The Washington Post: Yes, you can gentrify a neighborhood without pushing out poor people

An OpEd in the Washington Post by NCRC CEO Jesse Van Tol, April 8, 2019: Yes, you can gentrify a neighborhood without pushing out poor people

When rich people move in, they often displace residents. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Neighborhoods have been developing and changing since the dawn of civilization, but the idea of gentrification — when an influx of new money and new people transforms a community — has emerged as an issue since only the 1960s. And it is a complicated and often misunderstood term.

In some communities, gentrification evokes instant distrust. It implies the arrival of selfish developers, investors and corporate chains replacing locally owned, independent businesses — and a flood of well-off white people who inevitably push out the poor black and brown people who were there before.

But for many neighborhoods, gentrification represents much-needed investment. Local residents welcome the resurrection and revival of neglected and disinvested areas. Community leaders desire capital investments, leading to better services, jobs, thriving businesses and other components of a healthy, vibrant neighborhood. As one resident of West Baltimore put it: “How can we get some gentrification in our community?”

It turns out both views are correct. Gentrification does not have to mean displacement — if the circumstances are aligned correctly.

An analysis of U.S. Census Bureau and demographic data from 2000 to 2013, released last month, confirmed what community activists in many cities have long reported: Yes, gentrification often pushes people out of their neighborhoods. The analysis, by researchers at the organization I lead, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, found that at least 135,000 black and Hispanic residents were displaced from their neighborhoods during the period we studied. In Washington, 20,000 black residents were displaced, and in Portland, Ore., 13 percent of the black community was displaced over the decade. Our report on the study includes interactive maps so you can see what the data reveals about your neighborhood.

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