"We Can’t Stop Neighborhoods from Changing"

Ingrid Gould Ellen, Faculty Director of the NYU Furman Center, and Paulette Goddard Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at NYU Wagner, is exploring the impact of rising rents in major cities of the U.S., including New York, where, according to a Furman report in May 2016, more than one in four of the city’s neighborhoods are classifiable as “gentrifying.” Professor Ellen’s work on housing affordability continues to make an impact nationally. Her latest study–featured in a Jan. 5, 2017, article in The New York Times–shows that falling violent crime in a city is a strong predictor of gentrification in that city’s central neighborhoods.

We caught up with Professor Ellen for a Q&A about this accelerated trend:

Ingrid Gould Ellen
Professor Ingrid Gould Ellen

In your research, what do you mean by gentrification?

At a general level, gentrifying neighborhoods are initially low-income neighborhoods that experience a large growth in income or socioeconomic status relative to the rest of the metropolitan area.  In our most recent work looking at the effects of crime on gentrification, we look specifically at moves by higher-income and college-educated households into low-income and largely minority urban neighborhoods.  In the Furman Center report of last May, we focused on growth in rents, given that rent appreciation is the change that is of greatest concern in lower-income neighborhoods.


Can gentrification be positive?

The in-movement of higher income households into lower-income central-city neighborhoods can potentially be a path to economic and racial integration. We shouldn’t demonize these moves. Would we prefer higher-income, white households to only choose exclusively higher income neighborhoods? 

That said, the in-movement of higher income households also typically comes with rising housing prices and rents – and anxiety that those originally lower-income neighborhoods will quickly transition to become higher-income enclaves.

What public policies are having a positive long-term impact?

We can’t stop neighborhoods from changing; such change is inevitable as cities grow, and it brings benefits, too. But place-based subsidized housing is important to help ensure some level of long-term integration in gentrifying neighborhoods. In New York City, roughly 10% of housing units in gentrifying neighborhoods are public housing units; and another 25% are privately-owned, subsidized units. These subsidized units are helping to preserve some economic diversity in neighborhoods seeing large increases in demand.


Who is hardest hit by gentrification?

While new investment can bring neighborhood amenities, reduced crime rates, and higher housing values, rapidly rising rents present a serious challenge for low-income renters who live in market-rate housing units. Moderate income households also see large rent increases. And there are also the low- and moderate-income households who want to move to gentrifying neighborhoods but can no longer afford to do so.  Conversations about gentrification are often overly focused on the well-being of current residents and overlook these potential in-movers.