This writing associates gentrification and inequality with the understanding that association is not causation. Further studies are analyzing the relationship between gentrification and inequality and vice versa. In the mean time, glance at the table compiled from two reports: Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank on cities undergoing gentrification through 2009 and Brookings Institute on inequality in cites in 2012. Seven out of the top 10 cities experiencing gentrification and inequality are the same: Boston, NYC, San Francisco, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles. While the years are not consistent across the reports for a rigorous comparison it suggests a pattern of association. In the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank report on gentrification in cities Baltimore is ranked the highest in cities with low price land tracts (95% of land tracts are low price land tracts). However for the period studied -between 2005 and 2009- only 5% gentrification occurred in these tracts. (1) This is consistent with BNIA (Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance) data showing an increase between 2005 and 2007 but leveling off into 2009 (See June 2013 post on this site for graph of rebabbed houses in Baltimore as a proxy for increased house value).
|Top 10 cities gentrified
|Top 10 cities with largest income inequality 2012#|
|New York City||Miami|
|Washington, DC||Washington, DC|
|Atlanta||New York City|
|#Brookings Inst. Rpt|
In the Brookings Institute report Baltimore ranked 10th out of 50 big cities in the US for the greatest gap between the rich and the poor in 2012. (2) This current income inequality may reflect more recent gentrification processes which have occurred subsequent to 2009.
There are two big initiatives of revitalization ongoing in Baltimore, one a legacy of a previous mayor (now governor) and the other of the current mayor: 1)The ‘college town gentrification project”: the big players are U of Maryland, U of Baltimore, Maryland Institute College of the Arts on the west side and Johns Hopkins on the east side (3) and 2) ‘10,000 families in 10 years’ targeting recent immigrants, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered communities, Washingtonians who want lower-priced water views. One tool for these projects is the ‘Vacants to Value’ program initiated by the current administration which aims to sell vacant property at low cost to new residents as an invitation into the city. Several reports from existing residents reveal they are not given equal opportunity to purchase vacant property through this program. The socially engineering project of constructing a new Baltimore is determined to rebuild it with people of a different race and class and de-concentrate the existing fabric of this inner city. In addition the recent report from Baltimore Brew regarding the city’s plan to sell public housing buildings to private developers/managers with no transparency to the public as to the long term plans for these buildings will add to further displacement and likely gentrification. (4) The Housing Department has the right to negotiate on behalf of current and future residents to assure that these units remain affordable yet the public remains uninformed as to these details. Dispersing housing vouchers to current tenants may allow low-income residents to move to areas with better socioeconomic status but it does not guarantee increased income for them to afford the goods and services of these different neighborhoods. In fact the current data shows no consistent patterns of increased employment for low-income residents forced to move when public housing is planned for demolition. (5) The results of these rebuilding and gentrification processes will be important to track to determine correlation between the changing higher income earners in the city, the predicted 28% increase in housing prices in Baltimore, and the income and housing value of displaced and existing lower income residents-the inequality gap. (6)
Gentrification results in a different class and often race of people inhabiting a previously disinvested area. (7) This results in increased taxes, better public infrastructure/services, greater investment in education, recreation (bike lanes, human/dog parks) etc with the consistent effect of displacing existing residents who cannot afford the increased taxes, services, and merchandise in the area.Displacement of local businesses occurs secondary to new residents desiring different products, usually more costly. Does this lead to greater inequality/gap between the rich and the poor? It can if people are unable to afford something they previously afforded (home, taxes, products, services) whether in their current neighborhood or neighborhood of displacement. In the current neighborhood the new higher income residents create a market that drives housing prices up, as well as services and products. For a low-income earner moving into a higher income neighborhood because of displacement they still pay a higher percentage of their income for the housing if more affordable housing is not constructed in the area. If existing residents have increased costs to live but no increased income to support these costs, there is less left over after housing expenses.
These initiatives of the past and current mayors seek to increase higher income earners while little has been done to train the existing workforce to be competent to benefit from the projected new jobs and assure increased income that can afford the increased cost for housing, products, services and taxes. Neither has there been affordable housing planned to accommodate the displaced residents unable to afford the rising cost of housing and property taxes. Many of the neighborhoods targeted for revitalization include communities which have been disinvested and under-resourced in education, health care, nutrition, recreation, libraries and all the other assets that support a thriving and healthy community. The outcomes of such disinvestment over time result in the health disparities-including drug and alcohol addiction, development delays, lead poisoning, high incarceration rates, depression, anxiety- we witness in Baltimore and similar urban cities of low income and color. (8) This default of benefit to the higher income residents continues the status quo of growing health and wealth inequality supported by powerful public-private partnerships.
The struggle for equity in housing rights for communities of low income and color targeted for the negative impacts of gentrification and greater inequality continues. In Baltimore residents in Middle East organized and challenged Johns Hopkins University, the city government, Annie E. Casey Foundation and other powerful stakeholders for fair market value for their homes, equitable relocation costs, and healthy demolition processes after being targeted for displacement by eminent domain. (9) Residents in Washington DC organized and established cooperative housing when their rental building was threatened for developer buy-out (10) In Brooklyn tenants organized and formed a union to assure they can stay in their rental housing after private landlords threaten them to move and increase rent in a quickly gentrifying area. (11) In California Oakland is addressing workforce development in the creative arts and San Francisco is assuring residents are not further pushed out by gentrification (12). To address the issue of increasing property taxes which force out existing residents Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburg, and New York have introduced or passed legislation either capping or extending payment for property taxes. (13) Legislation to mandate a set target of affordable housing being built in all new housing developments and a set target of local hires, workforce training for eligibility for employment, and social programs to assure eligibility can be tools to assure more equitable housing and employment which will sustain incomes and prevent displacement. (14) There is more discussion about how to prevent gentrification once revitalization begins in adjacent neighborhoods and online media has served as a platform for raising greater awareness of this issue. (15) Lastly, anti-displacement strategies have and can include city, regional, and federal-sponsored research and planning to assess potential for current affordable housing stock and likelihood of displacement as a result of revitalization and funding for prevention strategies. (16) An example of a plan to prevent displacement secondary to planned revitalization in Somerville, MA was recently released by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council of Somerville suggesting a need for 9,000 new affordable units to assure no displacement occurs (17). Besides organizing at the community level planning and training upcoming leaders to replace current leadership at the city, state, and federal levels, who ignore and support the negative effects of gentrification and inequality through private:public partnerships, is occurring and remains a critical path toward housing equity (18)