Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Low-income residents are likely to be priced out of neighborhoods that stretch from New Brunswick, New Jersey, to New Haven, Connecticut.
Phyllis Pruitt lives in Glen Cove, a city on the north shore of Long Island. Where she wants to live is in Hempstead Village—her home for most of her life—but she can’t afford it.
After taking out a predatory reverse mortgage, Pruitt, who is now 60, lost her family house there. When she tried to buy it back, the housing market in the village had changed, and she was out-bid. She searched the area for an affordable place, in vain. She soon had to expand her search outward toward the fringes of Long Island. “There’s something wrong with that,” she told the Regional Plan Association (RPA), an urban research and advocacy organization in area. “I did all the right things—graduated high school, got my master’s degree, worked for the federal government… for 22 years, I put money aside, I invested. I bought into the notion of staying in my community so I could give back,” she says. “And, I’m no longer here.”
Pruitt’s story is one of several collected by the RPA from the New York Metro area. These dispatches accompany a new report, which finds that nearly 1 million people are at risk of being pushed out of their homes in gentrifying neighborhoods from New Brunswick, New Jersey, to New Haven, Connecticut.
This threat is particularly acute in dense neighborhoods that have better transit and job access, and, typically, large shares of Black and Hispanic residents. Such areas have seen a significant increase in residents with six-figure household incomes—11 percent since 2000. At the same time, the share of residents making less than $100,000 in these parts has dropped by 2 percent. Those who are even further down the income spectrum have increasingly started living in less accessible areas. These far-flung neighborhoods have seen an 18 percent increase in residents who make less than $25,000 annually. This fanning out of poorer, residents of color is well-documented in previous research on gentrification.
The report analyzes where the economically vulnerable residents live, where the in-demand neighborhoods are, where the change in demographics is taking place, and where housing market activity is clustered. Using that information, it pinpoints where the frontiers of gentrification are. The first image below shows walkable areas where residents are at risk of displacement (in light orange), and the second also includes the areas (in dark orange) where the housing market has been heating up.
No solution is perfect or sufficient in preventing displacement, but a confluence can help alleviate some pressure. Rent stabilization, for example, has downsides, but its proponents argue that it helps reduce poverty and help tenants get a seat at the table when landlords plan to hike rents. Increasing access to legal counsel for low-income tenants can stave off evictions. And of course, creating and preserving more affordable housing and increasing subsidies levels the playing field when the neighborhood starts changing. In New York City, some of these efforts are pretty entrenched, but that’s less the case outside the city. And in that sense, the fight against displacement is arguably harder beyond Brooklyn.
Ultimately, gentrification becomes a problem only after it’s already taking place. It’s not something local governments have so far taken into account while making decisions. But that preemptive thinking might be important to make sure that low- and middle-income residents are able to stay on and take advantage of the positive changes in their neighborhood, instead of being left by the wayside like Pruitt was.
“Those other people—I’ve been able to characterize as rich investors, bankers, brokers—became more interested in the Hempstead that they wanted it to be, which, oh, by the way, doesn’t include me at all,” she says.