure Crisis

  • In low-income communities of color, disproportionate levels of subprime lending led to mass foreclosures, leaving them vulnerable to investors seeking to flip homes. Of foreclosures completed in 2007-2009 there were: 790 foreclosures for African-Americans, 769 foreclosures for Latinos, and 452 for Non-Hispanic Whites per 10,000 loans.[6]

The culmination of these conditions shows the importance of housing as capital. Gentrification can prevent minority communities from maintaining their homes, and hinder their opportunity to reap the investment benefits of their properties.

Recent Political Changes[edit | edit source]

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was passed in 2017, under the administration of President Trump.[7] Portions of this act incentivized investment in state-designated opportunity zones, low-income areas exhibiting characteristics such as high unemployment or poor quality housing.[8] Ultimately, this plan fueled developments from America's wealthiest investors as investment profits under the plan are untaxed.[9] Projects include high-end apartment complexes, office towers, and student housing in college towns.[9] Aaron T. Seybert, a social investment officer from the community-development Kresge Foundation in Troy, Michigan said, "Perhaps 95% of this is doing no good for people we care about."[9] In 2021, New York state legislators decoupled the New York codes from the federal opportunity zones program.[10] Senator Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) said, "The opportunity zone program is a scandalous giveaway to wealthy developers who didn't need the money to do the development, and I'm glad the state pulled ourselves out of wasting state dollars for this effort."[10]

Community Impacts[edit | edit source]

Neighborhood change can improve transit options, infrastructure, and community spaces. However, long-time residents seldom enjoy these improvements. As wealthier residents move in, living costs increase and drive out low-income residents. This can lead to the cultural erasure of those that previously inhabited a neighborhood. Those that remain may lose their sense of belonging with their neighbors, customers, and friends moving elsewhere. The rise of AirBnB further contributes to this displacement. In New York City, the rise in the AirBnB market has caused a rent increase of $380-700 per month in multiple minority communities[11]. Increased AirBnB postings has been positively correlated with increasing gentrification in multiple major cities, such as New York and Los Angeles[12]. AirBnB does not follow local housing regulations, and this action blatantly opposes affordable housing initiatives[13]. Regulation of short term rental services such as AirBnB, with a focus on those communities that are most impacted by gentrification, can help to mitigate harmful community effects.

With technological advancements, local governments can facilitate more affordable improvements to historically disinvested neighborhoods. The allure of this investment appeals to all residents, but can prolong marginalization if unchecked.

Gentrification in American Cities[edit | edit source]

Charlottesville, VA[edit | edit source]

The town of Charlottesville, located within Albemarle County and home to the University of Virginia, experiences gentrification on a community level. There is currently an affordable housing crisis in the Charlottesville area, which is disproportionately affecting communities of color. Charlottesville housing costs have increased by 5% per year since 2012[14]. At the same time, median income for white residents increased by 103% between 2000 and 2018, while median income for Black residents increased by only 17%[15]. This price inflation combined with incomes increasing at differing rates causes effects of housing market volatility to be felt by Black residents more so than their white counterparts.

Patterns of rezoning and rebuilding in Charlottesville tend to fall on racial lines. The Mapping Charlottesville Project found that the Montebello neighborhood off Jefferson-Park Avenue was originally restricted to residents of the white race[16]. In 1965, the City of Charlottesville enforced eminent domain on Vinegar Hill, a predominantly Black neighborhood. This lead to the displacement of 600+ Black families and the forced closure of 30+ Black-owned businesses[17]. The University of Virginia's Health System is built over the former neighborhood of Gospel Hill, originally home to many Black families. Charlottesville residents feel the impacts of these actions in the changes of cultural diversity. A 2020 survey respondent remarked that Charlottesville "looks more diverse, but in fact families of color are getting pushed out. [It’s a] cloak and dagger process of actually becoming less diverse"[18]. It is important to listen to community residents that directly impacted by gentrification.

Advocates for low-income and minority residents include the Charlottesville Low-Income Housing Coalition (CLHIC), the Charlottesville Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR) and Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA), and Cville Plans Together. These organizations advance agendas of protection and advocacy by providing information on housing, legal assistance, and conducting studies to expose segregationist housing policies in the area, among other strategies.

New York City[edit | edit source]

A 2016 study conducted by UC Berkeley and NYU's Center for Urban Science and Progress determined over one-third of low-income NYC households were located in neighborhoods at risk of or currently gentrifying. [19] 314 neighborhoods were identified as super-gentrified or exclusive[20]. Significantly affected regions include Chelsea, Harlem, the Lower East Side, Morningside Heights, and Williamsburg.[21] Although traditional causes of gentrification have been implicated in NYC, Airbnb listings have as well[22]. Researchers at McGill University School of Urban Planning attributed this to higher Airbnb rents[22]. For example, an Airbnb in Lower East Side might cost $6,382/month, higher than the cost for most residents. This rent disparity causes median rent to increase, displacing those who are no longer able to afford the higher rent price. Mayor Eric Adams has commented on gentrification in New York. During his campaign for mayor he said, "Go back to Iowa. You go back to Ohio. New York City belongs to the people that were here and made New York City what it is." [23] Later, he stated this was a political gaffe. "On the campaign trail, you experience political gaffes. And the sentence was a gaffe."[23] On Twitter, Mayor Adams commented "New York City is always changing, but every once in a while, there's a sea change -- that's what's happening right now as neighborhoods lose Black residents due to rapid gentrification."[24]

