Built Environments #15: Serial Displacement of Minorities for the Sake of Progress

Redlining map from Atlanta 1938 pulled from unc.edu. Atlanta’s history of federally sponsored racial segregation is as visible today as it was nearly 80 years ago.

The excerpts below are from a paper I wrote for the health policy class in my MPH program:

Often the terms gentrification and revitalization are used interchangeably. Essentially they mean the same thing, which is that a community will change from low-value to high-value. The low-value neighborhoods were once vital areas previously occupied by industry and/or affluent residents. These areas have been largely depopulated and are now occupied by the working-poor and other low-income residents. These neighborhoods are characterized by low occupancy, low housing values, deteriorating housing, high crime, limited amenities, and failing schools (Godsil, 2013). Neighborhoods that are undergoing the process of gentrification also possess characteristics that give them the potential to be valuable to developers and simultaneously easily subjects for gentrification. The indicators of a neighborhood likely to gentrify are its close proximity to a job center, a high rate of renters, housing stock, and low housing prices (Godsil, 2013).

When new people move into a neighborhood that has deteriorated and those people will bring more money into the neighborhood, for the most part those people will be white and varying degrees of middle class (Kirkland, 2008).  This migration can have positive outcomes that often overshadow the negative outcomes due to their visibility. The increase in demand will raise property values, those who own property will gain equity, the tax base for the city will expand, and government agencies and private investors will begin to invest in the area again (Godsil, 2013). For all intents and purposes gentrification sounds like a means by which cities revitalize and neighborhoods grow and thrive.

However, for the original residents of a gentrifying or gentrified neighborhood this transition of a community from low-income to middle/high-income creates instability and uncertainty. The United States has a history of continuously displacing low-income people in urban areas. As we consider the issue of forced displacement, we must not imagine that if people are not being removed from their homes at gunpoint then it is not “forced”. The causes for displacement are very real, sometimes they are political and intangible, and sometimes they are physical, but not physically violent. And still other times displacement is actually physically violent.

Serial forced displacement can be defined as “the repetitive, coercive upheaval of groups” (Fullilove, 2011). That displacement can be as a result of many factors including changing family structures, rapid job growth in one area or another, and/or a lack of affordable housing, but many of these factors are conditions that have been created and/or facilitated by public policy on the federal level and on the local level (CDC, 2013). The policies largely responsible for the serial forced displacement of low-income urban dwellers are segregation, redlining, urban renewal, planned shrinkage, gentrification, HOPE VI, and the response (or lack thereof) to the foreclosure crisis (Fullilove, 2011).

One of the first federal policies to forcibly displace low-income people was instated by the federal government’s Home Owners Loan Corporation in 1937, as a part of the Housing Act of 1937 (Fullilove, 2011). The Federal Home Loan Bank Board worked in a public-private partnership to create maps of metropolitan areas that determined one’s eligibility for a home loan. Neighborhoods were ranked from A (green) to D (red) where green indicated safe places to invest and red indicated unsafe investments (Godsil, 2013). While the rankings did consider the age and condition of buildings the largest determining factor on a neighborhoods ranking was its ethnic, racial, and economic makeup. If the neighborhood contained black or Latino residents it was deemed “lower grade” and was coded red. Those who lived in C or D neighborhoods were unable to receive loans to purchase or upgrade their homes in their existing neighborhoods, contributing to a state of disrepair in their neighborhoods of residence (Godsil, 2013). These policies also prevented black and Latino residents from obtaining loans to move to other neighborhoods. Policies enacted by the federal government effectively segregated housing in the US.

Another early federal policy that forcibly displaced low-income people was the Housing Act of 1949 which created the policy of urban renewal, or the authority of the government under eminent domain laws to seize lands deemed “blighted” in order to clear it and sell it to developers at a reduced price for new uses, including vast public housing projects (Fullilove, 2011). In addition to clearing neighborhoods deemed blighted, eminent domain allowed authorities to raze working-class neighborhoods in order to create federally-subsidized highways, overpasses, and ramps (Godsil, 2013).  Though these project were intended to replace slums with affordable public housing (Bostic, 2012) these urban renewal programs and improvements to the infrastructure approximately a million people were displaced from their homes and 75% of those people were people of color (Fullilove, 2011).

There are instances of gentrification occurring naturally, examples of drivers of that shift being groups of young artists or students seeking places with low rent or childless, young couples who do not have to worry about the conditions of local schools pursuing cheap housing. However, the current driver of gentrification in the United States is another policy enacted by the federal government. HOPE VI was added as the 24th section of the US Housing Act of 1937 in 1992 (HUD, 2013), the policy which was responsible for the creation of redlining. HOPE VI was created with the goal of deconcentrating poverty in cities by razing public housing projects (many of which were created by urban renewal), relocating residents utilizing housing vouchers, and creating mixed-income units that included low-income units to retain a relatively small percentage of the original residents of the public housing unit (Fraser, 2013).

Atlanta, Georgia is noted in the history of HOPE VI as the being the very first city to completely eliminate low-income public housing from its landscape (Oakley, 2011). While some of the housing projects were replaced with mixed-income apartment complexes many were not replaced at all (Oakley, 2011). In Atlanta the areas that were designated for HOPE VI funded developments are the heart of gentrifying neighborhoods (Fraser, 2013). Additionally, the effort to deconcentrate poverty, due to the determination to relocate people away from their previous residence with housing vouchers, was responsible for simply relocating public housing residents to areas that were only marginally more affluent than their communities of origin and outside of an area that was developing into low-income suburbs (Fullilove, 2011). In Atlanta (Oakley, 2011) and in Chicago the neighborhoods are not only economically similar, but the racial makeup (majority black) is the same as well (Oakley, 2009).

