”You have to live in your truth. Be authentic. Be respectful of the neighborhood and the circumstances. Hear people out. You have to be in the mix and be a part of the neighborhood"
- Cedric the Entertainer’s Advice to those who bring “unintentional” change.
There are no easy solutions to gentrification. First, it's on the newcomer to learn the social norms of their new neighborhood, keep their bias in check, and be the best neighbor they can be.
Article on how to neighbor
Policies and subsidies should create and sustain mixed-income communities and, where possible, right the wrongs of years of displacement caused by taxpayer-funded programs like urban renewal. To do that, cities should:
Create and sustain funding for subsidized housing
Reform regulations to allow mixed-income communities to be built
Protect renters from mass evictions
Advance wealth-creation programs that build the economic stability of poor residents, rather than simply move wealthy residents into poor neighborhoods.
Vote in every election—local, state and national.
Constantly keep officials on notice that they must get results. Around the country, politicians have been toppled by a new generation of leaders who are willing to do battle with gentrification. In Portland, housing activist Chloe Eudaly was propelled to the city council and created one of the most effective anti-displacement measures in the country—the Portland Relocation Fee (see below).
Organize, volunteer, engage.
Write and call local, state, and federal lawmakers and voice your concerns. Reach out to friends with a different opinion and convince them we need to make a change. Don’t expect quick solutions. Social change only comes when people commit themselves to ceaseless social and political struggle.
ORGANIZATIONS IN PORTLAND WORKING ON THE ISSUES
Rent strike: Tenants are increasingly getting together, organizing and withholding rent from landlords that neglect their buildings or ask for extortive rent increases. Rent strikes do not mean renters stop paying for rent. They put the rent in a third-party account and withhold it from the landlord until the dispute is resolved.
Tenants' union: Tenant unions help connect renters with resources, build leverage around rent negotiations, and foster community.
Examples of tenant unions
Policies and Policy Ideas
Learn about and get behind new ideas (or improved versions of old ideas). There are no silver bullets and today's solutions might cause tomorrow's problems. Remember, it's an ongoing process.
Subsidized housing: No region can afford to build enough subsidized housing to relieve a housing crisis. In Portland, it can cost as much as $500K to build a single subsidized unit. That’s more than twice the cost of a unit in New York City (the most expensive city in the country). But subsidized housing is a vital part of a toolbox for creating, preserving, and sustaining mixed-income communities.
Community land trusts: Units are bought and sold, but the land beneath them is owned by a nonprofit. Cities should look to land trust models for all owner-occupied housing types, single family, ’plexes, and condos.
Portland Land Trust
Social housing: Governments build for-profit housing and mingle it with subsidized units.
Social Housing Study
Public land for housing: Some city and state governments are looking at selling surplus public land to affordable housing developer at below-market rates.
Finding funding to run programs, acquire land, and build subsidized housing is increasingly difficult as the federal government retreats from its involvement in state and urban affairs. Cities that cooperate with their states and regions to share resources and coordinate policies will be in the best position.
Land banking: The most expensive part of subsidized housing is the land it sits on. When an area gentrifies quickly, it becomes very hard for taxpayers to reasonably compete for land. Cities are wise to buy land for subsidized housing at times and in locations where it is expensive and hold it. Few cities in the past have been this forward-thinking.
Bonding: Many regions float housing bonds. These funds go to pay for a slew of programs like first-time homebuyer programs, home-repair loans, and new subsidized housing. In the summer of 2018, the Portland region was considering a $652.8 million regional housing bond.
Windfall tax: This is a tax that would come into play when government policies increase the value of a piece of property.
Land value tax: A system of taxing that ignores the property on the land and only looks at the value of the land itself. It would adjust organically with the market and would prevent developers from, for instance, using central city parking lots as a way to acquire and hold land without building on it. It’s a progressive tax that is endorsed by urbanist Richard Florida, the originator of the term The Creative Class.
Real estate transfer tax: A tax on real estate transactions that directs funds to housing or other programs when the market is the most hyperinflated. Many states ban this form of tax.
Tax abatements: In many regions, property tax increases end up displacing residents even if they own their homes. Atlanta has coupled property tax freezes with new investment to help prevent displacement (with mixed results).
ZONING and SPECIAL DISTRICTS
Inclusionary zoning: Zoning was created 100 years ago as a way of keeping poor people out of suburban neighborhoods (more at the Priced Out Podcast). Inclusionary zoning works the opposite way by requiring developers to include below-market housing in their developments. IZ is controversial and difficult to implement since it often reduces the value of a property so much that nothing gets built on it at all. Other times, the level of affordability required by the IZ is not sufficient to help poor people.
