Some progressives believe that gentrification causes displacement of poor people, that new market-rate housing causes such gentrification, and thus that new housing must be kept out of low-income neighborhoods.
The first of these claims is based on the assumption that absent gentrification, low-income neighborhoods would be stable places. But this is not the case. Often, a city’s poorest neighborhoods are those losing population most rapidly.
In St. Louis, for example, the city’s low-income, crime-ridden northside wards are rapidly losing people: the city’s 3rd Ward lost 28 percent of its population between 2000 and 2010 alone, and other northside neighborhoods also lost over 10 (and in a few cases, over 20) percent of their population in the 2000s. The city’s racially integrated, somewhat poor Near South Side also lost over 10 percent of its population in the 2000s. By contrast, the city’s gentrifying downtown and midtown actually gained population, while the white working/middle class Far South Side were somewhere in between.
Similarly, in Atlanta, the affluent northside and racially integrated downtown and midtown gained population in the 2000s, while much of the city’s all-black south side and far northwest side are losing population. These declining neighborhoods tend to be poor: for example, zip code 30315 (Lakewood Heights on the southside) has a 38 percent poverty rate and lost 16 percent of its population in the 2000s. Zip code 30314 (Vine City and other northwest neighborhoods) has a poverty rate of 34 percent, and lost about 18 percent of its population.
And in Chicago, the toughest neighborhoods also export people. The city’s downtown gained over 40,000 people since 2010, while the city’s traditionally impoverished Far South Side lost nearly 50,000. In fact, nearly every major part of the city outside the Far South Side either gained population or lost no more than 2000. Englewood, an area notorious for crime in the early 2010s, lost over 20 percent of its population.
What does this all have to do with displacement? Poor areas like Englewood tend to have a city’s highest crime rates; it seems reasonable to conjecture that such social problems might lead to declining population, as people who can afford to leave move to other neighborhoods. In other words, poor neighborhoods displace people- at least if we definite the term “displacement” broadly enough to include leaving a neighborhood because it has became an unpleasant place to live.