Serial displacement and gentrification create conditions that make low-income neighborhoods increasingly unstable and vulnerable to future displacement. The effects of serial displacement create patterns of behavior and health choice that are characteristic of displaced populations such as: raised levels of violence, family disintegration, substance abuse, and elevated rates of sexually transmitted disease (Fullilove, 2011).  Health effects of gentrification include, but are not limited to, limited access to affordable housing, health food choices, transportation choices, and the disintegration of social networks (CDC, 2013). At the same time gentrification can produce changes in current residents’ and displaced residents’ stress levels, increase their risk of injury, increase their exposure to violence or crime, and affect their mental health (CDC, 2013).

Migration is a shift in population that results in someone being permanently of semi-permanently relocated away from their home, resulting in the “complete displacement of the individual’s activity space, exposing the person to a new set of risks” (Cromley, 2012). There is increasing evidence that special consideration should be given to those who are displaced by public policy and/or gentrification. This particularly vulnerable population is largely black (both African American and black Hispanic), and low-income and through a confluence of factors beyond its control is subjected to increasingly precarious living conditions.

According to the National Research Council public health this is “what we, as a society, do collectively to assure the conditions in which all people can be healthy” (National Research Council, 1988). Displacement is a public health issue often focused in densely populated urban areas, but does not act alone in creating circumstances under which urban blacks are particularly vulnerable to negative health outcomes. The negative health effects of gentrification and displacement on vulnerable individuals are exacerbated by a lack of affordable housing in cities.

Works Cited and Bibliography

Bostic, R. W., Thornton, R. L. J., Rudd, E. C., & Sternthal, M. J. (2012). Health in all policies: The role of      the US department of housing and urban development and present and future challenges. Health Affairs, 31(9), 2130-7. Retrieved from                http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1039467546

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (n.d.). CDC – Healthy Places – Health Effects of Gentrification. Retrieved April 30, 2013, from          http://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/healthtopics/gentrification.htm

City-data.com (n.d.). Atlanta Income Map [Income Map of Atlanta, GA]. Retrieved Oct 23, 2013, from http://www.city-data.com/income/income-Atlanta-Georgia.html

Charles, C. Z. (2003). The dynamics of racial segregation .Annual Review of Sociology29, 167-207.                Doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.100002

Cromley, E. K., & McLafferty, S. (2012). GIS and public health (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

Dewan, S. (2006, 03 11). Gentrification changing face of new atlanta. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/11/national/11atlanta.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Fabio, A., Sauber-Schatz, E. K., Barbour, K. E., & Li, W. (2009). The association between county-level injury rates and racial segregation revisited: A multilevel analysis. American Journal of Public Health ,99(4), 748-753.

Fraser, J. C., Burns, A. B., Bazuin, J. T., & Oakley, D. Á. (2013). HOPE VI, colonization, and the production of difference.Urban Affairs Review, 49(4), 525. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1368991388?accountid=11226

Fullilove, M. T., & Wallace, R. (2011). Serial forced displacement in american cities, 1916-2010. Journal     of Urban Health, 88(3), 381-9. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11524-011-9585-2

Godsil, R. D. (2013). The Gentrification Trigger. Brooklyn Law Review, 78(2), 319-338.

Jacobs, D. E., Wilson, J., Dixon, S. L., Smith, J., & Evens, A. (2009). The relationship of housing and population health: A 30-year retrospective analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(4), 597-604. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/222659778

Kirkland, E. (2008). What’s race got to do with it? looking for the racial dimensions of gentrification. Western Journal of Black Studies, 32(2), 18-30. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/200351420

Krieger, J., & Higgins, D. L. (2002). Housing and health: Time again for public health action. American Journal of Public Health,92(5), 758-68. Retrieved from      http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/215105725

Lee, S. (2011). Analyzing intra-metropolitan poverty differentiation: Causes and consequences of poverty expansion to suburbs in the metropolitan atlanta region. The Annals of Regional Science, 46(1), 37-57. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00168-009-0324-5

Morone, J. A., Litman, T. J., & Robins, L. S. (2008). Health politics and policy . (4th ed., pp. 127-134). Clifton Park, NY: Delmar Cengage Learning

Oakley, D., & Burchfield, K. (2009). OUT OF THE PROJECTS, STILL IN THE HOOD: THE SPATIAL CONSTRAINTS ON PUBLIC-HOUSING RESIDENTS’ RELOCATION IN CHICAGO. Journal Of Urban Affairs, 31(5), 589-614. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9906.2009.00454.x

Oakley, D., Ward, C., Reid, L., & Ruel, E. (2011). The poverty deconcentration imperative and public housing transformation. Sociology Compass, 5(9), 824-833. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9020.2011.0040

National Research Council. The Future of Public Health . Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1988.

Nuru-Jeter, A. M., & LaVeist, T. A. (2011). Racial segregation, income inequality, and mortality in us metropolitan areas. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine,88(2), 270-282. doi: 10.1007/s11524-010-9524-7

Singer, M., & Clair, S. (2003). Syndemics and public health: Reconceptualizing disease in bio-social             context. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 17(4), 423-41. Retrieved from  http://ezproxy.gsu.edu/loginurl=http://search.proquest.com/docview/205232289

Sumka, H. J. (1979). Neighborhood revitalization and displacement a review of the evidence. Journal of the American Planning Association45(4), 480-487. doi: 10.1080/01944367908976994

US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (n.d.). About HOPE VI – Public and Indian Housing – HUD. Retrieved October 16, 2013, from http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/public_indian_housing/programs/             h/hope6/about

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