What is IZ?
Article on Portland’s problems with IZ
Article on Seattle’s Mandatory Affordable Housing Program’s Tentative Gains
Upzoning and zoning reforms that promote mixed-income walkable neighborhoods: Blanket upzoning is often pushed as a “supply-side” cure-all. This might result in a city becoming a forest of high-rises that erase much of the charm and uniqueness that both poor and rich residents are attracted to. Increasing density is critical to lowering regional housing prices, but density should be done in a way that promotes transit use, walking, and human-scale neighborhoods. Older walkable neighborhoods should be rezoned carefully and new car-focused neighborhoods should be rezoned to promote walking and transit. New inclusionary zoning should be combined with higher density that incentivizes development rather than discourages it.
Article on thoughtful upzoning
Seattle’s integrated approach to inclusionary zoning, subsidies and zoning
Displacement free zones and right-to-return: Cities can create special districts where zoning, tax policies, and rent regulations aim at offsetting displacement in a particular neighborhood.
Article on Atlanta’s Displacement Free Zone
Right-to-return: Is a label for a nexus of policies designed to prioritize housing assistance and subsidized housing programs for those who were displaced from a neighborhood due to past city policies. Portland has tried to implement such policies with little impact. The overall idea and structure of the program is good, but underfunded. Promises to divert more resources have yet to come to fruition and highlight the challenges of trying to use the slow and crude tools of government to “build” a community out of a housing crisis.
Article on Pittsburgh looks to Right to Return policy
Relocation fee: In Portland, rents are falling due to a huge increase in new apartment construction AND a new relocation fee that landlords must pay if they evict tenants without cause or raise rents by 10 percent or more. Many regions allow for “no-cause evictions” and have no limits on rent increases. These rules are often encoded in state law. A “relo fee” could be an effective way of cooling down a hyper-inflated housing market without having to fight the juggernaut of an unsympathetic state legislature.
Rent stabilization vs. rent control: In cities across the country, renters in gentrifying neighborhoods have faced 30- to 100-percent rent increases. This has prompted a renewed interest in rent control/stabilization. Rent control is a largely outdated form of rent regulation. It was once used to freeze rents in place in certain buildings or allowed for only “cost of living” increases, which can be as little as 2 to 3 percent. These forms of rent control can damage the organic functions of the market and, in many cases, lead to neglect of properties by owners.
Rent stabilization usually means rents can increase, but that those increases are limited to between 5 and 10 percent. Most landlords will admit that a 10-percent rent increase is large and not the norm for most years. Landlord lobbies will vigorously argue (and without merit) against rent stabilization. They almost always conflate rent control, which is demonstrably negative, with rent stabilization, which is a moderate form of price control.
Article on Oregon’s rent stabilization proposal
Security deposit, screening and credit reforms, just-cause evictions: Many cities have rental regulations and other cities do not. Portland, Ore., is a city that has few renter protections. This is very different than the East Coast, where it’s not uncommon for all evictions to go through municipal court. The regulatory balance is specific to each community.
Article on on-going Portland renter reforms
Targeted policies that help poor residents become wealthier are vexing. City and state governments typically have very limited tools to combat the macroeconomic forces that create income polarization and generational poverty produced by technology, federal regulations, and hundreds of years of institutional discrimination.
Increased minimum wage: A minimum wage that is half of the region’s median wage is a rule of thumb advocated by urbanist Richard Florida. The roots of gentrification are wage and wealth polarization. In gentrifying cities, high-wage earners essentially bid up the cost of housing beyond the reach of locals. Recently, even several “red states” have voted to increase the minimum wage. Regional minimum wage increases may be the best approach because the cost of living varies so widely across the nation and across a given state. Oregon’s last minimum wage increase divided the state into three zones based on cost of living.
Subsidized storefront, small business infrastructure, turning residents into landlords: Making small business loans, providing space for neighborhood commerce, and fostering entrepreneurialism are all tools that are increasingly being deployed to help locals build wealth.
Portland’s subsidized commercial property program
The Soul District: Promoting black entrepreneurialism in Portland’s historically black neighborhoods
Article: Promoting homegrown developers in gentrifying Germantown
Article: Turning low-income homeowners into landlords in Denver
Article: Selling homes to local residents first in the South Bronx
At least one city, Washington DC, is attempting to sue the government for gentrification. A case could be made for a class action lawsuit on behalf of minority residents that suffered under post-war urban renewal. Such a lawsuit, if successful, could be used in most of America’s 50 largest cities.
Article on DC lawsuit