Gentrification Keeps Trying to Improve its Image

Over time the conversation about gentrification has gotten much more complex.

The latest report on gentrification in American cities is also the latest to try to give it a decent name. The new study says that gentrifying areas actually attract quite a few residents in lower to middle parts of the income range, particularly Latinos. The study also points to income gains from gentrification spread more widely across the poor-to-rich spectrum and among more racial groups than one might expect. Black householders with high school degrees appear to gain a larger share of the rise in income in gentrifying areas than college-educated whites.

This follows up on the work of Lance Freeman of Columbia University in 2005. He found that many people with low incomes were eager to reap the benefits of gentrification in their neighborhoods. In addition, he didn’t find evidence that many people were being displaced from their neighborhoods, though when they left of their own accord they were often replaced by the better-off.

[RELATED: What Does Gentrification Really Mean?]

These findings, while well-researched, led to an equally well-researched response from other academics who drew much less positive conclusions. Specifically, research by Kathe Newman and Elvin Wyly found that if it hadn’t been for rent regulation in New York City, where Freeman did his study, many more people would have been displaced.

Recent studies on gentrification have certainly added a lot of nuance to a debate that used to be pretty simple. In the past people would say gentrification was bad, on its face. The very word has a pretty negative connotation. But over time the conversation about gentrification has gotten much more complex. For example. it’s not just upper-class whites who are moving into formerly low-income areas and communities of color. It’s sometimes black middle class newcomers who are moving into these neighborhoods, as well. The newer research also points out other distinctions besides race and class in gentrifying neighborhoods, like the way homeowners sometimes have a more dominant role than renters in community organizations.

I haven’t seen the latest study yet, and wouldn’t count on the brief review in Time Magazine to give me a thorough analysis. But I expect the latest study, “Who Gentrifies Low-Income Neighborhoods?” to encourage a lively discussion.

David Holtzman is a planner for Louisa County, Virginia, a freelance writer, and a former Shelterforce editor.


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