A burst of new home construction in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and other cities have caused neighborhoods in those cities to quickly gentrify, and if you are a longtime resident and homeowner in those cities, it’s possible that you’ve seen the value of your home skyrocket as much as four times in a single year. Great, right? Not exactly. Not if you can no longer afford the property taxes and don’t want to sell your house. The Times reports that cities are mobilizing to help their longtime residents affected by gentrification by giving them cuts on their property taxes—which alleviates the burden among longtime residents, but will ultimately affect each city’s annual revenue. Still, the cities believe investing in longtime residents is worth it:
The tax adjustments are part of a broader strategy by cities to aid homeowners — who continue to struggle financially since the home mortgage crisis. In Richmond, Calif., lawmakers are attempting to use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages to try to help homeowners keep their houses.
Housing experts say the arrival of newcomers to formerly working-class areas — from the Mission District in San Francisco to the Shaw neighborhood in Washington — is distinct from previous influxes over the past 30 years because new residents are now far more likely to choose to move into new condominiums or lofts instead of into existing housing, making the changes more disruptive.
San Francisco has the least affordable housing in the nation, with just 14 percent of homes accessible to middle-class buyers, said Jed Kolko, chief economist at the real estate website Trulia. The median rent is also the highest in the country, at $3,250 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.
“Affordable housing projects are constructed, and the money set aside for that purpose is used, but the demand is just far greater than what can be supplied,” said Fred Brousseau of the city budget and legislative analyst’s office. Evictions under a provision of state law that allows landlords to evict rent-controlled tenants if they convert a building for sale have more than tripled in the past three years, just as they did during the first tech boom.
To Yelly Brandon, a 36-year-old hairstylist, and her boyfriend, Anthony Rocco, an archivist, the obstacles to finding housing became clear when they spent two months searching for an apartment. At open houses, they said, they were competing with young tech workers, who offered more than the asking price and cash up front.
“People were just throwing money in the air,” Ms. Brandon said.
In the Times, Erica Goode and Claire Cain Miller report about the “backlash by the bay”—how the middle- and working-classes are increasingly being pushed out by tech workers with big bank accounts. Neighborhoods like the Mission District, a once heavily Hispanic working-class neighborhood, has seen a dramatic change. But some of the changes are less about luxury apartment buildings and moneyed residents like Mark Zuckerberg buying homes in the area:
And they grumble about less tangible things: an insensitivity in interactions in stores and on the street, or a seeming disregard for neighborhood traditions. The annual Day of the Dead procession, meant to be solemn, has turned into a rowdy affair that many newcomers seem to view as a kind of Mexican Halloween.
Kevin Starr, professor of history and policy, planning and development at the University of Southern California describes the biggest problem with pushing middle and working class families out of the city: “You can’t have a city of just rich people. A city needs restaurant workers, a city needs schoolteachers, a city needs taxi drivers.”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Garance Franke-Ruta’s essay in The Atlantic about the recent history of gentrification and “urban comeback” in Washington, D.C. is super interesting. It’s such a weird city to visit, and, as Franke-Ruta explains, its neighborhoods of revitalization and decay are so intertwined with historical events and policy. Later in the essay, she explores her own neighborhood, the U-Street area—a must-read for anyone who has been to the city and never made it past The Mall.