Governing magazine has a good article about Gentrification in Houston's Third Ward a largely African-American area. There is a tax increment financing district that has been buying up land in the Third Ward. The idea being to saddle the property with restrictive deeds and covenants that would ensure that it could be used only for rental housing in perpetuity.
What concerns both White and Coleman (local politicians) and most critics of gentrification is the prospect of Third Ward residents getting priced out of their own neighborhood. Recent research, however, suggests that worry is overblown. Studying gentrification's impact in Boston, Duke University economist Jacob Vigdor found that an influx of affluent newcomers had, if anything, merely contributed to Boston's socioeconomic integration. "There is no evidence to suggest that gentrification increases the probability that low-status households exit their housing unit," Vigdor concluded. Columbia University economist Lance Freeman found the same thing last year in a study of New York. In fact, Freeman found that residents of gentrifying neighborhoods were less likely to move than residents of non-gentrifying neighborhoods.
Those studies haven't tempered fears that the Third Ward is on the brink of upheaval and the perception among policy makers that something must be done to tame it. What Houston is discovering, however, is how slippery an issue gentrification can be. The Third Ward today is awash with developers, politicians, neighborhood activists and longtime residents. Each possesses a financial, political or personal stake in what the Third Ward is to become. And each, in distinct ways, is working at cross-purposes. Not only do they disagree on how to solve the Third Wardâ€™s gentrification problem; they canâ€™t even agree on what the problem is.
Is gentrification, despite what the academics say, really a problem of displacement? Is it a natural and unavoidable consequence of market forces, or does it result from specific policies? Is it a problem of low wages or one of high-priced real estate? Does it require government intervention? That such a debate is playing out in Houston a city famous for its lack of zoning and its developer-friendly ethos is a testament to the passions and confusion that gentrification arouses. What really seems to be at stake is something quite nebulous: the character of a neighborhood. And in Houston, as in many cities, that is inextricably linked to questions of political power and race.