Climate Change, Gentrification, and Anti-Displacement Strategies

By: Gabriella Mickel

Climate change has become another driver of gentrification, as the livability of many historically affluent areas begins to decline.[1] Gentrification is typically defined as “the process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process.”[2] Gentrification is a hotly debated topic, largely due to its tendency to cause the displacement of low-income households.

The problem is complex, and generalizations are inapt regarding this topic for a couple of reasons. First, there are a variety of factors that cause and contribute to displacement. For example, the gentrification resulting from sea-level rise on the Miami shoreline[3] shouldn’t, and likely cannot be, addressed in the same way the gentrification of the entire state of California resulting from NIMBYism[4] should be addressed. Second, the effects of gentrification, if properly managed, are not all bad and, in fact, can be extremely beneficial to communities. Gentrification can, for example, be leveraged for higher tax revenue. The challenge is finding strategies that effectively manage the negatives of gentrification – especially displacement.

Some municipalities have started to experiment with strategies, including giving people affected by gentrification the right to stay or even to return after being pushed out. San Francisco’s Community Opportunity to Purchase Act gives priority to tenants and organizations that will preserve affordability and prevent displacement.[5] When sellers are getting ready to market their buildings, they are required by the Act to provide a five-day notice to qualified nonprofits. If the nonprofit expresses interest, they then have 25 days to provide an offer. DC requires that tenants in buildings up for sale must be offered the first opportunity to buy the building. The Department of Housing and Community Development provides financial assistance, such as seed money, earnest money deposits, and acquisition funding, technical assistance, and specialized organizational and development services, to include structuring the tenant association, preparing legal documents, and helping with loan applications.[6] Portland’s “Right to Return” policy allows tenants, mainly minorities, to move back to communities that forced them out due to gentrification with the help of an affordable rent program.[7] It gives priority to people who were forced to move via a point system that considers three generations of potential displacement.

Many municipalities have utilized land use controls and modified their zoning codes to protect affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods.[8] Municipalities can expedite the permitting process for affordable housing, reduce parking requirements for affordable units, integrate a public transit network to create walkable communities to support people without cars, and allow accessory dwelling units. In DC, developers can receive a 20% density bonus for inclusive housing.[9]

While gentrification can cause a lot of harm, finding anti-displacement strategies that work can help leverage the benefits of gentrification.

Image from: Our Planet

[1] Shelia Hu, What Is Climate Gentrification?, You Asked, We Answered (Aug. 27, 2020), https://www.nrdc.org/stories/what-climate-gentrification.

[2] Lexico by Oxford, https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/gentrification (last visited Sept. 15, 2021).

[3] Hu, supra note 1.

[4] Paul Krugman, The Gentrification of Blue America, The N.Y. Times (Aug. 27, 2021).

[5] Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, https://sfmohcd.org/community-opportunity-purchase-act-copa (last visited Sept. 15, 2021).

[6] Department of Housing and Community Development, https://www.google.com/url?q=https://dhcd.dc.gov/service/tenant-opportunity-purchase-assistance&sa=D&source=editors&ust=1631746841797000&usg=AOvVaw1LWyPgPxANOEAUmMQ-U272 (last visited Sept. 15, 2021).

[7] Preference Policy, https://www.portland.gov/phb/nnehousing/preference-policy (last visited Sept. 15, 2021).

[8] Thank you to Abby Dove and Bailey Andree for this point.

[9] Office of Planning, https://planning.dc.gov/inclusionaryzoning (last visited Sept. 15, 2021).

2 comments

  1. Really interesting and insightful article Gabby, thanks for sharing insight on the pros that can come with gentrification when done properly and with these communities best interested in mind.

  2. Well written and extremely informative article, Gabby! Honestly, I never thought about the positives of gentrification. Your article taught me that there is benefit to gentrification if done properly.

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