Researchers Study Local Efforts to Resist Displacement in Gentrifying Neighborhoods

A recent article in the Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Development Law, “Uprooted: Local Efforts to Mitigate Displacement in Gentrifying Neighborhoods,” describes what three local governments have done to protect lower-income residents from displacement pressures. On the basis of these case studies, the authors recommend that cities develop displacement strategies at the same time as revitalization efforts, prepare for large financial commitments, intervene early to remove land from market pressure, and lower expectations about the ability to entirely eliminate displacement.

The authors develop case studies on Austin, TX, Washington, DC, and Portland, OR. They focus specifically on neighborhoods where higher-income residents are moving into historically marginalized communities and raising housing costs, which can cause the displacement of lower-income residents. Each case study describes the neighborhood history, what has spurred gentrification, and the programs and policies municipal governments have adopted in response.

Examining the Guadalupe neighborhood in Central East Austin, the authors describe the flexible strategy of its resident-led community development corporation (CDC), which has been the primary agent of anti-displacement activity. During the 1980s, when lots sold for $5,000, the CDC prioritized land acquisition and the construction of affordable owner-occupied and rental housing. Now that lots sell for more than $500,000 each, the CDC can no longer afford to buy properties, so it has shifted to focus on densifying existing properties and developing a community land trust (CLT). Community land trusts hold ownership of land in perpetuity, which is leased out to residents who own the homes on that land. The CLT requires that homes’ resale amounts be capped, to maintain permanent affordability for lower-income residents.

Turning to the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC, the authors argue that the municipal government failed to develop any anti-displacement strategy while promoting extensive redevelopment and reinvestment after 1996. Although market-rate housing prices increased by 146% between 2000 and 2010, however, the neighborhood still maintains economic diversity, with 44% of residents making less than $30,000 per year. The authors cite two factors as instrumental in slowing displacement. First, the neighborhood already had a large concentration of public and subsidized housing before gentrification started (it held one third of all subsidized housing in the city in 2001). Second, the authors credit the District’s housing preservation and renter-protection measures as helping. Specifically, they cite the “Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act” (which guarantees tenants in buildings for sale have the first opportunity to buy the building and provides technical assistance to do so), the Housing Production Trust Fund, rent supplements, and the DC Preservation Network’s tracking of at-risk subsidized housing.

Finally, the authors describe community-driven strategies undertaken in inner north and northeast Portland, OR. After the Portland City Council approved an urban renewal plan in 2000, the area lost more than half of its African American population. Portland placed a greater emphasis on mitigating displacement and allowing residents an opportunity to return. The authors identify two distinctive elements of Portland’s approach: the city is prioritizing displaced former residents on waiting lists for affordable housing, and it is attempting to discourage further displacement by requiring landlords to provide relocation assistance to tenants when the landlords refuse to renew their leases, under certain circumstances. Portland’s Housing Strategy has been in place only since 2015, so the authors do not evaluate the success of these efforts.

The authors infer some “cross-cutting lessons” from the case studies. They argue that revitalization efforts should be paired with anti-displacement measures from the outset, and existing residents should be included in the development of plans. They warn that large, long-term financial commitments are often necessary to make a significant difference in gentrifying neighborhoods, that strategies will need to change as housing prices rise, and that no efforts are likely to entirely eliminate displacement pressures.

The full article can be accessed at: