The Washington Post: Study: D.C. has had the highest ‘intensity’ of gentrification of any U.S. city

The Washington Post, March 19th, 2019: Study: D.C. has had the highest ‘intensity’ of gentrification of any U.S. city

About 40 percent of the District’s lower-income neighborhoods experienced gentrification between 2000 and 2013, giving the city the greatest “intensity of gentrification” of any in the country, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

The District also had the most black residents — more than 20,000 — displaced from their neighborhoods during that time, mostly by affluent, white newcomers, researchers said. The District and Philadelphia were most “notable” for displacements of black residents, while Denver and Austin had the most Hispanic residents move. Nationwide, nearly 111,000 African Americans and more than 24,000 Hispanics moved out of gentrifying neighborhoods, the study found.

In sheer numbers, 62 lower-income census tracts in the District gentrified between 2000 and 2013, putting the city third behind New York and Los Angeles for the highest number of neighborhoods that had transformed. The District ranked first in “intensity of gentrification” based on the percentage of lower-income neighborhoods that experienced gentrification.

Because of the District’s intensity ranking, “You feel it and you see it,” said Jesse Van Tol, chief executive of NCRC, a research and advocacy coalition of 600 community organizations that promote economic and racial justice. “It’s the visibility and the pace of it.”

The study defined gentrification as when “an influx of investment and changes to the built environment lead to rising home values, family incomes and educational levels of residents.” It defined “cultural displacement” as instances when “minority areas see a rapid decline in their numbers as affluent, white gentrifiers replace the incumbent residents.”

Researchers examined U.S. census tracts that, in 2000, were in the lower 40th percentile for median home values and household incomes in their metropolitan areas.

Van Tol said gentrification has followed a national move back to cities, particularly among affluent workers. The District drew many during the Great Recession, when the city’s economy and job markets were more stable than others. Meanwhile, the amount of affordable housing has lagged, even amid new residential development.

Many residents can rattle off the D.C. neighborhoods that have undergone rapid economic change, including Petworth, Mount Pleasant, Brookland, and the U Street and 14th Street NW corridors.

Gentrification can benefit areas because it signals economic investment, Van Tol said. The problem comes, he said, when longtime residents are pushed out as rents and property taxes rise, leaving them unable to benefit from the improvements. Activists also are concerned about the culture that can leave with a neighborhood’s longtime residents. Van Tol recalled the 2015 closing of the popular Sweet Mango Cafe in Petworth and the end of the neighborhood’s annual Caribbean parade.

“I think the loss of these cultural institutions has really changed the identity of neighborhoods in a way that might be unwelcome by the people who have lived there,” Van Tol said.

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