Gentrification continues to command an enormous amount of attention in the media, and several prominent publications – from The Economist to The Week – have made provocative arguments on the subject since our previous roundups in December. Here’s our take on what’s being said.
We worry too much about gentrification
1. “Bring on the Hipsters,” says one of the anonymous writers (hi, Ryan Avent) at The Economist. The British magazine argues that gentrification is a blow against the much more serious scourge of segregation and concentrated poverty, citing our study in the process.
2. Evan Horowitz at the Boston Globe makes a similar argument, pointing to studies that suggest that gentrification causes less displacement than is generally believed, and that rising home prices are actually a good, wealth-building trend for low- or moderate-income homeowners. He also notes that gentrification is unlikely to happen to poor, non-white neighborhoods.
3. In the Chicago Sun-Times, Marisa Novara points out that the vast majority of Chicago’s neighborhoods are experiencing growing poverty, not rapidly climbing property values.
4. Another Chicagoan, Natalie Moore, calls gentrification “the least of Chicago’s worries” at Grist. She points out that not only are most neighborhoods in economic decline, but even signals of gentrification, like an announced Whole Foods in the Englewood neighborhood, don’t actually seem to be having much of an effect. She calls for renewed investments in retail corridors and vacant properties in struggling neighborhoods.
…or maybe we don’t
5. Megan McArdle, at Bloomberg View, points out that even if rising home values are good for homeowners, and falling levels of segregation are good for society as a whole, and civic leaders and urbanists love to see inner-city neighborhoods get an infusion of retail and building renovations, gentrification will still have its victims. In particular, people who rely on the social capital of their communities – their location-based networks of friends and family – can be in serious trouble if rising rents push them, or their contacts, out of touch.
6. Gothamist takes a look at The Economist‘s unabashedly pro-gentrification arguments and is not convinced. “We’d love to hear some of the Southside’s Puerto Rican and Dominican locals’ thoughts on that,” they write.
Concentrated poverty, concentrated affluence
7. Alana Semuels at CityLab writes up a report from the University of Minnesota about where all the rich people who don’t live in poor neighborhoods are hiding themselves. The Detroit area, for example, though a symbol of urban poverty, also has 55 “racially concentrated areas of affluence,” which are at least four times wealthier than the average neighborhood in the metropolitan area and are just 1.1 percent black.
Liberals are urban egalitarians, so why have they failed so miserably on housing policy?
8. At The Week, Ryan Cooper takes the left to task for its inability to come up with a coherent agenda on affordable housing and, relatedly, gentrification. He says Democrats in well-to-do cities like Washington, DC, are under the influence of affluent residents who may support redistribution in theory, but are unwilling to allow housing construction in their own neighborhoods that might relieve pressure in the market – let alone spend the money for a “massively expanded” public housing program.
How we got here
9. At the blog of the Economic Policy Institute, Richard Rothstein reminds us that the patterns of racial segregation that gentrification (occasionally) disturbs were not formed simply by a desire for African Americans or Latinos to live together. Rather, they were created through racist housing policies and violence that enforced separation.
So what do we do?
10. In the New York Times, Héctor Tobar suggests that we ought to embrace the potential gentrification carries for desegregation, observing the changes that have happened in his own Los Angeles neighborhood. Acknowledging the potential for displacement, however, Tobar endorses rent control to prevent housing price increases from pushing out older residents and resegregating along higher-income, whiter demographics.
11. But Ben Adler at Grist responds that this is doubly wrong. He argues that gentrification is as much a threat to integration as a friend. But Adler also believes that rent control, as an anti-displacement policy, is counterproductive, offering no assistance to people who don’t already have an apartment in the affected neighborhoods, and ultimately raising uncontrolled rents by distorting the market. His preferred policy solution involves the construction of more market-rate housing to satiate demand and keep overall prices down, coupled with co-operative ownership structures that can shield residents somewhat from the dangers of rising costs.
One of the things that makes gentrification such a contested subject is that there is little consensus about exactly what it is, how it works, and what its ultimate results are – subjects of much of the debate in the pieces we’ve posted here. But it’s also worth jumping past those arguments to look directly at the policy responses people have proposed, what they’re intended to do, and what the evidence suggests that they might accomplish. In a follow-up piece, we’ll do just that.