Residents Moving from Gentrifying Neighborhoods Experience Worsened Neighborhood-Level Determinants of Health

A new paper published in Housing Policy Debate, Gentrification, Mobility, and Exposure to Contextual Determinants of Health,” assesses how neighborhood-level determinants of health change when a neighborhood is gentrified. The paper also examines the ways contextual determinants of health differ among individuals who remain in gentrifying neighborhoods and individuals who move from these neighborhoods. The paper finds that people who stay in gentrifying neighborhoods experience improvements in healthcare access, socioeconomic conditions, and air pollution. Those who leave, however, tend to move to neighborhoods with worse contextual determinants of health compared to their original neighborhoods.

Using data from 100 metropolitan areas, the researchers assessed the relationship between gentrification and contextual determinants of health (i.e., place-based factors that impact health). The authors categorized census tracts as gentrifying if they were low-income compared to their corresponding metropolitan area in 2000 and experienced above-median growth between 2000 and 2019 in two of the following categories: median rent, median income, and share of adults with college degrees. The researchers then used individual-level data to identify residents who lived in these neighborhoods prior to gentrification and tracked their neighborhood-level outcomes across two time points: 2006 and 2019.

As of 2006, 5.5 million adults lived in “gentrifiable” census tracts, defined as tracts where the median income was less than 80% of the metropolitan region’s area median income. Among this group, approximately 678,000 adults lived in neighborhoods that were gentrifying, and 4.79 million lived in neighborhoods that were not gentrifying. Census tracts that were classified as gentrifying had higher shares of white residents and young adult residents in 2006 compared to tracts that were not gentrifying. Another 11.2 million adults lived in “not gentrifiable” census tracts, which had, on average, higher shares of white households, higher shares of homeowners, and higher median rents and home values.

Gentrifying census tracts experienced improvements in their contextual determinants of health. Among residents in gentrifying census tracts, the share that resided in medically underserved areas declined from 17.5% in 2006 to 15.2% in 2019. The concentration of three different air pollutants also decreased in these census tracts, and walkability improved slightly.

While gentrifying census tracts experienced some improvements in their contextual determinants of health, residents who moved out of these neighborhoods often ended up in neighborhoods with worse contextual determinants of health. The original residents of gentrifying census tracts who moved were 1.9% more likely to live in a medically underserved area. Movers were also more likely to end up in neighborhoods with higher scores on an Area Deprivation Index, which measures deprivation based on indicators like neighborhood income, education, and employment. These residents also tended to move to neighborhoods with less walkability.

Overall, this research finds that while gentrification may lead to improved contextual determinants of health for original residents who remain in gentrifying census tracts, original residents who move out of these census tracts tend to end up in neighborhoods with worse contextual determinants of health.

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