Wednesday, May 1

Gentrification News Lag

If it is common wisdom that bad news travels fast, there is also evidence the opposite may be true: good news travels in company with sloths and snails. Instapundit Glenn Reynolds linked last night to an ABCNews story, which claims that the gentrification of a neighborhood may be good not only for new residents drawn by the dynamic culture, hip-factor, and low rents (which everyone already believed) but also for long-time residents (which almost nobody believed). Thinking that the story sounded vaguely familiar, I did some quick research and, sure enough, the study referred to in the ABCNews report was the subject of a substantially similar story in the New York times more than a month ago. When I first launched this narcisite at the beginning of April, I wanted to link to that NY Times story but it was already too late to do so for free, so I gave up and forgot about it until I came across the latest story this morning. If anyone has access to old NY Times stories, I highly recommend checking this one out. It was entitled "The Gentry, Misjudged As Neighbors," was written by John Tierney, and ran on March 26, on page B1. If you don't have access to old Times stories, the important passages were as follows:

WE all think we know how gentrification works. Developers and yuppies discover charm in an old neighborhood, and soon the very people who created the neighborhood can't afford it anymore. Janitors and artists are forced out of their homes to make room for lawyers and bankers.

This process has been routinely denounced in neighborhoods like Harlem and Park Slope in Brooklyn. But when researchers recently looked for evidence of such turnover, the results were surprising. . . . Just the opposite happens: people with relatively little income and education become more likely to stick around. The rate of turnover declines, apparently because people don't like to leave a neighborhood when it's improving.

You may have a hard time believing these results, but you can't dismiss them as propaganda from developers. The New York study was done by Lance Freeman, a professor of planning at Columbia University, and Frank Braconi, an economist and the executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, a well-respected nonprofit research organization with a centrist position in New York's housing wars.

* * *

"You've got two competing forces in a gentrifying neighborhood," Dr. Braconi said. "The prices are going up, which gives low-income people an incentive to leave. But the neighborhood's getting nicer, so people have more incentive to stay. There's been an assumption by community activists that the incentive to leave is stronger, but that turns out to be wrong. You don't displace the poor. You actually slow down the process of people moving out of the neighborhood."

* * *

[E]ven tenants in unregulated apartments were more likely to remain in gentrifying neighborhoods than elsewhere, he said. . . . How did the poor manage to stay? "I didn't find much evidence of more people crowding into the homes," Dr. Vigdor said. "For the most part, people simply paid more." About 3 percent of the people, typically elderly tenants on fixed incomes, complained that the higher rents weren't accompanied by improvement in living conditions, but most people said they were benefiting from improvements to their dwellings and their neighborhood as well as better public services. Most people's income rose at least as fast as the rents, in some cases presumably because of new jobs that came into the neighborhood.

* * *

When you add up all these advantages, it may seem hard to imagine how the opponents of gentrification could keep up the fight. If the neighborhood's improving and old-timers aren't being displaced, what's not to like? But let's see what new complaints they come up with.

Read that last part again. Can you believe this actually ran in a prominently placed story in the New York Times? I like to flatter myself that I am quick to give credit where credit is due, and here it certainly is. To paraphrase Orwell, I guess that something can be true even though the New York Times says it's true.