New Research Documents Gentrification-Related Evictions in Detroit

An article in Housing Policy Debate, Gentrification-Induced Displacement in Detroit, Michigan: An Analysis of Evictions,” maps evictions in the city between 2009 and 2015, finding evidence that geographic patterns of evictions shift with patterns of gentrification. The article presents a case study of tenants displaced by the closure of a project-based Section 8 building downtown. In that instance, one-fourth of the low-income senior residents were forced to leave the city altogether.

The author identifies patterns of neighborhood gentrification in Detroit between 1990 and 2015. Using the American Community Survey and GeoLytics Neighborhood Change Database, the study examines neighborhoods with higher-than-average increases in five key variables: median gross rent, median household income, median owner-occupied housing value, share of college-educated residents, and share of professionals. Increases in housing value and rent can indicate increasing investment in an area, and above-average increases in income, education, and occupational status can indicate changes in the socioeconomic status of a neighborhood.

In greater downtown Detroit, a 7.2 square mile area at the city center, many of the neighborhoods saw relatively large increases in four or five of the variables studied between 1990 and 2015. Gentrification was not limited to the downtown, however, as pockets to the east and southwest also saw higher-than-average increases. Between 2010 and 2015, a period of significant redevelopment, the white population in the downtown area grew by almost 70%, while the Black population grew by just 4.6%.

Evictions may result from gentrification and rising rents, but they might also be a precursor to gentrification—landlords might use eviction in some neighborhoods to capitalize on rising housing values by expelling tenants and rehabilitating units. To compare patterns of gentrification with eviction filings, the author mapped over 232,000 evictions from 2009 to 2015 in Detroit by defendants’ addresses. Not all eviction filings result in physical evictions (e.g., on serial eviction filing, see Memo, 9/28), and not all displacement in Detroit can be attributed to gentrification. All the same, the changing geography of evictions aligns with some patterns of neighborhood gentrification. Eviction cases in 2009 were concentrated downtown, but by 2015, they were most concentrated near a newly constructed stadium and developing entertainment district. Evictions have become relatively less frequent in downtown Detroit, compared to the rest of the city, between ­2009 and 2015, possibly because the most vulnerable tenants had already been pushed out.

Research is limited on where residents displaced by gentrification go, because systematic tracking is difficult. The author used two methods to understand displacement. First, the author gathered all eviction filings in three downtown buildings between 2009 and 2011 and cross-referenced the tenant names with later eviction filings between 2012 and 2014, to see how renters might be forced to move across the city. This process yielded 34 matches, most of whom were pushed out of the downtown to the periphery of the city.

Second, the author conducted a case study of residents of a former project-based Section 8 building downtown for low-income seniors. The building provided affordable housing between 1980 and 2013, when it was sold and converted into luxury apartments. When it was sold, 95% of households in the building were black, 61% were female-headed, and 54% were age 62 and older. Existing tenants were provided relocation assistance and vouchers. Of the 106 households whose destinations were identifiable, only 7.5% remained in the same neighborhood, and only 31% relocated to an adjacent neighborhood. Nearly a quarter of residents (24.5%) moved out of the city or the state. In interviews, housing workers familiar with the tenants emphasized that the displacement disrupted vital support networks for these low-income seniors.

The article can be found at: