The D-Word - Metropolitan Planning Council

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The D-Word

Displacement threatens residents across our region, but proactive planning can help. Here’s how MPC is wading into the issue.

Flickr user nevermindtheend (CC)

Displacement. It’s a term that most of us have heard or used, often triggered by the announcement of an exciting new project or neighborhood investment. Displacement is not new. Low-income families in Chicago have long been pushed out of their neighborhoods in the name of large-scale redevelopment efforts from highway construction to CHA’s plan to revitalize its public housing stock.

When needed investment in people and infrastructure occurs, negative outcomes can overshadow the benefits. MPC is working on solutions to proactively identify and plan for such threats, while helping to ensure that neighborhoods can attract investments in a way that benefits all residents and businesses equitably.

The problem of displacement

Contemporary displacement often manifests as population loss. Sometimes it looks like loss of longtime residents and businesses due to rising property values, and sometimes it looks like population loss due to decades of disinvestment. In this piece, we focus on the former. Commonly, rising rents and increased property values price long-time residents out, as was the case of the 606 Trail, which has ushered in increased home prices that nearly doubled along the western end of the trail, leaving neighborhoods like Woodlawn and Little Village on high alert at the advent of a wave of catalytic development.

This fear of displacement resonates particularly among communities of color that have become the victims, rather than the beneficiaries, of neighborhood revitalization. Black and Latino families of color represent an outsized share of those most likely to be severely rent burdened and have inadequate housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s report on Worst Case Housing Needs. The impacts of such development have been wide-ranging, reverberating across the families, businesses and institutions that once inhabited these places.

Flickr user Steve Rhodes (CC)

The threat of displacement doesn’t just impact residents of gentrifying neighborhoods; small businesses are often at risk as well. While neighborhood change and new residential activity can be associated with an injection of higher-income households, there is an increased risk of small business displacement through shifting demographics, residents’ changing preferences and rising rents and taxes. There are countless versions of this plotline playing out in neighborhoods like Logan Square and Pilsen—local mainstay announces that its doors are closing after decades of operation due to rising rents; community laments its loss and shares its memories of said mainstay; the closing ushers in exciting announcements of a new establishment that caters to a hip clientele with higher price points.

In MPC’s advocacy and capacity work with communities around issues such as housing, transit-oriented development and riverfront planning, we often hear variations of the same questions—"who is this for?” and "will this development be the first domino" to set off a series of investments that results in a neighborhood that’s both unaffordable and unrecognizable to its existing residents?

MPC battles displacement through a number of initiatives

That’s why MPC is fighting displacement from a number of angles. Building an equitable, sustainable, prosperous, engaged and responsible region means keeping people in their homes, keeping businesses in their neighborhoods and ensuring that all people are included in the growth and benefits that come from neighborhood investment.

 Here’s an outline of MPC’s anti-displacement work:

 We are developing a data and advocacy tool with community stakeholders in mind, to provide information on the potential impacts of a catalytic development or investment and point them toward interventions that they might pursue to help mitigate any negative impacts from that development, such as residential or small business displacement. In the event that a community is presented with a development opportunity, this tool could be a way to help a range of stakeholders including developers and elected officials understand its implications on key areas of community concern and offer best practices to proactively plan for neighborhood change towards more equitable outcomes for all.

Atlanta's Beltline serves as an important model of how such investment can become a threat to the very neighborhood that it sits within if not appropriately planned for.

Last fall, MPC staff and partners visited Atlanta as part of a set of study trips funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. As part of our conversations in Atlanta, we learned about their efforts around the Atlanta Beltline, a 22-mile pedestrian path constructed along a historic rail line. In many ways, the development has truly been transformative in the way that it has attracted economic development and infrastructure to some of the city’s most historic and challenged neighborhoods. The Beltline also serves as an important model for how such investment can become a threat to the very neighborhood that it sits within, if not appropriately planned for. This important lesson is one that MPC’s tool hopes to protect against. As we make public and private investments in neighborhoods—be it new development near transit or a new corporate headquarters—these plans and investments must consider their own unintended consequences, and incorporate proactive interventions to ensure that they will benefit a range of residents.  

MPC is also proud to be part of a collaborative, Elevated Chicago, that is working to address key challenges, like displacement due to gentrification in some communities and disinvestment in others, through equitable transit-oriented development. Through its unique set of local, national, public, private and civic sector partners, Elevated Chicago is identifying opportunities to better coordinate and leverage our collective resources toward creative ways to support projects near CTA transit stations with capital, policy advocacy and technical assistance to help produce positive outcomes for racial equity, human health and climate resilience. Over the past year, Elevated Chicago awarded more than $700,000 in grants to 19 nonprofit groups to support community-led projects near transit stations to encourage equitable transit-oriented development. Through this work, we hope to build community capacity to advance transit-oriented development and carry out affordable housing activities that address the needs of low-income households. With an emphasis on equity, transparency and respecting the voices of those who currently live in a community, transit-oriented development can facilitate equitable and holistic investment in communities that supports existing as well as future residents.

MPC’s regional Roadmap for a more equitable future identified policy solutions that help prevent displacement. Key among these is expanding homeownership opportunities, since this is not only a critical strategy to help residents stay in place when neighborhoods change, but it is a powerful vehicle to accumulate wealth and build economic stability, particularly among communities of color. We applaud the City of Chicago for taking a step in the right direction with the recent announcement of the Building Neighborhoods and Affordable Homes program, and hope to see much more public and private investment in creating affordable homeownership opportunities to help to build more resilient homeowners and communities and stem the tide of displacement.

Flickr user Eric Allix Rogers (CC)

Preventing displacement includes providing economic opportunity for residents—jobs that pay living wages and schools that adequately support students and families. Programs like the federal and State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) support working families by providing a refundable tax credit to help them make ends meet and has been proven to have key benefits on work, income, educational and health benefits for families. Establishing a City of Chicago EITC, as we propose in MPC’s Roadmap, would help further augment the incomes of these families to help ensure they can meet their basic needs and serve as further protection against involuntary displacement due to rising housing costs. We applaud and support Ald. Ameya Pawar’s efforts to establish a Universal Basic Income pilot, which would also help to stabilize Chicago’s low-income workforce and increase their freedom to choose where they call home.

As developers and investors increasingly realize the potential of so many of our unique neighborhoods, we have to be mindful of and proactively plan for the double-edged sword that can accompany the flow of much-needed capital and resources into disinvested communities. Just like our historic architecture, dynamic cultural institutions, unique restaurants and breathtaking parks and water ways are part of our Chicago’s fabric, so, too are the incredibly diverse groups of people who make this city what it is. MPC is excited to be part of the important work of ensuring that this fabric is strengthened and maintained for generations to come.

Naomi Rapp is MPC's King W. Harris Intern. 


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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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