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Equity is the New Equality Part 3: Gentrification

By: Tyler Williams

(Illustration by Andrew J. Nilsen.)

Have you ever heard the saying, “the grass is greener on the other side”? Well, imagine this: the poor side of an area being restored while new plants and trees grew on the restored side; yet the old plants and trees were cut down after years of being on the poor side of the field. This is an example of gentrification. According to Merriam-Webster, gentrification is “a process in which a poor area (as of a city) experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people who renovate and rebuild homes and businesses and which often results in an increase in property values and the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.”

Jesse Van Tol, the chief executive officer of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition reported in his Washington Post article, that gentrificationis a complicated and often misunderstood term.” He adds, “In some communities, gentrification evokes instant distrust. It implies the arrival of selfish developers, investors and corporate chains replacing locally owned, independent businesses — and a flood of well-off white people who inevitably push out the poor black and brown people who were there before.” Tol also addresses that there are huge benefits for gentrification as well. “Community leaders desire capital investments, leading to better services, jobs, thriving businesses and other components of a healthy, vibrant neighborhood”. A 2016 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found that gentrifying neighborhoods in city low-cost rental units are nearly five times the rate of non-gentrifying neighborhoods.

There are pros and cons to this issue, however there’s a solution to renovate properties and not push people out of their homes at the same time. Tol says the following: “Gentrification does not have to mean displacement — if the circumstances are aligned correctly. Other research on gentrification suggests that ownership plays a key role in resisting displacement. For communities that have endured decades of disinvestment, where banks don’t invest in small business or mortgage lending, gentrification finds few homeowners who can reap the rewards of the new investment.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), states the most common problem people associate with gentrification is the displacement of residents from a neighborhood experiencing redevelopment. Displacement happens in various ways. “Direct displacement” is when residents are forced to move because of rent increases and/or building renovations. “Exclusionary displacement” is when housing choices for low-income residents are limited. “Displacement pressures” are when supports and services that low-income families rely on disappear from the neighborhood.

“On the other hand, in lower-income neighborhoods where a significant percentage of residents own their homes, gentrification can be a life-changing event for some families, leading to the kind of wealth-building that can dramatically improve their economic mobility”, says Tol.

(Source: Boyz N the Hood)

Furthemore, the NLIHC proclaims that there can be benefits to gentrification, but only to long-term residents who are not pushed out. Development without displacement is the key. Fighting against displacement rather than fighting against development should be the focus.

“Cultural displacement is also common. The closing of long-time neighborhood landmarks like historically black churches or local restaurants can erase the history of a neighborhood and with it a sense of belonging. The influx of a new population of upper- and middle-income residents can also change the political landscape, with new leaders ignoring the needs of long-time residents. The loss of long-time residents’ political power leads to further withdrawal from public participation and a loss of control.”

According to Thomas Carpenito for Medium, following World War II, the United States saw its major cities decimated by white flight, redlining, deindustrialization, and disinvestment. These combined factors caused crime, unemployment, and poverty to skyrocket.” This is why we see the urban ghettos that we all know and some glorify today. These factors contributed to a generational curse of socio economic disenfranchisement.

(Activists block Chicago's The 606 trail in 2016 to protest gentrification and displacement. Photo by Tyler Lariviere)

Moreover, Next City provided a timeline regarding gentrification:

“Sociologist Matthew Desmond publishes Evicted, documenting the interconnected lives of landlords and tenants and the new reality of living under the constant threat of eviction. ‘If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out,’ he writes.”

The Next City website’s conclusion of the timeline informs the process has not lifted the urban poor out of poverty and has only lessened the concentration of poverty in a few select urban neighborhoods. Since 1970, the number of poor persons living in urban high-poverty neighborhoods has doubled to four million, and the number of such neighborhoods has nearly tripled to more than 3,000.

The NLIHC provides local solutions to improve on restoring equity in dilapidated communities and reduce or eliminate displacement. One way is investing in community land trusts (CLTs). “This is one way to keep land owned by the community and to fight against rapid property value escalation.” Tenant option to purchase (TOP) is a tool for residents facing eviction because the property owner intends to sell the property, demolish it, or convert to another use, NLIHC states. “Cities can pass a TOP policy to require that any housing unit undergoing such changes is offered to residents first before being sold, demolished or re-rented on the private market.”

All in all, the NLIHC website provides more solutions regarding gentrification so that poverty levels can decrease and the standard of living will be increased. That way, there will be no greener side, just one big field that everyone can run in and enjoy life itself.

Learn Even More

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