Gentrification and its inauspicious impact on Affordable Housing Policies in Metropolitan Governance: New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.


Throughout the continental United States, Housing affordability in urban markets has become a battle between robust urban development and equitable housing policies. On balance, municipal governments have struggled to keep pace with considerable housing demands due to expansive urbanization throughout metropolitan communities. Arguably, this phenomena has had an adverse effect on much of America’s working-class citizens as housing has become unaffordable for the non-affluent. In response to this contemporary phenomenon, the literature will analyze policies within three of the country’s most populous metro regions, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., Additionally; the narrative will also seek to provide plausible policy recommendations relative to affordable housing policy at both the federal and regional levels.


Affordability, Spatial Migration, Gentrification, Fair Housing Act, public-private partnerships, urban development, policy, social determinants, pedagogical, inclusive, equitable, governance, finance, disparities, education, regional, disparate-wages, socio-economics, wage gap, human capital, inequality, fair market economy, suburban, exurban, metropolitan


As metropolitan regions across the United States continue to grow at an exponential pace for residents in today’s economy, obtaining the proverbial American dream is arguably becoming a dubious task. Conversely, despite the housing irresolution, aspirations to live in convenient urban centers have fostered an ardent housing demand. Nonetheless, the phenomena has resulted in an unprecedented affordability crisis. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard (2017), the vast majority of American renters and homeowners now spend an astonishing fifty percent of their net income on rent and mortgage alone (pg. 4-5).

Notably, “affordable housing” is universally defined as tenants spending at or below thirty percent of their income on essential housing expenditures (Kalugina, 2016). Furthermore, innflation is an augmentation of the crisis. Nonetheless, though employment has remained stable, wages have only grown at an abysmal 0.2 percent annum (Shamburg & Nunn, 2017). Consequently, the slow growth coupled with increasing market values of homes rates proliferate unprecedented vulnerabilities for middle class and indigent families. Of which, those vulnerabilities consist of displacement from homogeneous communities, or worse homelessness. Thus, the anti-gentrification movement seeks to redress the paradigm as it has displaced numerous citizens across most major U.S. cities.

Moreover, gentrification is best defined by Webster (2018) “as the process of renewal and rebuilding, accompanying the influx of the affluent into deteriorating areas. Similarly, spatial Migration is an agglomeration of human capital from central cities into exurban communities. e.g., working-class citizens are forced to move away from accessible principle cities into non-accommodating suburbs. Moreover, given the prevalence of these trends, there is an imperative to create regional policies, which cultivate equitable outcomes by alleviating disparate wage and fair housing disparities. Alternatively, the effects of gentrification may be paradoxical in contemporary metropolitan development. For instance, while there is definitive empirical evidence, relative to gentrified communities and its unpropitious outcomes of the under-served; some scholars may argue that the pervasive reversal of urban blight has revitalized cities. Notwithstanding, there is merit in that assertion; however, the injurious economic and social impact of gentrification on the poor and predominantly African-American communities should not be ignored.

Therefore, this narrative will seek to analyze the recent housing affordability crisis and provide both academic and policy recommendations beneficial to regional governance. With this intention, a cursory analysis of several American metropolises are assessed via proposed housing initiatives at the municipal and provincial levels. Notably, the American metropolitans evaluated in this narrative are New York, New York, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. These great American cities are chose due to their immense contributions to the American economy. Furthermore, in addition to their prodigious, populations, their eminence is indispensable given their historical contributions to society,

Hegemonic Obstacles within American Polity

On a macro-level, studies suggest that racially insensitive policies adversely affect under-served populations, children living in disenfranchised communities, are at significant pedagogical disadvantage. Further social determinants such as illiteracy and the probability of criminal conviction rates or increased due to insufficient strictures in impoverished communities. The root issue is due to subjugating hegemonic constructs which have segregated race and class by economic stratum. Markedly, separate but equal clauses, are at the forefront of the historically systemic policies. For instance, the Jim Crow provisions in the southern United States segregation and poll tax policies placed minorities at political, financial, and social disadvantages. However, even when there were prosperous gains, elite black neighborhoods such as “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, or Rosewood, Florida where set ablaze by white vigilantes. The result, those community’s prosperity was eradicated and local government officials were apathetic to the community’s losses.

