Gentrificationphobia

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Oct. 8 2012 3:16 PM

Gentrificationphobia

Beth Scott reporting on a recent community forum on development here in DC unearths an unusually explicit statement of a disturbing line of thought:

Sometimes objections have nothing to do with the development itself, but fears of the development's impact on the neighborhood. Panelist Charles Wilson, an Anacostia resident, spoke about his experiences with neighbors who were worried that new development would lead to increasing home values which would drive them out of the area.
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In other words it's not always that neighbors feel new development will make the area worse, sometimes they oppose new development because it will make the area better. This is not a crazy concern. When the complex I live in opened, it brought with it a supermarket, a hardware store, a gym, a Busboys & Poets, a Chipotle, a Sweetgreen, a Korean restaurant, and the excellent Kushi Izakaya. That all makes the neighborhood a better place to live, which can make it unaffordable for some of the people who are already living there.

On the other hand, while the concern isn't crazy it is crazy that this is the kind of thing people need to worry about in urban politics. "Your policies will improve quality of life in my community" should never be a complaint about a policy initiative. And ultimately there's no way to build a better society based on fear of improved living conditions. The fact that these fears exist and have some rational basis is a great example of the deep problems induced by undersupply of urban housing. Not only is it bad for affordability, but it creates a perverse political economy in which people worry that improved conditions will be deleterious to their personal living standards. If your city's politics is dominated by gentrificationphobia it becomes very difficult to make progress on any other concrete problem. Better schools, lower crime, and better transportation facilities, after all, all lead to this same dynamic of greater neighborhood desirability and higher land prices. We need to make it so that high land prices lead to housing production and not just displacement.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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