Who’s To Blame for Gentrification?

As more neigh­bor­hoods and expe­ri­ence the of rede­vel­op­ment, often termed gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, peo­ple seek indi­vid­ual cul­prits to pin the blame on. Whether it is the own­ers of the hip new cof­feeshop, the devel­op­er build­ing new build­ing, or the young pro­fes­sion­als rent­ing or buy­ing homes in pre­vi­ous­ly unde­sir­able neigh­bor­hoods, the human need for attri­bu­tion leads us to dis­count broad­er, insti­tu­tion­al forces, accord­ing to Alan Ehren­halt’s recent piece in Gov­ern­ing.

“yup­pies” or “hip­sters,” what­ev­er the term du jour is, are an easy target—“Most seri­ous­ly, they raise rents and prop­er­ty tax­es and inevitably force some poor­er inhab­i­tants to look else­where for lodging”—Ehrenhalt argues that “To hold them respon­si­ble for the dis­com­forts of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion is essen­tial­ly to blame the cus­tomer.”

Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion’s sup­pli­ers, Ehren­halt writes, are indeed real estate com­pa­nies and devel­op­ers. “Yet for devel­op­ers and land­lords to be the true vil­lains of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, it would be nec­es­sary to deter­mine that they are worse stew­ards than the small prop­er­ty own­ers who dom­i­nat­ed poor neigh­bor­hoods in pre-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion . There is no real that is the case.”

The real prob­lem, accord­ing to Ehren­halt, is the short­age of afford­able sup­ply and con­struc­tion. “It’s the fault of an entrenched and com­plex that has exist­ed for decades and does­n’t have a per­pe­tra­tor to put the fin­ger on.” 

To Ehren­halt, “The only way to make a seri­ous dent in the short­age of mod­er­ate­ly priced hous­ing is to encour­age more of it with­out demo­niz­ing the peo­ple liv­ing com­fort­ably under the cur­rent rules.” 

While elim­i­nat­ing sin­gle-fam­i­ly zon­ing and per­mit­ting light den­si­ty increas­es is one avenue for cre­at­ing more hous­ing, these poli­cies prob­a­bly won’t make a sig­nif­i­cant dent in the mil­lion of hous­ing units need­ed to alle­vi­ate the cur­rent short­age. Ehren­halt con­cludes, “To me, the only prac­ti­cal zon­ing solu­tion is to stick to com­mer­cial cor­ri­dors, and to build big there — tall build­ings, not duplex­es or four­plex­es” near tran­sit lines that can accom­mo­date fam­i­lies.

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