As New York City’s population continues to grow, and efforts continue to create housing to accommodate such growth, the word “gentrification” is raised more frequently. For some, gentrification evokes a negative narrative, centered on the belief that changing neighborhoods are causing our most vulnerable neighbors to be forced out of their homes. Others believe that changing neighborhoods are positive signs of economic growth. As investment flows into a neighborhood, quality of life improves as schools and parks are renovated and beautified. New jobs are created by construction activity as well as retail businesses.
New research suggests the fears that gentrification promotes displacement are misguided. Two new studies on gentrification took a similar approach, and their results demonstrated that, contrary to much of the current public discourse, a neighborhood’s demographics are driven by those who move in, rather than those who move out.
A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and the U.S. Census Bureau, found that gentrification has little impact on the constant flow and mobility of families. While census data does show an increase in the mobility of low-income renters, residents who do leave do not end up living in more disadvantaged areas, and those who remain in the neighborhood experience significant benefits included greater quality of life and increased opportunities.
Another recent study by the Furman Center at New York University and the National Bureau of Economic Research continues to change the conversation. Previous research has taken data from cities at various points in time but did not kept track of what happens to the people living in those cities. Now, using Medicaid records, researchers found that most low-income children born into neighborhoods that later gentrified ended up staying in those very neighborhoods they were born into. This goes against the common theory that gentrification causes the most vulnerable individuals to be forced out of their neighborhoods.
These two studies, in combination, suggest that mobility and socio-economic integration has measurable benefits for many of the neighborhood’s original residents. Given that children born into gentrifying neighborhoods do not have any elevated rate of mobility, researchers conclude that, “exposure to higher-income neighborhoods has important benefits for low-income residents, such as improving the mental and physical health of adults and increasing the long-term educational attainment and earning of children.”
It is important to draw a distinction between those households that are unfortunately and truly displaced versus those that moved into affordable housing in their current neighborhood, or even elsewhere in the city, where their rents will be tied to their income.
Movement happens everywhere, especially here in New York. In fact, our population is currently growing due to increases of college graduates, immigrants and newborns at much higher rates than most other American cities. At the same time, New Yorkers are constantly moving to the suburbs. This consistent flow is one of the things that makes New York so vibrant and is constantly changing the makeup of our neighborhoods. Instead of focusing on keeping communities the same, we should recognize the inevitability of mobility and the desires of all people to change addresses when and if they want to.
REBNY believes that economically-diverse neighborhoods are good for our city. The experts agree that we’re not building housing fast enough to keep pace with the needs of our growing city. This new research suggests that we need to ensure our housing policies respond to gentrification by not only enabling people to stay in their homes – but also to encourage those communities to grow.
When they do, after all, everyone reaps the rewards.