How Middle-Class Anti-Gentrifiers Obscure San Francisco's True Problems

In San Francisco, the relatively affluent are vocal in their denunciation of the "gentrifying" effects of the more affluent. This debate clouds the city's fundamental problems in housing its poor and working class residents, says Ilan Greenberg.
April 15, 2013, 11am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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In San Francisco, "the debate [over gentrification] is dominated by fierce new champions of the anti-gentrification cause who aren't concerned so much about the truly poor being forced from—or tempted out of—their neighborhoods," writes Greenberg. "In their view, the victims of gentrification are also affluent, just less so than the people moving in."

“Middle-class people being bought out by upper-income people—that may be a political issue, but it’s not what we would call gentrification,” says Robert J. Sampson, an urban sociologist at Harvard University. “The affluent moving in—that’s an urban battle, but not gentrification.”

But for Dawn Phillips, co-director of programs for Causa Justa, a neighborhood organization responding to resident displacement in Oakland, and other advocates for the disadvantaged, these debates among the relatively affluent obscure the city's more significant problems. 

"In Phillips’s world, the urgent issue isn’t whether the Bay Area’s new wealth has the same perspective and experience as the old. Nor is Phillips losing sleep over where in the city middle-class people are supposed to live," notes Greenberg. "Rather, for Phillips, the gentrification problem concerns government policies that for decades disinvested in neighborhoods, only to turn around and encourage real-estate investment when richer neighbors moved close. This, Phillips argues, systematically pushed vulnerable, disadvantaged people to the geographic margins, where there is little work, community resources, or personal networks."

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Published on Friday, April 12, 2013 in The New Republic
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