With gentrification beginning to affect more and more disenfranchised communities, people are looking to point fingers as to who is causing what many consider a growing problem. For the communities being affected, the people already living there tend to blame trendy shops, and affluent residents moving in. In some ways their analysis is correct, as new residents are driving up prices.
The property value rises and the rent goes up. If the current resident doesn’t have the money, they are forced to leave. It makes sense to blame the new people moving in. However, this analysis doesn’t take into account other factors that affect cities as a whole. Very little blame can actually be put onto the gentrifiers when you take a closer look.
Gentrifiers don’t want to destroy communities and their culture, but rather they move into poorer communities because they have no other choice. With residents already in the richer parts of cities, the barrier to entry is extremely high. For instance, in Beverly Hills ,the cheapest house available has a starting price of $1,699,000.
People moving from cities and communities where the cost of living is much lower can’t afford a house in this kind of area. Rather, they are forced to move into neighborhoods where the cost of housing is cheaper. In Boyle Heights the cheapest house available has a starting price of $389,000. Gentrifiers don’t move into these neighborhoods for nefarious purposes. They need to find a home that they can afford.
So if we’re trying to point a finger at someone, who could it be? The answer lies in zoning laws.
Zoning laws determine how denser housing can be in certain areas. The problem lies in the zoning laws of affluent neighborhoods. Real estate developers would actually like to create new, denser housing in neighborhoods that are already expensive. There’s a stability in the demand for housing in these areas so the risk of investment is lower. The problem is it is nearly impossible to create new housing in these areas. Zoning laws prohibit affordable housing in more affluent areas since it would lower the value of people’s homes.
When you take a look at an area like Beverly Hills, you can see on the zoning maps that most residential areas are single family units, and no multi-family residential buildings exceed five stories. The residents in the area wouldn’t want their property values to go down, so they work to make sure zoning laws stay the same even though the need for new housing is ever growing.
This in part leads to gentrification since new residents are forced to move into less affluent neighborhoods. The pros and cons of gentrification can be debated, but it’s important to gain a broader picture of what is happening within the cities to understand the dynamic. An us versus them mentality will only hinder discussion and that contributes to the struggle to find solutions that benefit both parties. Real solutions mean work from both sides, and it’s time to put the work in to find them.