In response to neighborhood gentrification, a number of activist groups in NYC are focused on ending gentrification and displacement. An example is the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, organizing around 12 concrete demands including universally stabilized rent, the end to tenant harassment, and no more income-segregated housing developments.[25] Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network's About page shows, "We Say, “Not one more person displaced! Not one more luxury development, until we have affordable housing for all!”[25] The Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD) is another organization building "community power in order to create better laws and policies, protect tenants’ rights, and strengthen neighborhoods." [26] Activist organizations have worked to resist gentrification and displacement through art, marches, and petitions, amongst other methods. For example, Mi Casa No Es Su Casa is a political art project installing signage across New York City. [27] The Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, Movement to Protect the People, and Equality for Flatbush also collaborated to lead a March Against Gentrification, Racism, and Police Violence.[28]

San Francisco[edit | edit source]

The Mission District of San Francisco, California, a Latino enclave just outside of Silicon Valley, has become known as the “poster child of gentrification”. [29]. The Dot-com bubble period between 1995 and 2004 was a contributing factor following the rapid rise in U.S. technology stock equity valuations fueled by investments in internet-based companies.[30] This led to an influx of higher income tech employees from Silicon Valley moving into the Mission District with the lower income Latino residents. In response to the influx, one long-time resident stated, “this block will never be the same.”[31] During this time, the Latino population fell by 6% while the White population increased by 7%. Family households in the district decreased from 52% in 1980 to 38% in 2013. The district's educational attainment also shifted: 34% more of the population had a bachelor's degree and 24% less did not have a high school diploma. Median income increased from $41,739 in 1980 to $76,762 in 2013. [32]

The tech influx led to commercial and residential displacement. Between 1990 and 1999, 925 households were evicted and the vacancy rate rose from 3% in 2000 to 7.6% in 2013. The cost of a one bedroom apartment was $2,850 in 2013 which made it difficult for lower income residents to stay in the area. For businesses, there was no desire to move into the district because of the real estate market crash and redevelopment was eliminated as a funding source for affordable housing. People who were evicted struggled to find affordable housing because of vacancy decontrol, the ability for landlords to raise rent when a tenant moves out. With many higher-end retail stores in the area and higher vacancy decontrol, landlords began appealing to the wealthier tenants. Tenant buyouts allowed the landlords to also give cash to get the tenants out so that they could get a new wealthier tenant.

The social and cultural complexity of gentrification was highlighted by a proposed ten story luxury apartment complex for the district. This complex, called Plaza 16, would cause the removal of a Walgreens, Burger King, Chinese restaurants, and other businesses where many of the locals are employed. The local Latino population felt neglected because their lives would be significantly impacted to make room for richer tech employees. The luxury condos were also predicted to impact traffic, schools and housing prices in the area.

Washington, D.C.[edit | edit source]

Since 2000, Washington, D.C. has experienced the most gentrification and displacement.[33] Despite the Black population declining by 23%, the overall population has grown 19% due to a 202% increase in white residents. The Shaw neighborhood in D.C. exemplifies gentrification in the city. Between 1980 to 2010, the Black population in Shaw has decreased 34%. Additionally, median home values have increased nearly 430%.[34] During this time, new and old residents clashed, as many believed the neighborhood was changing for the worse. This led to older, lower-income residents experiencing cultural and political alienation as community infrastructure improvements continued.

Virginia Lee, a longtime resident of Shaw, said that, “all the goodness that has come with the gentrification…all that has come has been material in nature and very little has been done to preserve the human aspect of a city that’s being transformed.” [34] Older residents are fighting for access to affordable housing while struggling to preserve the cultural and historical heritage of their neighborhoods. Newcomers to the community - often of a different race, educational background, and socioeconomic status- have been called the creative class. Some activists argue that the city is purposely crafting zoning laws and policies trying to attract the creative class to increase tax revenue and become more prosperous [35]. Housing developers that seek to buy low-price properties, renovate them, and sell them for profit have also contributed to gentrification in the city[36].

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The examples of gentrification in the United States in this chapter suggest solutions must be comprehensive and intersectional. Cultural uprooting can be traumatizing, so policies must be mindful to improve affordable housing, transit equity, and cultural preservation. Further work is also needed to investigate effects of suggested solutions to gentrification. Ultimately, the historic and systemic disinvestment in minority communities needs to be addressed. Regulation on short-term rental businesses such as AirBnB is a good place to start. Community empowerment, enhancing tenant's rights, and controlling land development[37] are promising places to begin, but must be implemented with a mindset of equity and a priority of maintaining cultural history. As with any socio-technical issue, the intersection of technology and society can work to develop a comprehensive solution to negative gentrification impacts.

References[edit | edit source]

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