Gentrification, Why the Only Responsible Action is Political Action
I’ve met a number of folks overseas asking me about where I bought property in DC (in a historically Black neighborhood) that is bordered by a historically Latino neighborhood. As a solidly middle-income person of immigrant origin, living in a renovated row house where each level is a separate apartment, therefore increasing the utility needs of the house and the cost of the property, but also backs into low-income housing, it’s a legitimate question – what is this neighborhood – what is the character, am I displacing people, what do I do about that? Questions many have asked. As this socio-economic debate began being consciously discussed and people desired to make socially conscious choices in where they choose to locate, we’ve seen a proliferation of articles regarding the topic. For a primer on gentrification in the U.S. see this collaborative piece by the University of California’s schools. I personally find this academic’s quest to decide where to live in Chicago as an urban planner studying gentrification enlightening – because it demonstrates what my neighborhood does too – you can have diversity and amenities, but you can’t do it without changing the character of a neighborhood and likely without displacing people of a lower socio-economic class.
There are a lot of interviews with urban planners and researchers that point to the same in New York, across the country in historically immigrant communities (like Chinatowns), and in DC, where libraries across the city are hosting Anacostia Community Museum’s Right to the City, describing the changes six different neighborhoods have undergone in the last several decades. To be fair, some also see benefit in gentrification as demonstrated by those who moved from NYC to Philadelphia, as documented by this 31 year resident.
Ultimately, researchers consistently conclude that where you move only allows non-gentrification/displacement if you move into lowest price point housing in a middle-class neighborhood or into a neighborhood where the median income is commiserate to yours. Regrettably, in many cases that is simply continuing what was already done in terms of gentrification and maintaining too high a price point for others who may want to move in. Not only that, for those in DC, NYC, San Fran, etc, you know how difficult and scarce housing that is affordable can be, hence the move into some of these locations in the first place (not always). So, is rezoning the right way forward? Is upzoning? Protections for the people who live in a space? Something else? Ultimately, regulations have outsize impact on the communities they regulate, especially housing policy. Therefore, the most important thing you can do if you are worried about gentrification is not figure out where to move or how much to pay for housing, but rather lobby our Congress people to take actions we think mitigate the policies that have exacerbated and accelerated economic and often by default therefore racist segregation. There is lots of research to be done on what the best policies are, with some thoughts included in this City Observatory article on why advocacy is the only real impact an individual can have on gentrification. There are also organizations, like the National Community Revitalization Coalition, looking at the data and what potential regulations can impact displacement while still allowing for revitalization, these provide a starting point as you determine what course of action you think is best.
Alternatively, what factors did you consider when moving? How did your values impact the practical