It Doesn't Matter if Your Neighborhood Is Going to Eventually Gentrify
Does this sound familiar? A persistently poor, highly distressed, and long-screwed-over neighborhood is organizing around, lobbying for, or about to get some kind of reinvestment and someone raises the specter of gentrification. Those supporting the reinvestment get frustrated and say something along the lines of “Are you kidding? This place will never gentrify!” or “We could use some gentrification here.”
I think this particular exchange is one we should all commit to never having again.
Why You’re Both Right About Gentrification
Those who dismiss concerns of gentrification have some data behind them. Rapid housing cost appreciation and demographic turnover is a very real and growing problem, but it is still concentrated in a few high-cost markets, and a few select neighborhoods of other cities. Most poor census tracts have stayed stubbornly poor for decades, and more have slipped into poverty recently than climbed out of it.
Housing affordability and displacement are actually problems everywhere, but in most places it’s not due to gentrification. Many of the people who are frustrated when gentrification is brought up see the topic as part of a coastal/hot-market narrative that leaves their places out, and gives them policies that aren’t relevant for their realities—like hot-market centric inclusionary housing policies or funding models that don’t account for an appraisal gap. They worry that the very real, current needs of places being left behind are going to be sacrificed by fear of some unlikely future scenario.
Those who raise the concern also have a point, though. First, we should all remember that in the 1970s, the idea that New York City—especially the Bronx and much of Brooklyn—would gentrify was laughable. Or Hoboken and Jersey City.