EHI issues report on approaches to preventing displacement in gentrifying, urban neighborhoods

Resistance by local residents to proposals for new housing in their vicinity is the chief, underlying obstacle to housing stability, fairness and affordability for low- and moderate-income Americans—and an increasing proportion of middle-income Americans. Exclusionary zoning and other regulatory barriers to needed housing growth tend to flow from concerns of current residents about possible adverse effects on them from new development in their vicinity. 

An increasingly frequent concern of low- and moderate-income city dwellers in recent years has been displacement from their neighborhoods, as a result of gentrification (an influx of higher-income people into a lower-income neighborhood).

EHI issued a report in June 2021 on Approaches to resolving displacement concerns in gentrifying, urban neighborhoods. It discusses a range of strategies for preventing or minimizing displacement. The report focuses on several anti-displacement strategies that sometimes may be crucial to the wellbeing of residents at risk of displacement, and also to minimizing resistance by residents to new development in their neighborhood--including needed, new housing. Those strategies include:

  • Moderate rent stabilization (sometimes called “anti-gouging”) laws; 
  • Stepped-up use of programs to increase the supply of housing affordable to low- and moderate-income residents of gentrifying neighborhoods, such as the federal low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program; and 
  • A “community preference” policy that gives residents who otherwise would be displaced the first opportunities to rent or purchase new, affordable units in the neighborhood when they become available.

In our view, strong anti-displacement policies in gentrifying, urban neighborhoods can promote greater residential mobility for minority group members, more integrated housing, and a healthier, more stable and affordable residential market. To do so, however, we think they should be part of an effective, overall strategy to cure the shortages of housing affordable to low- and moderate-income people--and to end housing discrimination--throughout the jurisdiction. To access EHI’s new report, you may click on Resolving displacement concerns in gentrifying, urban neighborhoods.

Pursuing “win/win” solutions with current residents, to resolve concerns about permitting needed, new housing in their area

Residents’ resistance to permitting new housing in their area is probably the chief, underlying obstacle to creating enough housing in the right places, suitable for the low- and moderate-income people who need it. That resistance—often called NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) sentiment—is quite powerful, because the local officials responsible for decisions on housing issues are either elected by those residents, or appointed by elected officials.

Any new housing development, or any other land use that has potential side-effects on existing residents, will get a predictable response from those residents: “How will the development impact me and my family?”

Residents in the area may have a myriad of concerns. Typically, among the biggest worries are the risks of increased traffic congestion, loss of open space, lower property values, and/or higher taxes resulting from the development. Such adverse impacts generally can be avoided, but doing so takes careful planning and follow-through.

The surest way to overcome the NIMBY syndrome is to make sure that the vast majority of people in the area understand that the benefits that will flow to them and their community from the new development will outweigh whatever costs and impacts they are likely to experience. It appears that such a “win/win” solution often can be achieved through: (1) sufficient analysis and explanation to residents of the actual facts, combined with (2) a reasonably supportive attitude by the local government.

For example, the local government often can provide assurances pro-actively, early on, that it can commit adequate funding to make the needed infrastructure improvements (roads, schools, and other public services)—without heaping new tax burdens on current residents. The necessary public funding usually can be supplied from the increased tax revenue generated by new development overall, including commercial growth (such as new office, retail, and industrial development). Commercial growth typically provides a great deal of net tax revenue to the locality.

For more about strategies to address residents' concerns, please click on PURSUING “WIN/WIN” SOLUTIONS TO MEETING HOUSING NEEDS.

EHI has analyzed the deficiencies of governmental land use planning that result in housing shortages and excessive housing costs. A central problem is the failure to plan for a true balance of jobs and suitable housing opportunities in a community. For more, please click on EHI ANALYSIS OF JOBS-HOUSING REPORT.