Get our free newsletter
Is there any modern example of a U.S. city neighborhood rising from decades of decay to become a stable middle-class neighborhood without then quickly becoming unaffordable to the middle class (i.e. gentrified)? I’ve heard dozens of theories on ameliorating the negative impacts of gentrification, but is there any actual example of a significant American city neighborhood receiving the investment necessary to address decades of neglect without then being quickly transferred to the upper-middle-class (and above)? If there is such an example, what made it different and can it be replicated here in D.C.?
Nobody I spoke with had a single perfect example. D.C. Planning Director Harriet Tregoning posited Portland, Ore., which, she says, “has had not rip-roaring but steady growth, and I think it still remains a very affordable place.” But she adds, “I can’t think of places that are white-hot that don’t have this issue.”
Ryan Avent, a correspondent for The Economist who has written about issues of affordability in cities, suggests, “Your best bet to satisfy all the criteria in the question is to find a Sunbelt metropolitan area outside of California and Florida with a relatively high median income, and to look at inner-ring suburbs. I would guess that in places like Denver or Atlanta or Raleigh or Dallas you can find inner suburbs that experienced some decline from the 1960s to the 1990s, but which have since been repopulated by middle-class households. You might find similar neighborhoods in healthier Rust Belt cities like Chicago or Indianapolis or Kansas City.” These areas, he says, tend to have less inequality than the coasts, and also allow more construction, which keeps property prices lower. Cities like D.C., on the other hand, have both more economic polarization due to macroeconomic forces and an insufficient housing supply.
Tregoning agrees that housing production needs to increase, but she says supply is only part of the issue. A bigger concern is the lingering impact of the recession, which she says has wiped out middle-income jobs. That, more than anything, is making cities like D.C. unaffordable for working-class and middle-class residents.