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Renewal of Urban Areas Displacing Low-Income Residents

As cities continue to grow in number of population and income, housing becomes scarce. This trend contributes to the practice of property owners remodeling or completely tearing down older buildings to build newer, more modern dwellings. This has resulted in the displacement of many lower income people including the elderly, disabled, and communities of color.

Some outer borough neighborhoods in the New York area that were once thought of as bastions of the working- and middle-class have seen a surge of wealthy residents. The pressure on poorer residents to leave for more distant areas and make way for people who can afford more has seemingly moved from neighborhood to neighborhood with little slowdown, overcoming recessions, natural disasters, and concerted efforts from government and community organizations alike.

To explore possible remedies for this situation, the Regional Plan Association [1] (RPA), an independent, not-for-profit civic organization, conducted a recent study of displaced housing situations in New York City, Long Island, Hudson Valley, Northern New Jersey, and Southwestern Connecticut.

Since the 1920s, RPA has conducted studies on transportation, land use, housing, good governance, and the environment. The Association advises cities, communities and public agencies to advocate for change that will contribute to the prosperity of all residents of the region.

The Association’s recent report just released on March 1, 2017, revealed that more than two million people are at risk for housing displacement. For more information, visit www.rpa.org. [2]

The study revealed that there is a common thread in the areas experiencing these pressures: They are walkable areas with good access to jobs and public transit, and they also are the areas where the people most vulnerable to displacement are likely to live.

These residents not only have fewer choices when they are priced out of their homes, they are also more likely to live in the neighborhoods where the biggest changes are taking place. The instability caused by displacement has a much bigger impact on the lives of people with few resources to adapt to the resulting financial, social, and psychological disruption.

Out of the 2.1 million households in these neighborhoods at risk, almost half of them are renters who earn less than $50,000 per year and are not living in public housing or other income-contingent housing. While some of these renters have other, weaker forms of rent protections, many will have little recourse against being pushed out if housing costs rise.

These residents are mostly people of color. Neighborhoods that are both home to significant vulnerable populations and are walkable, job-accessible neighborhoods are 69% black and Hispanic, compared with 26% black and Hispanic in the rest of the region.

Through this study, RPA has identified some potential strategies to help protect vulnerable residents from displacement due to escalating prices:

  1. Limit evictions through access to legal counsel for low income residents. Many low-income residents simply don’t have the funds to hire legal counsel and exercise these rights.
  2. Prevent sudden, sharp rent increases and keep homes safe and healthy by strengthening municipal laws which can limit rent increases.
  3. Help more low-income people pay their rent through expanding funding for housing cost burdened low income households, similar to the current federal Section 8 program, on the state and/or local level.
  4. Use vacant government-owned land for permanently protected housing for low-income households by keeping it public or transferring it to local nonprofit community control.
  5. Consider displacement risk in local decision making, including land use, grant funding, housing subsidies and tax benefits; and put in place proactive protections for at-risk residents while it is still affordable for local governments to do so