The 1988 Tompkins Square protests helped introduced gentrification as a concept to American politics.
The G-word is perhaps the most fraught one in our civic vocabulary. No, not Google, but gentrification. But two new academic studies highlighted on NPR this morning may provide some evidence that the process isn't as harmful to existing residents as one might think, and—in limited cases—may actually provide some upside.
Let's be clear. These are two narrowly-focused studies, not the beginning or the end of the conversation. Not cause for cheerleading or consternation—just an extra couple of points of view.
The first study, by Lance Freeman, the director of the Urban Planning program at Columbia University, looks to quantify the amount of displacement generated by gentrification. He first looked at Harlem, and then nationwide, and expected to see that people living in gentrifying neighborhoods would be moving out more quickly than otherwise. He told NPR, "To my surprise, [the results] seemed to suggest that people in neighborhoods classified as gentrifying were moving less frequently." Freeman found that although high rent costs can push out residents, especially the elderly, disabled, or those without rent protections, that in the main, renters tend to stay put in gentrifying neighborhoods at rates no different from those in non-gentrifying neighborhoods.
A similar study by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland founds similar results. Daniel Hartley, a research economist with the bank, said, "We're finding that the financial health of original residents in gentrifying neighborhoods seems to be increasing, as compared to original residents in non-gentrifying, low-priced neighborhoods." His study found that the credit scores of the original residents went up, whether they rented or owned in the gentrifying neighborhood.
So it's not much, and let's be clear that it may not outweigh the costs—or even directly apply to San Francisco—but at least there's some reason to suspect that the gentrification, as in the Mission today, may benefit existing residents. At best, they point us to the idea that changing neighborhood dynamics may be able to be managed to benefit both existing and new residents.