Moreover, The New Deal legislation of the 1930, although credited for climbing the country of the great depression excluded the vast majority of citizens of color. A University of Houston study (2016) documented the through the course of New Deal policies, African-Americans, if hired were paid paltry salaries and forced to take menial positions. The vast majority of the jobs slated for Blacks were domestic capacities. (I.e., janitors, railroad porters) Additionally, discriminatory hiring practices were also employed on the farmlands, as the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act did the most damage to the African-Americans. Many Black farmers were evicted from their land due to government-aided subsides allocated to white farmers (Clark, 2009). In exchange for the aid, white farmers agreed not to till their land in the interest of land revenue (Rothstein, 2017). This process created wealth for whites and financially devastated Black farmers, resulting in the great migration of Blacks to Northern Cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City. The migration would create a demand for public housing.

These dividing methods would continue throughout World Word II and the great depression era as a government method known as “redlining,” significantly contributed to discriminatory lending practices. Color-coded maps were drawn to determine which neighborhoods would receive home loans. Neighborhoods, which were majority-minority, i.e., Black, Latino, or Asian, were colored red for “bad,” which meant those residents would not be eligible for financing (Thompson, 2018). Consequently, the wealth gap between whites and minorities would significantly widen because of these policies. Moreover, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, de facto segregation techniques were pervasive throughout the United States as anti-Inclusion practices disproportionately affected minorities. Even today, the pecuniary effects remain poignant, as neighborhoods have continued to lose economic vitality. In which the decrease in wealth created a predators market for investors to gentrify minority neighborhoods. Correspondingly, the wealth gap is indicative of the economic decline. Since the 1960s until now, the ubiquitous disparity in wealth by race and ethnicity has only seen nominal growth. According to the Center for American Progress (2016) Black family’s median wealth was $17,600, compared to $171,000 for white households. Additionally, The Institute for Policy Studies (2018) projects by the 2020 Black and Latino families will lose eighteen and twelve percent of their wealth respectively. The 2020 projection states that white households will own 86 times more wealth than Blacks do, and 68 times more wealth than Latinos.

Similarly, insufficient public education funding at the district and state levels are endemic, given state appropriations for criminal justice have tripled the rate of public education funding for K-12 (U.S Department of Education, 2016). The most drastic cuts are in Higher education funding. On average states have slashed budgets by twenty-three percent. Moreover, since the recession, there has been a $ 7 billion reduction in higher education funding (Mitchell, 2018). These cut are distressing as Education is critical in today’s economy. Quality Education bridges the racial and ethnic socio-economic divide as prudent education allows communities of color to sustain and improve their own communities.

Affordable Housing Policy at the National Level

The governing body of housing policy in the United States is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD was written into law in 1965 as a result of President Johnson’s Great Society policies. The department’s organizational mission is premised on “addressing metropolitan housing problems”. Of note, the impetus for addressing this issue was a federal government mandate for local governments to create affordable and non-discriminatory housing policies. Thus leading to the construction of public housing units. Conversely, at inception, these units housed many working-class whites as opposed to the intended residents of color. Therefore, the non-discriminatory policy was not prudently enforced. Perhaps the reason for the void in enforcement can be explained through prior policy. At the time of the First World War; (prior to HUDs enactment as a federal department), roughly, 170,000 whites were residing in housing projects throughout the United States (Rothstein, 2017). However, during this period, African-American tenants were excluded from participating in federal and local government housing subsidies.

Discriminatory Lending Practices

Moreover, regional policies and the attraction of a cosmopolitan lifestyle has vastly changed how housing policy is regulated. To date, credit-reporting agencies, fiscal lenders, and governments have formulated insidious systematic approaches, which contribute to the divide. For instance, much of the onus could be viewed through the “Cultural Affinity hypothesis,” prism. Of which the paradigm suggests that individual financial lenders are prone to approve loans based on the sharing one’s ethnicity (Wyly & Hammel, 2003). Although this practice is illegal, it is prevalent and often purportedly justified through private agreements between developers. Consequently, minority borrowers are often denied financing due to subprime credit or scarcity of “stable” work history. Comparatively, white financers with poor credit, but high salaries are substantially more likely to obtain credit approval (Wyly & Hammel, 2003).

Lessons from Civil Rights litigation at the Federal Level

Although, the Equal Credit Opportunity (ECOA) and Fair Housing Acts (FHA) Act policies serve as the statutory provisions that govern home lending and tenant rights. The legislation, according to many critics is futile in practice. Accordingly, many minorities have lost legal battles in courts because a claim of discrimination is an arduous legal standard to prove.

Most notably, The U.S. Department of Justice (1972) sued Donald Trump and his father Fred Trump for discriminating against minority applicants. The father-son duo would later settle under the pretense of a promise “not to discriminate.” However, Mr. Trump’s policies are seemingly a rumination of his past actions.

