The Scholars Strategy Network, a nonprofit outlet and venue for connecting scholars with policymakers based in Cambridge, MA, recently released a podcast on Gentrification. The podcast, from a series titled No Jargon, interviews university scholars on public policy, politics, and social issues. In this episode they talk to Jackelyn Hwang, a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University. Hwang’s 2014 study of gentrification in Chicago, Divergent Pathways of Gentrification: Racial Inequality and the Social Order of Renewal in Chicago Neighborhoods, brought out some interesting patterns not usually considered when dealing with changing city demographics.
The most striking outcome of her study is the way that racial dynamics can affect whether gentrification, and the level of investment associated with it, occurs at all. Using Google Street View, which Hwang claims is better for assessing gentrification than census data, they quantified gentrification in Chicago through the visible presence or absence of litter, graffiti, new construction, and a number of other variables. Comparing this with census data within the neighborhood, the study shows that gentrification is occurring most rapidly in diverse neighborhoods up to a point. Gentrifiers are attracted to diversity, but if a previously low-income community is greater than 35% black, gentrification does not occur. Accounting for crime, poverty and vacancy, this trend persisted across many Chicago neighborhoods and has fascinating implications for planners and policymakers.
The host suggests policymakers need to take two approaches to facilitating investment: one for gentrifying neighborhoods and one for persistently poor but not gentrifying neighborhoods. He calls it affirmative action for neighborhood investment. Hwang emphasizes the need to promote investment that protects current residents and prevents displacement. One example she cites from Philadelphia is the property tax cap. If you purchase a house in Philadelphia and own it for 10 or more years, and suddenly the surrounding real estate market booms, your property taxes don’t go up. This notably protects homeowners but not renters. A landlord could still benefit from lower tax rates but make more money when they perceive an increase in the market price for rent. Another approach, quickly laughed off by the host, is rent control.