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Stopping Displacement Due to Gentrification

     It cannot be argued that families do not want to live in a neighborhood where there is a low crime rate, better schools for their children to attend, parks that they play in, or an apartment or house where their families can always afford to live without fear of having to leave. However, many low-income families do not get the chance to live in such neighborhoods thanks to displacement. Displacement is a significant byproduct of gentrification. But what if there was a way to gentrify a neighborhood and prevent displacement? If housing is built, renters have reliable rent protection. There will then be an open dialogue with current residents, where low-income families, due to gentrification, can avoid displacement. In this essay, we will first discuss how building affordable housing units can help reduce displacement while allowing for gentrification. Secondly, we will show how reliable rent control plays a significant role in preventing landowners from unjustly evicting renters. Finally, we will explain how an open dialogue with residents in the community about to be gentrified, researchers and government officials, and developers can help both sides reach a middle ground to prevent displacement.

Gentrification and Displacement

     What are gentrification and displacement? Gentrification is a “process whereby the working class is displaced by upper classes or the gentry in urban spaces.” While displacement is a significant problem, there are benefits to this unnatural process. Crime is often reduced in gentrified neighborhoods, and schools are better funded. The reason for this is that gentrification helps to raise the tax base. Gentrification is a tool used by the government to rehabilitate impoverished neighborhoods.

     Displacement is when residents in a gentrified neighborhood who has lived there for decades are forced to move because they can no longer afford to live in said neighborhood. Low-income families are often the ones to be affected by gentrification. Displacement can be voluntary or involuntary. Involuntary displacement occurs when a landowner withholds some basic needs the tenant requests, such as a broken heater in the winter, and the tenant gets tired and moves. Voluntary displacement is when a resident decides to move independently because they cannot afford rent. 

Affordable Housing

     More affordable housing would provide neighborhood residents with more options to rent and opportunities to stay in a gentrified neighborhood. However, this is only some of what is needed. Affordable housing units also need to be stabilized. Hence, residents are not at risk of paying more rent for the housing units or being evicted due to the housing units not meeting housing standards because there was no money to keep up renovations. However, New York has had an affordable housing crisis for at least a century. This shows the importance of building more affordable housing units to prevent displacement.

     Low-income residents can then be protected from displacement by having governments “creating more collectively owned and controlled, permanently affordable housing, which would provide an important source of housing at a much lower long-term cost to the public, while also generating wealth in low-income communities.” This wealth can then be used to fix apartments in the housing units should they need to. In addition to this and gentrification helping to raise the neighborhood's tax base, these low-income residents can live in a community with a higher tax base. As such, they can experience the benefits such as better schooling for their children or fewer fast-food restaurants and healthier food options.

     In addition to making housing more affordable, we need to go one step further and expand the requirements of who can afford to live in these housing units and not have the criteria to be divided by income. It would serve no purpose to have affordable housing units that lock a majority of citizens out from being able to live there because they make less money. In New York City, former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s policies have set more housing units aside for the middle class rather than the low-income. This should not be the case as the middle class is shrinking especially in the United States. Now, if more people had access to rent-controlled affordable housing, fewer residents would be forced to move.

Reliable Rent Control Laws and Regulations

     Rent control is rent that does not increase, and this affects displacement. For example, suppose a neighborhood has been gentrified and looks more beautiful. In that case, higher-income individuals will move to the said neighborhood, and landowners can charge them high amounts of money for rent. If low-income residents live in rent-controlled apartments, they will pay less than their high-income neighbors, and landowners will lose the chance to make money. This is where involuntary displacement comes into play. By refusing to fix or service the rent-controlled apartment, landowners can force those residents to move. Sure, there are laws to protect those rent-controlled tenants, but frequently they are overpowered and bullied by the landowners into moving. Landowners can claim that they need the tenant to move to demolish the building, and if the landowners do not destroy the building after getting the tenant to move, there are no laws to penalize them. There are also cases where landowners “make false claims against tenants to try and force them out.” Rather than being tied up with years of litigation and court fees, tenants take the easier way out and vacate the apartment.   

     If there were more well-known laws to protect tenants living in rent-controlled apartments and consequences for landowners unethically trying to evict tenants, the number of low-income families displaced due to gentrification would be significantly lower. If those laws are passed, there is a high chance that residents will not be aware of their rights. Even now, only some know that current laws protect their rights in rent-controlled apartments. Now, the question becomes; how can these residents know their rights and these laws? 

Open Dialogue 

     There are several ways that residents in a neighborhood about to be gentrified can have an open dialogue with urban sociologists, the government, and landowners/developers. The most common or easily accessible way would be to have community meetings. These meetings would have to be at a time when residents can attend, and they need to be aware of the discussion in the first place. Government volunteers should go around the neighborhood to increase awareness. Why are volunteers representing the government? Because it is the responsibility of the government to keep its citizens aware of their rights and because the government backs gentrification. These meetings should be an opportunity to inform residents of their rights so that landowners cannot unfairly evict them. Residents should also be able to voice any doubts about the process of gentrification in the neighborhood. It will be, after all, an open dialogue. Urban sociologists can provide data and information on the displacement patterns due to gentrification and form plans to prevent the repeat of history with the government, residents, and development. In her research paper, Jana Pohorelsky states that to “mitigate this process (displacement due to gentrification) is by tracking gentrification and displacement more diligently and to wield this information through community organization.” 


    Gentrification is often seen as a terrible process by everyone, not the upper-middle class. It can provide many benefits for a community, but the problem is who caters to those benefits. Low-income residents in gentrified neighborhoods are the least likely to receive these benefits and are often forced to move from communities they and their families have lived in for most of their lives. However, gentrification can become a force entirely for good if it does not cause displacement of said low-income families. Removal can be minimized by dividing it into three separate but connected ways. Firstly, the government should build more affordable housing units and eliminate income requirements so that more families can access them. Then, these apartments should have rent control and better rent control regulations so that landowners cannot forcibly or slyly evict residents. And finally, there should be an open dialogue between residents in a community about to be gentrified, urban sociologists, the government, and landowners/developers. This way, residents will not be taken advantage of and will know their rights while allowing them to influence how gentrification affects them.

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