Gentrification is a controversial issue playing out in cities across America. What happens when wealthier residents begin to move into a lower-income neighborhood? Who gets to stay, and who doesn’t? In episode 09 of Grapple, we heard about how the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Hazelwood is on the cusp of change. Residents there are hopeful about a major new development and the potential job opportunities; but they’re also concerned the development could push them out of their community. On this episode, Jackelyn Hwang joins us to discuss some of the latest trends and research around gentrification.
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Jackelyn Hwang is a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University, and will join the faculty of Stanford University as an assistant professor of sociology in the fall of 2017.
What exactly does gentrification mean?
Gentrification means a lot of things to different people. I define it as an influx of investment and of middle and upper class residents into a previously low income, central city (downtown) neighborhood.
And who’s the typical gentrifier?
The data would suggest that a typical gentrifier is white, college-educated in a professional occupation, relatively younger, childless. But, you also have your story of artist moving in- the pioneers of gentrification- and the bohemian types. I think there is a lot of variation today, especially, with the spread of gentrification. I think it’s an interesting discussion. A lot of people will say they are a gentrifier, or say they’re not and they were there first. Neighborhoods are always changing; so who was necessarily there first and who is pioneering is an interesting debate that one could have.
Exploring possible reasons that gentrification has been on the rise since 2000:
The causes of gentrification are still widely debated. Many have documented a shift in high-skilled jobs to central (downtown) cities and a decline in low-skill jobs in central cities; and rather an increase in low skilled-jobs in the suburbs. Others have described more development due to changes in mortgage markets and available money for developers and speculators to build downtown. Others argue that millennials have a distinct set of preferences that are particularly attracted to center cities, density and amenities. There’s also been a shift in the racial and ethnic composition of cities; and some might argue that has made central city neighborhoods more attractive to some residents. There’s also been a major decline in crime since the mid 1990s. So, crime has been cut in half over the last 20 years. There are multiple reasons that may be influencing why more people are moving downtown than in the past.
How much does race factor into the way gentrification happens?
What we really found was that race mattered a lot. Neighborhoods that were over 40 percent black gentrified at a much slower pace and even declined. Even if they had showed signs of gentrification in the 1990s, or were right next to neighborhoods that were gentrifying in the 90s. What this tells us is that race still matters a lot in how people view neighborhoods, and whether or not they’re willing to move into them and how attractive they find neighborhoods; particularly for higher-income residents who are moving into these neighborhoods and gentrifying them.
Does gentrification necessarily mean displacement?
The research on displacement is quite mixed. A lot of qualitative accounts and public discourse really emphasize the displacement of the residents that were there before a neighborhood suddenly became valuable to higher income people. I’ve worked on a study with the Federal Reserve Bank where we looked at credit score data, where we can track where residents are moving as a neighborhood gentrifies. Our study took place from 2004 to 2014, and essentially we don’t find that there are higher mobility rates among disadvantaged residents in gentrifying neighborhoods versus those in non-gentrifying neighborhoods.
But in our study, we are able to see that those who do move from gentrifying neighborhoods are more likely to move to lower-income neighborhoods. Neighborhoods with higher levels of disadvantage, which is an index that comprises various indicators like poverty, unemployment and education levels. Even though we can’t pick up that low-income people are moving at higher rates from gentrifying neighborhoods than non-gentrifying neighborhoods; when they do move, they are making downward moves at a more frequent rate than those moving from non-gentrifying neighborhoods.
What happens to renters or homeowners in a gentrifying neighborhood?
We do find that there are higher mobility rates from gentrifying neighborhoods for those without mortgages. There’s a recent study that came out that looks at a national level data set, and they find that renters are indeed more likely to be displaced than homeowners.
What can residents and communities can do about gentrification?
It’s very important for communities to organize and to be a strong voice in advocating for what they want. I was talking a lot about residential displacement. But there’s also cultural displacement and political displacement. Where new businesses are moving in and the culture of the neighborhood is being displaced. Where the political interests are maybe displaced by the new incoming residents. So, it’s really important for the political interests of the preexisting residents to be heard as development is happening. I think it’s important for it to be inclusive development. So, by that I mean, that the long-term preexisting residents are included in the conversation throughout the whole process. And this is particularly important for these disinvested neighborhoods that are not already gentrified. It’s important for the preexisting residents that they still have an opportunity at this point before these neighborhoods are fully-gentrified, fully-middle-class neighborhoods to have a voice in how the development plays out: in how much affordable housing is needed and the diversity that they want to preserve in the community.
Music: Tony Trov and Mike Vivas
Reporter: Lindsay Lazarski
Executive Producer: Stephanie Marudas
Host, Editor: Naomi Starobin