The fall of gentrification

Marketplace Staff May 30, 2007

The fall of gentrification

Marketplace Staff May 30, 2007


LISA NAPOLI: The part of Los Angeles where I live was once a wasteland and now, even as the housing bubble leaks, it’s still a field day for developers. They’re building giant and super-expensive condos I can’t afford to buy. Gentrification used to be a problem for poor families. Commentator Angela Glover Blackwell says now it’s hurting the middle class:

ANGELA GLOVER BLACKWELL: Beware the fable of Icarus — you know, the boy who made wings of wax and flew too close to the sun.

In some of the nation’s hottest housing markets, developers keep smiling while housing prices soar towards the sun, luring in more and more rich residents.

But by focusing solely on the needs of these high-income buyers, these cities are headed for a bad burn and a long fall.

That’s because middle-class workers are being gentrified right out of their neighborhoods.

Two European economists found people must earn 40 percent more to emotionally and financially balance out a one-hour commute. No wonder many of the families pushed out of cities are settling in quite nicely and finding work in the growing suburbs instead.

And no wonder so many city dwellers face long wait times for emergency services and can’t find qualified nurses and teachers.

Businesses and local governments recognize the problem. In more than 200 communities, special zoning ensures that a set percentage of new homes are kept affordable, while developers get benefits like higher-densities and faster approvals.

This keeps up profits while making sure hard-working families still have a place to call home.

Some companies are pitching in to solve the problem. They’re expanding traditional housing bonuses for executives right down to the secretarial pool.

Keeping employees close to the office and not having them worry about leaving their kids alone for a 12-hour day of working and commuting is worth the relatively small investment in housing bonuses.

But plenty of cities still aren’t doing enough.

Poor families have been pushed out of the most accessible and opportunity-rich neighborhoods. Now, it seems they may just be a harbinger of a more broad and devastating gentrification to come.

Cities cannot continue to fly so high without consequences. Just ask Icarus.

NAPOLI: Angela Glover Blackwell is the founder and CEO of the PolicyLink Institute. In Los Angeles, I’m Lisa Napoli. Enjoy your day.

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