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Housing Perspectives

Research, trends, and perspective from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies

What Would It Take for Cities Experiencing Gentrification Pressures to Foster Inclusion Rather than Replacement?

Fostering inclusion in gentrifying neighborhoods (rather than opening up exclusive suburbs) is the focus of four working papers released today by the Joint Center for Housing Studies. Originally presented at the Center’s symposium on A Shared Future: Fostering Communities of Inclusion in an Era of Inequality, the papers focus on a variety of struggles for responding to gentrification taking place in a growing number of once-poor (and largely minority) urban neighborhoods. The promising approaches discussed by the authors include creating more permanently-affordable housing in changing neighborhoods, ensuring that existing low-income and minority residents have a greater voice in local decisions, developing policies that give long-term residents access to affordable homeownership options in their neighborhoods, and carrying out research that would help policymakers design and implement better policies for addressing key issues. The four papers are:

Ingrid Gould Ellen,
NYU Wagner

Can Gentrification Be Inclusive? by Ingrid Gould Ellen notes that while gentrification raises fears of displacement, it also offers some hope because the growth in higher-income households in previously poor areas can help to shore up city tax bases and possibly spur economic and racial integration. However, she warns, absent policy intervention, integration may be only fleeting because, left to its own devices, the market is unlikely to deliver on the promise of long-term integration. After reviewing some of the literature on gentrification, Ellen discusses three promising strategies. The first is to preserve existing affordable housing units in changing neighborhoods by investing in public housing, extending affordability restrictions on privately-owned units. The second is to expand the stock of long-term affordable units by making more strategic use of publicly-owned land, as well as tools like inclusionary zoning. The third is to work with local community groups to help ensure that low- and moderate-income residents can benefit from the expanded economic, educational, and social opportunities present in gentrifying neighborhoods. However, she cautions, none of this is easy or cheap. Some deals will simply be too expensive, but city and community leaders who wish to make gentrification more inclusive should be vigilant in searching for opportunities.

Malo Huston,
Columbia GSAPP

We Live Here Too: Incorporating Residents’ Voices in Mitigating the Negative Impacts of Gentrification by Malo Hutson focuses on strategies for ensuring key actors hear and respond to the concerns of long-term residents in gentrifying areas. Hutson starts by reviewing key causes and consequences of gentrification, and notes that responding to its effects requires that longstanding community residents organize and make their voices heard. Moreover, he contends, governments and developers should work to include such residents in the planning of urban revitalization project from the outset. Hutson reports that community leaders in cities like Boston, Washington DC, and San Francisco have formed (or are forming) community coalitions focused on protecting their interests and transforming their communities into sustainable, healthy communities. Moreover, unlike some past efforts, these coalitions are not fighting to stop economic development and growth; rather, they are struggling to be a part of the new economic and social transformation taking place in their neighborhoods. Many of these initiatives, he adds, make use of legally-binding Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs), which define goals for housing, employment, and other facilities and programs that will be provided by the developers of major new projects. Such approaches, he notes, require not only extensive consultation with affected communities, but also that community leaders be willing to compromise. While a willingness to compromise has become more difficult in our current hyper-polarized political and social environment, he observes, it is often necessary for a community’s goals to be realized.

Colvin Grannum,
Bedford Stuyvesant
Restoration Corporation

Inclusion through Homeownership by Colvin Grannum argues that increasing and stabilizing homeownership is a tangible means of fostering inclusion in communities experiencing rising home values and gentrification pressures, such as Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood. Grannum describes several policy levers for pursuing this goal including preventing foreclosures through rigorous prosecution of predatory lending practices; establishing mission-based nonprofit funds to purchase non-performing mortgages underwritten by HUD, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac; and re-examining local policies, such as the use of tax-lien sales, to make sure that they do not disproportionately harm minority, working-, and middle-class homeownership. Grannum also suggests that policymakers promote homeownership opportunities for prospective working- and middle-class homebuyers, especially African Americans. Examples of such policies include expanded shared equity homeownership initiatives as well as down payment assistance, perhaps through the use of Individual Development Accounts

Vicki Been,

What More Do We Need to Know About How to Prevent and Mitigate Displacement of Low- and Moderate-Income Households from Gentrifying Neighborhoods? by Vicki Been notes that while local governments, land use and housing officials, and affordable housing providers and advocates are scrambling to find effective ways to counter concerns about displacement, urban policy researchers have thus far found little evidence that lower-income renters move from gentrifying neighborhoods at higher rates than they move from non-gentrifying areas. Moreover, she adds, researchers generally have not thoroughly assessed the efficacy of many policies that jurisdictions use to address concerns about gentrification and displacement. She goes on to review what is known—and what is unknown—about the six strategies that comprise the current “toolkit” for addressing gentrification and displacement. These are: preservation of existing affordable rental units; protections of long-time residents who wish to stay in the neighborhood; inclusion to ensure that a share of new development is affordable; revenue generation that harnesses growth to expand financial resources for affordable housing; and property acquisition of sites for affordable housing. She concludes by noting that policymakers considering potential remedies should be mindful of how little we know about the problem or potential solutions. That is not to say that jurisdictions should ignore the tools available; rather, the point is that researchers could provide significant value to policymakers by helping to fill some of the gaps.