The Trump administrations have implemented controversial policies such as removing inclusive language from HUD’s mission statement, in addition to pausing fair housing investigations. Perhaps even more astonishing, the administration is also challenging court rulings of housing vouchers distributed to individuals living at or below the poverty level, whom desire to live in affluent neighborhoods (Davidson, 2018). Similarly, the proposed presidential FY 18 budget reflects the Trump administrations discriminatory cuts as the executive branch requested an $8.8 billion appropriations reduction for HUD on the condition that the federal community block grant program be eliminated. Important to note, considering Block grants appropriate monetary award funds to local governments and non-profits for the revitalization of public housing infrastructure, the development of affordable housing, and job training (Presidents Budget, 2018). Additionally, the budget will reduce rental assistance funding by more than eleven percent.

Advocates of Civil rights have called foul on this proposal, as they believe the provision is a repercussion of a racial under-caste system. Arguably, the proposed cuts by the Trump administration will only augment systemic failures for vulnerable communities (Henry, 2018).

New York, NY

Moreover, communities such as Brooklyn, one of New York’s most attractive boroughs has become a prime locale for development. Nonetheless, the urbanization is at the expense of poor minorities. Advocates of gentrification assert that reinvestment improves the economic vitality of the neighborhoods by adding jobs and eradicating crime. Though the data is misleading, this assertion has some merit; however, the jobs created are not economically viable or inclusive to the neighborhoods of historical minority inhabitants. For example, since the year 2000, in the Bed-Stuy Brooklyn neighborhood, the white population increased to a substantial seventy-nine percent (City of New York, City Planning, 2017). Effectively, misplacing nearly all of its residents of color. Hence, the adverse effects of gentrification on minority populations are undeniable, not due to whites moving into communities, albeit because of the exodus of vulnerable sub-groups from their respective neighborhoods. To this end, relative to individuals who are removed from their communities, their options are limited, as many suburban municipalities are not willing to adopt equitable housing programs. Further municipal housing provisions are often subject to racial bias and community backlash, particularly in conservative-leaning suburbs.

Thus, the adverse impact of gentrification on vulnerable populations is palpable when considering homeless rates. Though nationally, there has been a substantial decrease in homelessness, the housing cost burden has doubled (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2018). New York City has the most homeless citizens in the country, since 2017, there has been a four percent increase in homelessness. Of which is the highest concentration of homelessness in the city since the great depression (Coalition for the homeless, 2018). To combat these ills, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a Mandatory Inclusion provision, which opponents argue will only supplement, gentrification in communities. However, the city policy mandates developments only finance edifices that are 100 percent affordable. The plan includes a mixed-income housing tenet; but many minority residents in New York will not qualify under the policies auspices as their incomes are below the required thirty percent of net income rental mandate (Ferre- Sadurni, 2018). Given the policy is in its infancy, data about its efficacy is limited. Nonetheless, there is a valid reason to be cynical about the viability of affordability housing policies within New York City. The City itself is a hub for investment, and national trends favor housing development for the wealthy. The quandary for New York’s officials is instilling equitable housing policies, which alleviate blight, albeit still; protect the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Origins of Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. is the capital seat of the United States and undoubtedly the foremost political province in the world. The cities establishment was enacted by the Residence Act of 1790 to be independent of any state and to serve as the sole seat of the United States Federal Government. Nonetheless, though there is a municipal government in place with an elected mayor and thirteen district seats, Congress retains sole authority over city legislation, and can effectively overrule any adopted statutes. Nevertheless, there are only a few instances where the federal government has interfered with the districts municipal governance. To date, the district has been historically progressive. The city’s first mayor was an African-American man, Walter Washington appointed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. At the time Mr. White became the first African American mayor of any major American city. Contemporarily, Washington D.C.’s political landscape has remained relatively unchanged; as the town has mostly had an overwhelming majority of African-American citizens whose voting interest mostly align with democratic ideology (Henry, 2018).

Washington D.C. Housing Policy

Affectionately known as “chocolate city,” the city reached its apex in the 1970s as the city was over seventy percent African-American. However, as of the (2017) census, that number has significantly declined to forty-eight percent; this is due in large part to gentrification. Markedly, the housing market in D.C. and its surrounding areas have become untenable for middle to low-income earners as more than forty percent of D.C. residents spend a third of their monthly salary on rent alone. Moreover, the housing crisis also affects regional residents, as housing throughout the DMV (District, southern Maryland, and Northern Virginia) metropolitan area has become unaffordable (Henry, 2018). Notably, Ninety percent of earmarked affordable housing units have been slashed (Natanson, 2018). The quantity of these units are a result of redevelopment throughout the DMV. In response, Mayor Murial Bowser has implemented the “Inclusionary Zoning Program” a housing and community development policy that requires newly developed properties of ten or more units to be earmarked for eight to ten percent of its units (District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development, 2018). The program is in inception; therefore, its success remains to be determined. Notwithstanding, Washington D.C. has written into law, mandates of five to twenty-five percent of new housing units are to be below fair market value.

