Friday, July 11, 2008

Gentrification of inner-city neighborhoods not harmful to the poor

Time reports that, despite the conventional wisdom, gentrification of inner-city neighborhoods does not hurt the poor.
People tend to think gentrification goes like this: rich, educated white people move into a low-income minority neighborhood and drive out its original residents, who can no longer afford to live there. As it turns out, that's not typically true.

A new study by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Pittsburgh and Duke University, examined Census data from more than 15,000 neighborhoods across the U.S. in 1990 and 2000, and found that low-income non-white households did not disproportionately leave gentrifying areas. In fact, researchers found that at least one group of residents, high school–educated blacks, were actually more likely to remain in gentrifying neighborhoods than in similar neighborhoods that didn't gentrify — even increasing as a fraction of the neighborhood population, and seeing larger-than-expected gains in income.

Those findings may seem counterintuitive, given that the term "gentrification," particularly in cities like New York and San Francisco, has become synonymous with soaring rents, wealthier neighbors and the dislocation of low-income residents. But overall, the new study suggests, the popular notion of the yuppie invasion is exaggerated. "We're not saying there aren't communities where displacement isn't happening," says Randall Walsh, an associate professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the study's authors. "But in general, across all neighborhoods in the urbanized parts of the U.S., it looks like gentrification is a pretty good thing."

The researchers found, for example, that income gains in gentrifying neighborhoods — usually defined as low-income urban areas that undergo rises in income and housing prices — were more widely dispersed than one might expect. Though college-educated whites accounted for 20% of the total income gain in gentrifying neighborhoods, black householders with high school degrees contributed even more: 33% of the neighborhood's total rise. In other words, a broad demographic of people in the neighborhood benefited financially. According to the study's findings, only one group — black residents who never finished high school — saw their income grow at a slower rate than predicted. But the study also suggests that these residents weren't moving out of their neighborhoods at a disproportionately higher rate than from similar neighborhoods that didn't gentrify.

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