Boston is the third most “intensely gentrified” city in the United States, according to a new report, behind only San Francisco, which topped the study rankings, and Denver.
Researchers from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, an economic justice nonprofit in Washington, D.C., examined more than 72,000 census tracts, or neighborhoods, across 940 metro areas, for signs of gentrification between 2013 and 2017. During that period, they identified 20 metro areas where half of all gentrifying neighborhoods nationally were concentrated. The San Francisco-Oakland metro area led the list, with the highest proportion of gentrifying neighborhoods, followed by Denver, Boston, Miami, and New Orleans.
To meet the criteria for gentrification in this study, the neighborhoods must have experienced dramatic increases in median home values, household income, and college educational attainment.
“For the most part, most cities ... saw very little or no gentrification,” said Jason Richardson, the report’s coauthor and director of research and evaluation at the NCRC, which used data from the US Census and American Community Survey. “What was much more common was widespread disinvestment, where areas were languishing without very much lending activity or other forms of investment, so incomes and home values were chronically low.”
Only 13 percent of the neighborhoods researchers evaluated were “eligible for gentrification,” meaning they ranked in the bottom 40th percentile in median household income and home values. An even smaller fraction of those eligible neighborhoods, about 9.8 percent, had indications of gentrifying.
In Boston, gentrification occurred in huge swaths of the city from 2013 to 2017, including in Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, Fenway-Kenmore, Roxbury, East Boston, Hyde Park, and pockets of South Boston and Dorchester, most notably along the Interstate 93 corridor. According to the analysis, more than 21 percent of the census tracts in Greater Boston that were at risk of gentrifying did so over that four-year period. Due to reporting lags in census data, researchers were unable to determine the extent of displacement in these neighborhoods of longtime and lower-income residents.
“Generally speaking ... when you see gentrification, it goes hand in hand with displacement, where low to moderate-income families, especially renters, are often pushed out and they have to move to other low-income areas,” Richardson said. “That’s the kind of the threat that we see is that those families are generally not going to get the benefits that come along with economic revitalization.”
The report notes that Black and Latino residents disproportionately bear the brunt of gentrification. Gentrifying neighborhoods were “overwhelmingly populated by people of color,” the report states, who made up, on average, 77 percent of the population in these census tracts.
In a study last year on community displacement as a consequence of gentrification, NCRC researchers calculated that more than 135,000 Black and Latino residents nationwide were pushed out of their neighborhoods from 2000 to 2013, as rents rose and the supply of affordable housing dwindled.
Richardson said rent control and measures that preserve public and affordable housing can help ensure low-income residents are not displaced from neighborhoods experiencing renewed economic development.
“Otherwise what you end up doing is going into a neighborhood of low-income people, and forcing them to deal with rising rents or move, both which are costs they can barely afford,” he said. “And then you’re replacing them with wealthier, usually whiter people.”
The study also compared gentrifying neighborhoods with Opportunity Zones, economically distressed rural and urban communities where business investments may qualify for preferential tax treatment under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. According to the study, 69 percent of gentrifying neighborhoods were in or adjacent to an Opportunity Zone. The reports concludes that more research is needed to determine whether the economic impact of Opportunity Zones “results in economic revitalization, or gentrification and displacement.”