Study: Philly Among Leaders in Gentrification, Which has Pushed Out People of Color

The Philadelphia Inquirer 

Seven cities account for nearly half of the gentrification in America — and Philadelphia stands prominently among them, according to a national study released this week.

The city also ranked high in the intensity of changes that have pushed many low-income people of color out of their longtime neighborhoods.

“A major transformation is occurring in the most prosperous American cities,” the authors of the study conducted by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition wrote, and that has disproportionately hurt African Americans and Latinos “who were pushed away before they could benefit from increased property values and opportunities in revitalized neighborhoods.”

In Philadelphia, gentrification has generated contention and controversy.

Recent local studies have found that homeowners here are not as threatened by displacement as in other places, due to the emergence of programs aimed at keeping people in their houses, and to relatively low property taxes, at least as compared with other locales.

But renters, who make up nearly half of all city residents, have faced an eviction crisis as neighborhood investment surges.

The new study identified more than 1,000 neighborhoods in 935 cities and towns where gentrification took place between 2000 and 2013. Rapidly rising rents, property values, and taxes forced more than 135,000 residents to move out.

In Washington, D.C., 20,000 black residents were forced out, and in Portland, Ore., 13 percent of the black community was displaced during a decade. Nearly 12,000 African Americans in Philadelphia moved out of gentrifying neighborhoods.

The study, “Shifting Neighborhoods: Gentrification and Cultural Displacement in American Cities,” relied on Census Bureau and economic data. The authors said it lent weight to what critics describe as a concentration of wealth and wealth-building investment in a handful of the nation’s biggest cities.

Meanwhile, other regions of the country languish, as poorer towns and rural areas starve for investment.

For Kensington resident Sandra Rivera-Colon, the endless hammering of construction crews on new apartment buildings is the staccato sound of trouble.

“You hear the noise and feel sad,” said Rivera-Colon, 22, a community organizer and single mother of a 4-year-old girl. “You can’t do anything about the changes.”

Gentrification in Kensington has raised the rents of existing apartments, making life that much harder.

She used to pay $500 a month for a two-bedroom place, Rivera-Colon said. Now she and a roommate split $900 for a same-size apartment. And that’s not including utilities.

In Kensington and other areas of the city, gentrification has churned with life-changing force, allowing people with means to move into a neighborhood that then changes in character and income.

For instance, the Graduate Hospital area, once a largely African American neighborhood, saw a huge influx of middle- and upper-middle-class renters and home buyers gentrify the neighborhood between 2006 and 2017, federal census figures show. During that period, average incomes rose from $60,424 to $91,445, making the area the highest-ranked in the city in terms of income.

Similarly, the Point Breeze area saw incomes jump from $29,342 to $37,879 in the same time frame. In Northern Liberties/Fishtown, incomes rocketed from $59,280 to $81,889.

For some who must scramble to find new places to live, activists say, the changes feel like discrimination.

Gentrification expert Emily Dowdall, policy director at the Reinvestment Fund, said that neighborhoods just outside Center City, as well as University City and part of North Philadelphia near Temple, have seen dramatic changes in the last 15 years.

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