By: Robin Kniech
Many of the housing policies and investments passed in recent years can be utilized in ways that help prevent displacement. However, we haven’t often talked about them in this way, and they aren’t yet big enough or broad enough to meet the scale of the challenges. In response to calls from the community to elevate the dialogue on gentrification, this overview provides background for those seeking to better understand why government must have a role, and it proposes concrete steps for fighting displacement. It is offered with great humility. These ideas don’t add up to a complete solution. However, we must reject all-or-nothing thinking that can be an excuse for inaction. Where we can make an impact, we must, and we can certainly do much more to fight displacement.
The process of gentrification
- Bank redlining (refusal of a loan to someone because of the area they live in and the perception of it being a poor investment) and government-sanctioned segregation created a few neighborhoods with concentrations of low-income people or people of color, followed by lack of investment over decades.
- Communities fight to bring back investment and amenities (parks, better transportation, grocery stores, better housing).
- Improving conditions attract new residents and businesses.
- Rents and property values rise.
- Longtime residents are displaced or experience a change/loss of racial diversity, institutions of cultural identity.
Harms of gentrification for those who stay
- Loss of support network (neighbors, family and childcare).
- Loss of services (culturally-specific groceries, hair salons).
- More money goes to housing, less to cover food, education, etc.
Harms of gentrification to those who must move
- Cannot enjoy amenities that finally arrived.
- Increased commute time and cost, less time with family.
- Loss of home/neighborhood.
Role of government
A growing preference for urban living and growth are also powerful drivers of gentrification, but government’s historic role in segregation and disinvestment creates special responsibility to utilize public policy tools to mitigate and reduce the negative effects of past discrimination. The goal is to continue investing in areas with great need, without fueling involuntary displacement. This work requires collaboration beyond government, including real space for leadership from impacted residents. There are many possible tools, a few of which are listed below and there is great potential for future partnership between government and community to take our actions to the next level.
Expanding existing city tools
- Broaden property tax rebates to more homeowner families.
- Fund creation/preservation of more affordable homes in rapidly changing areas & mixed-use buildings, dedicate portion to existing residents.
- Keeping projects affordable for 99-plus years.
- Expanding zoning and land use links to affordability (density bonus, accessory units).
Proposals not yet approved
- Goals for training and hiring vulnerable residents on city projects.
- Protecting renters with lease copies, non-discrimination for voucher holders, expanded eviction defense.
- Resident decision-making on community-scale infrastructure.
- Broadening use of community land-trusts beyond new construction.
New ideas needed
- How to maintain culturally diverse businesses and nonprofits.
- Preserving affordability for non-subsidized housing (rent control of private owners is prohibited in Colorado).
- Strategies to increase wages.
- Improving inclusivity and access to higher opportunity neighborhoods.
This article originally appeared in Denver Metro Media on March 1, 2018.