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July 31, 2017

Baltimore Data Day

Emily Wavering, Community Development research associate, discusses her research on gentrification of Washington, D.C.'s Anacostia neighborhood at the 2017 Baltimore Data Day.

The 2017 Baltimore Data Day began with a pivotal question from the keynote speaker. “How do we revitalize our neighborhoods without causing significant displacement?” asked Vicki Been, law professor and former commissioner of New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Been was discussing gentrification, the transformation of neighborhoods from low-value to high-value, which is a growing concern for Baltimore and Washington, D.C. While growing value doesn’t sound like a bad thing, the transformation can sometimes lead to displacement of low-income communities, especially those of color.

Been encouraged communities such as Baltimore to build housing that maintains a healthy supply of both market rate and affordable housing options. Unless new housing is built, people who can afford higher rents will outbid and thus displace less wealthy current residents for the existing housing. She emphasized that many units that are now viewed as “naturally occurring affordable housing” were originally constructed as new “market rate” homes just decades ago.

This and other affordable housing issues are a key focus area for the Richmond Fed’s Community Development department, which is why we partnered with the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute to host more than 100 community development professionals at the Baltimore branch office. Attendees heard from Been and other experts on gentrification, displacement and housing instability.

Jessica Yager, executive director of the NYU Furman Center of Real Estate and Urban Policy, shared strategies for lessening the negative impact of gentrification, including the use of city property and support for at-risk tenants. Building affordable housing on land shared with a city library was one of the unique New York City efforts she shared.

Gentrification may be underway in Washington, D.C.’s, Historic Anacostia neighborhood, but significant dislocation doesn’t appear to be happening at this point, according to Emily Wavering, Richmond Fed Community Development research analyst. Wavering shared her research on the neighborhood and warned that newly available data could change her findings. “Recent trends in educational attainment and workforce composition point to potential gentrification,” she said.

The final speaker, Zafar Shah, an attorney with the Public Justice Center, shared statistics from Baltimore’s rent court, which sees nearly 150,000 lawsuits each year. Nearly 7,000 of those cases end in eviction of the tenant. The vast majority are low-income African American women with 78 percent saying they were living in a place that was a threat to health and safety. Shah’s presentation further illustrated that, until further legal protections such as legal assistance and code enforcement are addressed, thousands of residents in low-income communities face the real prospect of displacement due to rental eviction and substandard living conditions, even in neighborhoods that are not currently experiencing the effects of gentrification.

“Access to affordable housing is the top issue for Fifth District communities according to our most recent Community Pulse survey, and gentrification is often brought up in discussions by those in Baltimore and D.C.,” said Peter Dolkart, Richmond Fed regional community development manager for Maryland and Washington, D.C. “Providing data, strategies and tools during workshops like this helps our community partners make better, informed decisions in their day-to-day work.” 

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