Stemming the Tide of Displacement: The Highlight Reel


An unsolved challenge–particularly in fast growing places like the Bay Area–is ensuring that economic growth, investment in new transit and infrastructure, and changing residential preferences do not lead to displacement of low-income households. Can data and research help shed light on pathways to more equitable and sustainable metropolitan areas? Bay Area researchers and practitioners believe so, and on August 26, 2015, they came together at a convening held at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco to consider the ways that data and research can help identify both neighborhoods at risk of displacement pressures and opportunities for program and policy intervention.

In case you missed it, here are some key points shared by speakers:

  • Getting some clarity around definitions is important to this conversation. UC Berkeley’s Urban Displacement Project uses these definitions:Gentrification: The transformation of historically disinvested urban neighborhoods of the working-class and communities of color into higher income residential and/or commercial uses with associated racial and ethnic turnover.

    Displacement: When households are forced to move or are prevented from moving into a neighborhood that was previously accessible to them due to conditions which are beyond their ability to control or prevent (e.g., rent increases).

  • In the Bay Area, we see that:
    • Neighborhood change is inherently linked to shifts in the regional housing and job market.
    • Stable neighborhoods have strong housing policies, community organizing, and tenant protections.
    • Gentrification and displacement can be accelerated by even just the planning for transportation and infrastructure investments.
  • Detailed local data allows for identification of places–and even properties–at risk of displacement. It also allows for code enforcement and tenant organizing activities that can enable preservation of affordable units at risk of conversion to market rate.
  • Using tools like commercial linkage fees, housing impact fees, and community benefits zoning, private development can be a source of revenue for building new affordable housing.  But to be successful, a balance must be struck between maximizing public benefit and maintaining financial feasibility.
  • Good data and research can help debunk myths, validate community experience, and put pressure on decision-makers. But data alone isn’t always enough to move what are inherently political processes; community empowerment and organizing are also needed to push political actors to shift policy and practice.
  • When data is embedded in storytelling about real people in real places, it can be more powerful than numbers alone in helping policymakers and societal members at large understand the costs and risks of displacement.
  • We need to engage a wide range of stakeholders–including community members, advocates, the public sector, landlords and developers, and business leaders–in developing and making use of the data sources that can point to viable solutions to the challenges that face our cities and regions.

Watch the full discussion on our YouTube channel.

Download the agenda and speaker bios (pdf, 178 kb)

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the management of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

About the Author
Naomi Cytron is the Community Development regional manager for Northern California and Utah at the San Francisco Fed. Learn more about Naomi Cytron