Whom Does Gentrificiation Hurt?

Profiling some of New York’s newly mixed neighborhoods, Justin Davidson notes that the “link between a neighborhood’s economic fortunes and the number of people being forced to move away, while anecdotally obvious, is difficult to document”:

In 2005, Lance Freeman, a professor of urban planning at Columbia, examined national housing statistics to see whether low-income residents move more often once their neighborhoods start to gentrify. His conclusion was that they don’t. Mobility, he suggested, is a fact of American life, and he could find no evidence to suggest that gentrification intensifies it. Instead, it appears that many low-income renters stay put even as their rents go up. … [Freeman] doesn’t doubt that displacement occurs, but he describes it as an inevitable consequence of capitalism. “If we are going to allow housing to be a market commodity, then we have to live with the downsides, even though we can blunt the negative effects to some extent. It’s pretty hard to get around that.”

That infuriates the British scholar Tom Slater, who sees Freeman’s data studies as largely irrelevant because, he has written, they “cannot capture the struggles low-income and working-class people endure to remain where they are.” Freeman waves away the binary rhetoric. “You can’t boil gentrification down to good-guy-versus-bad-guy. That makes a good morality play, but life is a lot messier than that.”