Thursday, July 14, 2011

How Many Rental Units Does Your Neighborhood Have?

These types of posts usually inspire a couple of "gentrification is evil" comments. I find concerns about gentrification to both be overblown and really weird among the liberal blog commentariat. But flipping the issue around for a second, there are a lot of reasons we associate cities with poor people in contemporary America, why to a great degree the poor have been concentrated in cities. One of which is the fact that they've been zoned out of the suburbs, with large lot zoning and severe limits on rental housing leaving few realistic housing options for lower income people outside of the city limits (it's a big country, not everything is precisely the same everywhere I know).

A big reason neighborhoods are "bad" in cities isn't simply because poor people live there and the social pathologies which tend to be attached to poverty therefore thrive, it's that they've experienced a significant amount of population decline. Housing stock deteriorates. Empty lots proliferate. Neighborhood businesses can no longer be supported by the resident population. Gentrification often isn't about rich people in, it's about people moving in period. And, yes, that can eventually start driving up rents and property values as the act of people moving in begins to improve a neighborhood. Existing owners may decide to cash out, and existing renters may be driven out. So, yes, there might be victims of gentrification in that sense. But if you're genuinely concerned about housing options for poor people you should be concerned about the fact that most places effectively don't let them live there, not that some students and hipsters begin reversing the depopulation trend that hit a lot of urban areas.