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The Complicated Link Between Gentrification and Displacement

Gentrification can push residents out of their neighborhoods, but the ultimate effects of displacement are less clear.
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Mark Lennihan / AP Images

Back in 2014, Spike Lee famously expressed his disdain for the forces of gentrification in New York: “Why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better?” he argued. “What about the people who are renting? They can’t afford it anymore!” Lee’s criticisms reflect a now-familiar narrative in cities all over the U.S.: As wealthier residents flow back into once low-income, often minority neighborhoods, long-time residents can be priced out.

But exactly how does this dynamic play out, and is displacement inevitable? A new comprehensive review of what we know about gentrification sheds much needed light on this heated issue. The review, by researchers at the University of California Berkeley and UCLA and published by the Federal Reserve of San Francisco, takes a close look at studies of gentrification and displacement conducted over the past several decades. (I wrote about the review’s insights on how public investment shapes gentrification last week). It helps us better understand several questions related to gentrification and displacement: Just how extensive is displacement, exactly what kinds of people are displaced, and how do people and groups fare after they leave gentrifying neighborhoods?