How do researchers measure gentrification?
By Sonam Vashi
Few words cause as much passion and consternation in Atlanta as “gentrification”—a term that’s used to describe anything from a kombucha store opening to a Vine City vacant lot going for $200,000. But it can be hard to precisely explain what we mean when we say a neighborhood is gentrifying.
That’s also true for researchers, who may use different methods to measure gentrification: housing cost changes, mortgage lending frequency, college education rates. Using some metrics, neighborhoods that change rapidly might qualify as “gentrifying,” whereas others that are more slowly changing might not, and emphasizing a binary of “gentrified” and “un-gentrified” neighborhoods can erase the important nuances that have real implications for residents that are experiencing displacement. All of this can lead to confusion that affects public perception, as well as how governments and advocates respond.
Illustrating this very issue is a new map tool from affordable housing nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners that uses three different models measuring gentrification. Using the maps, you can look at changes in nearly 100 U.S. cities over four decades, from 1970 to 2010, using different criteria to see what counts as “gentrification.”
The tool uses the following three metrics, showing different outputs on whether an area is gentrified or not:
- The Freeman model classifies gentrification as occurring an area where the median household income and share of housing built in the prior 20 years are both less than the metro-area values. For an area to be gentrified, the share of residents with college degrees also has to be greater than the metro value, and there needs to be an increase in house prices.
- The Ellen & O’Regan model calls an area “gentrified” if the ratio of the neighborhood’s household income at the start of the decade, compared to the metro average household income, is less than 0.7—and there needs to be at least a 10 percentage-point increase in the ratio of neighborhood to metro average household income over the past decade.
- The McKinnish, et al model says an area is gentrified if the neighborhood average family income is in the bottom 20 percent of all urban neighborhoods nationwide and if there’s been a real increase of at least $10,000 in the neighborhood’s average family income within the last decade.