How Did We Get Here?
Gentrification and homelessness are not natural. Rather, they are twin products of a series of national decisions about who deserves housing...and who does not.
Redlining (1935 – )
Redlining set the stage for both private and governmental discrimination against would-be minority homebuyers. In the 1935, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) teamed up with local lenders and realtors…Read more
1937 Housing Act
Recognizing an “acute shortage of decent, safe, and sanitary housing for low-income families,” the federal government under Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched a public housing program that would, at its…Read more
Urban Renewal (1950s, ’60s)
Urban renewal was a nationwide program that gave cities massive federal grants to rebuild their downtowns. The goal was to keep cities economically viable as they lost large parts of…Read more
Fair Housing Act of 1968
Part of the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s was an act finally prohibiting discrimination against potential renters and homebuyers on the basis of race, color, religion, or national…Read more
Homelessness: A New Epidemic (1980s)
In the 1980s, homelessness became epidemic in cities where it had once been a rarity. This change corresponded with the early stages of gentrification in New York, San Francisco,…Read more
Privatizing Affordable Housing (1990s – Present)
In the mid-1990s, the federal government moved to convert public housing to mixed-income, privately-managed developments. The HOPE VI program was intended to deconcentrate poverty and leverage private capital, relieving…Read more
Housing Crisis and Recession (2007 – 2009)
In 2007, years of frenzied real-estate speculation and risky sub-prime lending culminated in a crash in housing prices. Suddenly families were “underwater”: stuck with homes that were worth less…Read more
With the Housing Act of 1937, the United States government recognized an "acute shortage of decent, safe, and sanitary housing for low-income families" and approved a permanent public housing program. The market had failed to meet one of our most basic needs: shelter. At its peak, America's public housing program included some 1.4 million units.1 But in the 1990s and 2000s, units began to topple to make way for mixed-income developments, which did not replace affordable units on a one-to-one basis.2 Vouchers and other new subsidies could not match the demand for affordable housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition calculates that extremely low-income renters (those earning 30% or less of area median income) now face a shortage of 7.4 million affordable and available homes. In other words, there are only 35 accessible homes exist for every 100 impoverished renter households.3 Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that more than half a million people in the U.S. were without a home on a single night in 2016.4 This figure does not begin to include all of the families living in a state of severe housing instability - in cars, in overcrowded apartments, in motels, and on the razor's edge of eviction.
Our research in five American cities helps show how such instability is intensifying in today's urban environment. We highlight the links between gentrification and homelessness in all its forms. The shift to a knowledge economy that is headquartered in "global cities"; the erosion of stable mid-skilled work; and the growing reliance on private money for urban development are transforming cities.5 The results are rising urban homelessness and growing inequality between the haves and have-nots.6 The conditions are ripe for a retaking of urban space from the poor.
1. Maggie McCarty. "Introduction to Public Housing." Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, January 3, 2014.
2. Amy Khare. "Market-Driven Public Housing Reforms: Inadequacy for Poverty Alleviation." Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 15, no.2 (2013): pp.
3. Andrew Aurand, Dan Emmanuel, Diane Yentel, and Ellen Errico. "Key Findings." The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes. National Low Income Housing Coalition, March 2017.
4. Meghan Henry, Rian Watt, Lily Rosenthal, and Azim Shivji. "Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness." The 2016 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress, November 2016.
5. Saskia Sassen. “The Global City: Introducing a Concept.” The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 11, no.2 (2005): pp.27-43.
6. Homelessness has fallen in the nation overall but increased in large cities in recent years. See James Nash and Esme Deprez. "Homelessness Falls in America But Rises in Big Cities." Governing, November 20, 2015.
Inequality in a select set of cities including San Francisco, Miami, and Atlanta far outstrips the national and urban rates. See Alan Berube. "All Cities Are Not Created Unequal." Metropolitan Opportunity Series, Brookings Institution, February 20, 2014.