Subsidized Housing Production Prevents Regional Displacement Better than Market-Rate Production

A report from the Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) at the University of California, Berkeley examines the relationship between housing production, affordability, and displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area. Housing Production, Filtering and Displacement: Untangling the Relationships reports that subsidized housing production is more effective than market rate production at preventing the displacement of low income households at the regional level. Neither subsidized nor market rate production, however, appear to prevent displacement at the neighborhood level.

IGS analyzed data on housing production and displacement of low income households in San Francisco Bay Area census tracts from 2000 to 2013. They defined a census tract as experiencing displacement if (1) its overall population grew, but its population of low income households decreased, or (2) its overall population declined but the rate of decline was greater for low income households. Subsidized and market-rate housing production both reduced the likelihood that a census tract experienced low income household displacement, but subsidized production was at least two times more effective at preventing such displacement.

IGS also examined the impact of subsidized and market-rate housing production during the 1990s on low income household displacement from 2000 to 2013. This analysis provides a better timeframe to ensure housing production preceded the potential displacement the researchers studied. Subsidized housing production was much more effective than market-rate production at preventing displacement of low income households in the subsequent decade.

IGS did a third analysis of housing production and displacement to test a hypothesis put forward by Rick Jacobus in a Shelterforce article titled “Why We Must Build.” Jacobus suggested that housing markets work differently at different geographic scales, that market-rate housing production may reduce low income household displacement at a regional scale but increase or have no impact on displacement in a given neighborhood. IGS compared their regional results with an analysis of production and displacement in census block groups in San Francisco. The results support the hypothesis. Neither subsidized nor market-rate production appear to impact neighborhood-scale displacement of low income households, either positively or negatively. The study’s authors did not, however, examine the displacement impact of preexisting subsidized housing built prior to the 1990s.

The authors conclude that a range of strategies are needed to protect vulnerable households. They write: “In overheated markets like San Francisco, addressing the displacement crisis will require aggressive preservation strategies in addition to the development of subsidized and market rate housing, as building alone won’t protect specific vulnerable neighborhoods and households.”

Housing Production, Filtering and Displacement: Untangling the Relationships is available at:

“Why We Must Build” is available at: