Does Gentrification Displace Poor Children? New Evidence from New York City Medicaid Data

Research & Policy | June 18th 2019 | Alexis Captanian

Is gentrification partly responsible for the displacement of low-income families from their homes and neighborhoods? In the last twenty years, college-educated, higher-income residents have moved into historically low-income areas at increasing rates, and rents in these areas have risen disproportionately. While many see the relationship between gentrification and displacement of low-income residents as causal, existing quantitative evidence is lacking, partly due to limited data and challenges in measurement.

To examine the relationship between gentrification and the displacement of low-income children, NYU Furman Center Faculty Director Ingrid Gould Ellen, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service Dean Sherry Glied, and Kacie Dragan recently released the working paper: Does Gentrification Displace Poor Children? New Evidence from New York City Medicaid Data. Released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the paper reviews and builds on existing research to help determine gentrification’s impact on the frequency and distance of low-income families’ residential moves, as well as the housing and neighborhood conditions in which they live.

Using longitudinal New York City Medicaid records, the authors track the movement of low-income children from 2009 through 2015, a seven-year period in which the city experienced high levels of gentrification. Unlike prior studies addressing this topic, the dataset’s residential address information allows the authors to specifically analyze low-income children living in market-rate rental housing, filtering out children living in public or subsidized housing who are protected against rent increases and therefore comparatively less vulnerable to displacement.

The authors also examine neighborhood conditions including poverty, school performance, and violent crime, comparing outcomes for low-income children who start off in gentrifying areas with outcomes for those who start off in persistently low-SES areas, and distinguishing between children who move and those that remain in place.

Key Findings:

  • Low-income children in gentrifying areas are not more likely to move than children in areas of persistently low socioeconomic status (SES). Many low-income families still face residential instability, but the results suggest they are no more likely to move in gentrifying areas.
  • Children living in subsidized housing are less likely to move than low-income children in market-rate housing; this is true apart from whether an area is gentrifying or not, and the difference is not amplified by gentrification.
  • Children in gentrifying areas that do move are more likely to relocate slightly farther away and to a different borough or zip code, suggesting that families must venture a greater distance to find affordable options.
  • Children who remain in a gentrifying area see more significant decreases in neighborhood poverty levels, based on the higher incomes of in-movers. However, they see slightly larger declines in the math scores of the local zoned elementary school, perhaps because school quality is not a priority for the many in-movers who do not have children.
  • Children who move from a gentrifying area or from a persistently low-SES area end up in neighborhoods with similar levels of poverty.
  • Compared to children moving between persistently low-income neighborhoods, children moving from gentrifying areas tend to move to areas with lower levels of crime.
  • Children who move from gentrifying neighborhoods see fewer gains in housing quality, as measured by serious building code violations.
  • Overall, the majority of improvements observed in community environment are attributable to the children who stay in place, while the children who move experience little change in environmental quality, for better or worse.

The authors conclude by noting that their study does not assess the ability of lower-income renters to move into gentrifying areas, and that the composition of in-movers over the long-term will determine the neighborhood’s economic diversity. Therefore, policies that provide pathways for low-income households to access gentrifying areas may be a key to creating and preserving mixed-income neighborhoods.

Working paper: Does Gentrification Displace Poor Children? New Evidence from New York City Medicaid Data

Alexis Captanian is a graduate student at the NYU Wagner School of Public Service,pursuing a Master of Urban Planning with a specialization in International Development Planning. Previously, Alexis worked at Prevention Institute, where she coordinated the organization’s Mental Health Team, focused on promoting mental wellbeing and preventing substance misuse through comprehensive population-level approaches. In her role, she facilitated Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing Among Men and Boys, a national initiative to transform community conditions that influence wellbeing, especially among boys and men of color, veterans and their families. She has contributed to research at the Public Health Institute identifying opportunities for action at the intersection of climate change, health, and equity, and has worked with a variety of other organizations in areas such as youth leadership, environmental education, and homelessness. Alexis studied as a Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholar at the University of California at Berkeley, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Public Health.

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