The Ethical Implications of Gentrification and Displacement

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As housing prices have risen, middle class people have increasingly sought to become gentrifiers to renovate neighborhoods rather than move into high-income neighborhoods. Gentrification, defined by professor emeritus of urban planning Peter Marcuse, as “displacement of a lower income population by a higher income one” through the combination of physical, social, or economic “upgrading,” has become a problem in low income communities by contributing to the unethical relocation of residents (2015, p.1). Governments often encourage the gentrification of low-income communities to improve the conditions of the neighborhood, diversify the community, and make the neighborhood more profitable (Morris 2017, p.148). However, long-time residents seldom experience the positive effects of gentrification.

In fact, many lower-income residents of gentrified neighborhoods are unable to afford increasing rent, resulting in their displacement. Displacement is defined by Lance Freeman and Frank Braconi as “when any household is forced to move from its residence by conditions which affect the dwelling or it immediate surroundings” (2004, p.41). These “conditions” may occur despite the residents meeting all previous conditions of occupancy, and may make occupancy unsafe or unaffordable (Freeman & Braconi, 2004, p.41). Displacement caused by gentrification, especially state-led gentrification, has devastating consequences on gentrified communities, such as the traumatic loss of social networks, movement to inadequate housing, serial migration, and health problems in those displaced.

Severing Community Ties and Social Displacement

An important factor that must be considered when evaluating the effects of gentrification-induced displacement is the severing of residents’ social ties. When a long-time resident of a community is displaced, both they and their community lose valuable social ties, which weakens the community as a whole (Morris, 2017, p.151). Alan Morris, professor at the University of Technology Sydney, provides a vivid example of the negative effects of displacement by interviewing residents and ex-residents of the Sirius Building in inner Sydney and Miller’s Point, one of the oldest public housing areas in Australia, after those sites went through a state-led gentrification process.

Tenants were shown to have suffered through a “traumatic” loss of community when displaced. Residents also admitted to experiencing “grief and anger” at the thought of losing their valuable social networks after the neighborhood was gentrified (Morris, 2017, p.150). Morris’s study and others like it show the importance of social ties within a community by arguing that they establish a sense of place that shapes the way a person views the world. For low income residents without the money to travel, a sense of place is an essential part of identity since they are unable to form many lasting social ties outside their neighborhoods, therefore making them dependent on existing community social networks (Shaw & Hagemans, 2015, p.6).

Residents that avoid physical displacement still face the negative effects of social displacement in gentrified neighborhoods. After many tenants are evicted or forced to leave due to high housing prices, those who stay in the neighborhood face the alteration of “the constitution of the community,”This implies that the needs of the original lower class residents are increasingly ignored as they are outnumbered by middle class gentrifiers moving into the neighborhood (Atkinson, 2000, p. 116). Displacement of long-time residents of public housing caused by gentrification results in devastating grief of tenants after losing community social ties essential to their daily lives, and may also lead to the social displacement of low income residents that stay in the neighborhood.

Serial Migration and Inadequate Housing

Displacement of residents due to the gentrification of a neighborhood often results in the ex-tenant’s continuous displacement, as well as increases the likelihood that they will move into housing not suitable to their needs. In a study of the causes of serial forced displacement, Mindy Thompson Fullilove and Rodrick Wallace found gentrification to be one of the main contributors to serial displacement, mainly because of “pro-gentry policies” (Fullilove & Wallace, 2011, para. 11).

After residents of gentrified areas are displaced, it becomes difficult to find a new residence, leading to repetitive displacement from one neighborhood to the next for those displaced. In their research, Thompson and Wallace emphasize the fact that serial displacement could lead to more alarming problems by stating that, in places where serial displacement was prominent, “families fragmented, social organization declined, and disease increased” (Fullilove and Wallace, 2011, para. 16). Their research shows that displacement caused by gentrification can increase the risk of further displacement, causing the destruction of a displaced individual’s families, communities, and health.

Likewise, Janet M. Fitchen, urban anthropologist, rural sociologist and nationally recognized author of urban poverty in the United States, found that in rural areas, displaced people are often forced to accept inadequate, unsafe housing since if unable to pay for more costly housing that suits their needs (1992, p.187-88). According to Fitchen, poor displaced people will usually sacrifice quality in favor of affordable housing, leading to further relocation of residents due to safety hazards.

For example, in rural upstate New York, ten percent of owner-occupied housing is “structurally unsound or lacking minimally adequate wiring, running water, or plumbing,” yet many tenants have no other housing options, making them especially vulnerable to further displacement if their apartment building or trailer park closes for health- or fire-code regulations.

Cite this paper

The Ethical Implications of Gentrification and Displacement. (2022, Feb 11). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-ethical-implications-of-gentrification-and-displacement/

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