It arrives via cranes and coffee shops, spiking rents, and rising property values, often altering communities beyond recognition.
Gentrification is marked by an “influx of investments and affluent people to low-income neighborhoods” that “can lead to physical and cultural displacement of long-term residents,” most often people of color, according to the School of Public Affairs’ Metropolitan Policy Center (MPC). A highly visible form of urban inequality, gentrification is changing the landscape—seemingly by the day—in Eckington, Navy Yard, Shaw, and other parts of DC where rents jumped by more than 55 percent in the 2010s.
Washington was the nation’s most intensely gentrified city between 2000 and 2013, according to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC). Of 154 neighborhoods “eligible to gentrify”—those with median home values and household incomes below the 40th percentile—62 did based on increases in property values and college degree attainment. Although DC dropped to 13th in a follow-up study, NCRC notes that the city still has “a high intensity of gentrification.”
As the phenomenon—first identified by a British sociologist in the 1960s—takes root, people are set adrift. More than 20,000 Black residents were displaced from DC’s gentrifying neighborhoods between 2000 and 2013, and the city’s Black population share has dropped from 61 percent in 2000 to less than 45 percent today. Displacement and lack of access to affordable housing, which Mayor Muriel Bowser, SPA/MPP ’00, is attempting to address through annual $100 million allocations to the Housing Production Trust Fund, are not the only dimensions of gentrification.
“Some people who stay in place don’t see the dog parks, upscale housing, and posh restaurants as being for them,” says Derek Hyra, SPA professor, MPC founding director, and author of Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City. “They feel excluded from their own communities.”
AU changemakers research and represent Washingtonians grappling with the economic and cultural consequences of gentrification. Meet a few of them here.
My scholarly work on the District’s go-go music and history recently evolved into my role as a cofounder of the Don’t Mute DC movement. I created a petition that more than 80,000 people from 94 countries signed to support the go-go artists and cultural entrepreneurs on the front lines of protecting Black culture and history in DC.
—Natalie Hopkinson, professor, School of Communication, and author, Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City
Addressing displacement requires keeping capital within DC. That means investing in and supporting local small businesses, directing capital and investments to longstanding DC residents, and incentivizing developers who are willing to invest in neighborhoods—especially those with low-income residents.
—Tovah Bloomfield, SPA/MPP ’22, housing preservation specialist, Housing Counseling Services
In three DC neighborhoods, we saw that despite people’s interest in living in diverse communities, they didn’t appear to mix and mingle and get to know one another. We called this ‘faux diversity,’ and it impacts people’s consumption opportunities, experiences, and outcomes in the neighborhood. A lot of older residents felt de-targeted—which is a perception of exclusion by marketers—and excluded from enjoying their own neighborhoods in the way they had in the past.
—Sonya Grier, professor, Kogod School of Business, and coauthor, “Dog Parks and Coffee Shops: Faux Diversity and Consumption in Gentrifying Neighborhoods”
I work with our members and other affordable housing industry leaders to advocate for the creation and preservation of healthy, sustainable affordable homes that foster equity, opportunity, and resident well-being. Many mission-driven affordable housing organizations collaborate with residents to provide wide-ranging programming—health clinics, tutoring services, voter registration support, financial coaching, and more. By fostering services that start at home and are shaped by resident voices, housing can become a platform for success.”
—Meena Nutbeam, CAS/BS ’18, MS ’19, program associate, resident outcomes and CORES, Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future
Gentrification is a sonic process, and race is as sonic as it is visual. From noise legislation to the displacement of go-go music, gentrification silences some voices and amplifies others, drawing on long histories of criminalizing Black sound to create cities that are becoming more exclusionary by the day.
—Allie Martin, CAS/BA ’13, ethnomusicology professor, Dartmouth College, and author, Intersectional Listening: Gentrification and Black Sonic Life in Washington, DC (forthcoming)
The greatest challenge related to gentrification, neighborhood change, and displacement, I believe, is the lack of political and public will to solve the problems paradigmatic to our housing market. Where there is public will there is often disagreement on how to proceed or a lack of understanding about the complicated processes that drive displacement, as gentrification and neighborhood change are not inherently bad and most neighborhoods want to evolve and prosper economically. Problems arise when these features of a thriving neighborhood exclude populations within the neighborhood, from the inception of the plan to bring about neighborhood change to the resultant outcomes.
—Ari Theresa, adjunct professor, College of Arts and Sciences, and civil rights attorney, Stoop Law
Development that uplifts low-income people in place without displacing them remains a big concern. [Urban policy experts] had hoped that reducing the concentration of poverty and stimulating investment in places that have traditionally been underserved would ultimately help long-term, low-income residents increase their life chances. We assumed that we would see these big education, employment, and health [improvements] if low-income people could stay in place and resources were brought into their communities. [But] we’re finding that the spillover effect is not as great as we thought.”
—Derek Hyra, professor, School of Public Affairs; founding director, Metropolitan Policy Center; and author, Race, Class, and Politics in the Cappuccino City
The original goal of the [Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA)] was to prevent displacement and ensure sufficient affordable housing for in situ renters. Unfortunately, TOPA has been largely co-opted by developers. Few tenants buy their units anymore, and even when tenants pick a new landlord, few stay put because developers offer them buyouts and then raise the rents.”
—Carolyn Gallaher, senior associate dean, School of International Service, and author, The Politics of Staying Put: Condo Conversion and Tenant Right-to-Buy in Washington DC