In most American cities, gentrification has not pushed low-income residents out of the city they call home, according to a study.
But Washington is not most cities.
In the District, low-income residents are being pushed out of neighborhoods at some of the highest rates in the country, according to the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, which sought to track demographic and economic changes in neighborhoods in the 50 largest U.S. cities from 2000 to 2016.
“For all the talk of gentrification happening in cities all over the country, what we found is that it really isn’t,” said Myron Orfield, director of the institute, founded at the University of Minnesota law school to investigate growing social and economic disparities in American cities. “Washington is one of the few places in the country where real displacement is actually occurring. It’s quite rare.”
More than 38 percent of District residents, including about 35 percent of low-income residents, live in census tracts — geographic areas smaller than Zip codes that contain a few thousand residents — that are growing economically. But low-income people who live in those areas are at the greatest risk of displacement, the report says.
The study, conducted over several months and released April 10, comes as gentrification and its consequences are being discussed with renewed urgency in the nation’s capital.
Earlier this month, two neighborhood disputes revealed deep divisions in areas undergoing rapid demographic change. In one incident, a noise complaint briefly silenced the hallmark go-go music of an electronics store in Shaw, while in the other, Howard University students asked their new neighbors to stop treating their campus like a public park.
Neither incident occurred in the area of the District where, according to the study, the most intense displacement has been happening: Ward 6.
According to researchers, Ward 6 — which includes Capitol Hill, Navy Yard, the Southwest Waterfront and parts of downtown — has had some of the most dramatic changes in the District.
In portions of the Kingman Park and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, nearly 75 percent of the low-income populations have vanished, census information shows. In the Navy Yard neighborhood, about 77 percent of residents were identified as low income in 2000. Sixteen years later, that population dropped to 21 percent.
Most of the people pushed out of these economic hot spots are black and low income, according to the data. The number of District families headed by single mothers or those without a college degree also has declined.
“Since 2000, the same neighborhoods have seen overall population growth of 19 percent, and white population growth of a staggering 202 percent,” researchers wrote. “A huge swath of the city is experiencing gentrification and displacement, stretching from Logan Circle to Petworth, and including neighborhoods like Shaw and Columbia Heights.”
In places such as the Shaw neighborhood, where the go-go music controversy played out, low-income populations have dropped by as much as 57 percent.
The study divided neighborhoods into categories based on who is moving in and who is moving out:
●Areas experiencing “growth” were defined as regions that were economically expanding while also increasing their number of low-income residents.
●Those experiencing “low-income displacement” — like District neighborhoods — were losing low-income people while growing economically.
●Areas experiencing “low-income concentration” were experiencing an economic decline and an uptick in low-income residents.
Cities struggling with “abandonment” were losing low-income people and suffering economic decline.
“There are organizations spending millions of dollars fighting gentrification in cities and neighborhoods that aren’t actually seeing any displacement,” Orfield said of the national data. “We wanted to build this database to show people where that’s actually happening.”
Pockets of the District have had an increase in low-income residents, but those areas are what researchers call low-income concentration zones because they are not also experiencing economic growth, according to the study.
Several of these zones are east of the Anacostia River, in Wards 7 and 8, where poor areas appear to be getting poorer, researchers said. In neighborhoods such as Good Hope and parts of Greenway, low-income populations have grown by about 60 percent.
“This may reflect an intensification of racial and economic segregation within the city proper, as individuals displaced from a set of gentrifying neighborhoods are concentrated into a nearby set of declining neighborhoods,” the study says.
Areas outside the District were more prone to this phenomenon, data shows.
About 437,000 residents of the city’s suburbs live in areas where low-income populations have increased by as much as 70 percent since 2000. Those areas simultaneously lost about 30 percent of their white residents, according to the data.
Parts of Prince George’s County were the most likely to experience these demographic changes, researchers said.
“The rents are less affordable for poor people in these declining areas not because the rents are going up,” Orfield said. “It’s because the poor people who live there are increasingly worse off.”
Los Angeles is the only other U.S. city that comes close to the District’s levels of gentrification, researchers said, and its displacement rates are higher.