Fears of Gentrification Shouldn’t Limit Affordable Housing Development

December 12, 2014

Over the past couple of days we’ve talked a lot about how persistent poverty might be just as big a problem as gentrification. Today I’d like to touch upon the topic of affordable housing, which is one of the biggest concerns that people have when they discuss gentrification.

One of the major issues that people have with gentrification is that the influx of wealthier residents can drive up the cost of living–in particular, the cost of housing. Urban revitalization and population growth often come with the price of higher rents and increased property values. To counteract these effects, cities have employed different strategies, from awarding tax credits to developers who invest in affordable housing, to subsidizing housing for low income families, and rent control. These strategies vary in success. Rent control in Washington D.C., for example, includes exceptions which may benefit existing tenants, but will ultimately result in less affordable housing.

What these strategies like rent control and subsidized housing don’t address is the issue that in many cities, the housing supply just hasn’t grown enough to keep up with the growth in population. Recently, San Francisco mayor Ed Lee launched an affordable housing program with the goal of building 4,000 new units by 2020, half of which will be allotted for poor to upper middle class residents. New York’s Department of City Planning is considering developing several parking lots in the Bronx into high-rises. These new developments would increase the housing stock in their cities, but many oppose the development, citing their fears of gentrification. However, developing over a parking lot or a Burger King won’t nearly displace as many people as it will benefit.

We can fear the changing character of our neighborhoods, and the possibility of gentrification. But we shouldn’t do so at the cost of developing some badly needed housing that will benefit everyone, including the poor.

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