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Distinguishing the Housing Shortage from Gentrification

Gentrification "mutates particular neighborhoods" while scarce housing "squeezes entire regions," Devin Michelle Bunten writes. Conflating the two can lead to inaccuracies in understanding.
November 1, 2019, 7am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Affordable Rental Housing
National Low-Income Housing Coalition

Gentrification and the housing shortage are "related but different," Devin Michelle Bunten begins. "Both crises raise prices, strain families, and reallocate wealth to the already privileged. But the problems are distinct. Solving both crises at once requires us to get the details right."

Bunten goes on to discuss the causal distinctions between the two problems. "Occasionally, physically attractive locations come to be occupied by low-income communities, immigrant communities, black communities. Neighborhoods like these are ripe for gentrification." Meanwhile, the housing shortage "is a region-wide round of musical chairs, in which the winners sat down before the music even stopped."

While Bunten gestures toward the need for distinct strategies to tackle gentrification and scarce housing, she does point to how eliminating "wealth sieve" land use policies like minimum lot sizes could galvanize progress on both. "Housing policies are designed to ensure that new neighborhood entrants are as rich or richer than those who arrived before them," she writes. 

In the end, "policies introduced to fight gentrification—rent control and tenant protections—may ameliorate the effects of neighborhood change, but they won't build new homes." 

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Published on Wednesday, October 23, 2019 in CityLab
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