Gentrification and Me, issue 3

Yuppie Scum save the neighborhood: ABC News
Actually titled “There Goes the Neighborhood?Gentrification May Be Good for Everyone, Some Experts Say,” by Oliver Libaw for ABC This April 2002 article’s focus is in Brooklyn, NY another gentrifying area on the east coast. The author says despite the opinions of gentrification and attitudes towards the young urban professional, gentrification is actually good for lower income residents. Why? They are less likely to move out and benefit from the improvements gentrification brings. He quotes from Frank Braconi, a co-author in a New York City gentrification study that examined gentrification and low income residents. They do acknowledge that displacement of the poor, one of the major problems of gentrification, does occur. However it must be placed also in the context of general movement of people, as this is a mobile society where people move around a lot.

Gentrification and Displacement, by Lance Freeman & Frank Braconi
A PDF file and article/report from the Citizens Housing and Planning Council’s The Urban Prospect publication volume 8, no. 1. This is a lovely 4 page report regarding the displacement of low income people in gentrifying areas of New York City.
First they get into, “define displacement”. Displacement, could be several things, it could be the government moving people by force (think highway project), it could be people looking for cheaper rent (Secondary Displacement), or it could be people moving out due to social forces (think moving ’cause they don’t wanna live near Puerto Ricans). There are several factors in secondary displacement, which people most associate with gentrification. The desire for lower rents could be pushed by rise of rents or loss of income.

To track displacement they used the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey to gather data. This allowed them to look at movement in the 1990s. Looking at a chart they provide, except for the period between 1991-1993 the rate of displacement was between 5%-6%, kind of small.

They challenge an assumption that “low income households [are] more likely to move out of gentrifying neighborhoods than other neighborhoods?” with “gentrification could encourage households to stay put.” Right now I’m thinking Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car where the goal is to get out of the lower income environment and “get a bigger house and live in the suburbs.” Well what happens when the nice neighborhood comes to you? Being one who has been poor, and talking with others who have lived in “the ghetto”, there is this goal to get the heck out of the ghetto to live a better life. So in this scenario, the better neighborhood comes to the ghetto in the form of gentrification. Well that’s my theory.

They state that lower income households are faced with a decision when gentrification comes to them. On one hand, stay and take advantage of the neighborhood improvements or move because of higher housing costs. What these families do, depends on which factor is more important. For the authors gentrification makes it less likely that a lower income household will move. They say “poor households residing in on of the seven gentrifying neighborhoods were still found to be 20% less likely to move than poor households residing elsewhere.”

The authors never say that displacement does not occur. Yet, we cannot ignore general mobility among people. They say it best in their concluding paragraph that as vacancies appear in gentrifying neighborhoods, they are filled by middle class households, coupled with loss of affordable housing, it takes an appearance that the middle class is driving out the poor.

The economic cleansing of San Francisco: Is San Francisco becoming the first fully gentrified city in America
Okay, I couldn’t end this without a story of evil gentrification kicking out the poor and defenseless. Despite the above reports of gentrifying being good for a neighborhood, we all know the mainline thinking that gentrification is evil, evil, evil because it forces families on the streets and the anti-gentrification forces have the examples to prove it. This is one such example from a 1998 San Francisco article about 3 poor elderly Latino women in danger of losing their home due to raising rents. Other Latino women are profiled too. Okay no one is kicked out in the story, but they are all endanger of not being able to keep up with the rents.

And for good measure ” Case Study in Displacement on Elizabeth Street Warning: Gentrification in Progress” by J.A. Lobbia in New York City. This covers a NYC building in the process of gentrifying. There are poor immigrants crammed in some units, while other units rehabbed & expanded for 1 or 2 people. The landlord is finding ways to kick out the poorer residents, such as suing them for lease infractions. The truly EVIL part of the landlord is that he sues his Chinese renters and buys off his Latino renters to get them out.