Additionally, regional officials and their community partners have implemented intervention initiatives such as the Affordable Dwelling Unit (ADU). The program according to D.C.’s Department of Housing and Community Development (2018) allows for the sales of homes to low-income residents to be sold below market value. In addition to the (ADU) initiative, local NGO’s and faith-based organizations are also serving as interventionist. According to Natanson (2018), Churches across the DMV have begun opening properties to house low-income residents. The method is to sell the land to local non-profits while the faith-based organization retains ownership of the property. Subsequently the area non-profit dedicates the land space to affordable housing developments.

Similar to New York, these polices are not without its critics. Inclusionary provisions could prove burdensome to developers, considering the policy is not cost effective when building affordable housing units (Metcalf, 2018). Unfortunately, there may not be a return on investment for low-income housing in an inflated market. Therefore, despite the subsidies, there is no incentive for developers to accommodate the poor (Henry, 2018).

The City of Brotherly Love

Philadelphia has seen substantial growth in re-centralization as investment has grown upwards of five times that of fringe reinvestment (Wyly & Hammel 2004). For example, Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood, once a historically Black community, has transitioned into a cadre middle class homes, that only a decade ago consist of numerous dilapidated edifices. Private investment from institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania have resulted in the university purchasing vast swaths of land and property which in turn the Penn rents these properties above market levels. Recently, the university has placed a hold on its “western expansion” efforts. However, this approach is not anomalous to Penn, neighboring Universities Drexel and Temple have bolstered their investments to their respective communities (Lowe, 2014). Drexel currently hosts an out of state incentive program to lure non-residential students. In turn, the university institutes initiatives for in-state residents (many affluent) to live off campus. Similarly, in North Philadelphia Temple University has proposed a controversial new football stadium. Nevertheless, the proposal is facing acute opposition given Temples plan currently does not include any community development components. Naturally, long-time residents are skeptical about the development.

What’s more, the city of Philadelphia is in a peculiar position when compared to its larger municipal counterparts. The city needs the land use revenue from the development of its estimated 43,000 vacant lots (Blumgart, 2018). Therefore, slow growth is not an option. Further, unlike most American metros homeownership has seen a seven percent decline, while thirty-eight percent of those homeowners earn less $35,000 annually (Young, 2018). Moreover, the city has instituted a new property tax statute that assesses properties based on their current market value. Since property values have significantly increased, this makes them unaffordable for working-class tenants. In response, several Philadelphia council members have proposed a municipal ordinance that creates 2,000 affordable units in areas considered gentrified, In addition to 9,000 reserved affordable housing properties. This policy is commendable considering the quandary Philadelphia leaders face regarding the affordable housing. Blight in the city is widespread and needs to be addressed; nevertheless, the prevailing question is at what is gentrifications role?


Local and federal governments must work to implement sustainable policies that address affordability. Plans such as mixed-income housing are viable, albeit amenable incentives must be given to developers to ensure equitable and affordable housing. Furthermore, at both the local and federal level, regulations governing housing insurance agencies could include mandated demography reporting. Thus, zip codes insurance agencies served could report by customer’s ethnicity. The policy will assist in eliminating discriminatory loopholes. On balance, in a free market economy, fiscal solvency is not sustained when individuals are perpetually being priced out. If the imprudent housing policies of the most recent past are any indicator of the United States fiscal liabilities. Policy should be proactive in their commitments to equitable housing provisions. Additionally, inclusive transportation policy could also be beneficial to affordable housing policy. Adequate public transit is just as poignant of an issue as that of affordable housing. According to a (2015) Harvard report, access to transportation is a determinant of socio-economic opportunity. To that end, for families at or below the poverty line whom have been forced out of the city’s core and into exurban communities; access to public transportation can prove burdensome. Perhaps the benefit of most major cities located on the eastern seaboard is that their transit systems are some of the most efficient and accessible in the country. However, with massive urban development and housing inflation, routes that are more accessible have become attractive to high wage earners. Thus the gentrification continuum, which further displaces the indigent. Accordingly, access to health care and essential social services are primarily within the city. Nonetheless, many suburban communities lack the bandwidth to provide proficient public services to disadvantaged residents. Therefore attempting to utilize public transit could prove onerous to displaced residents. Accordingly, public transit must be a regional effort; Intergovernmental partnerships are paramount to alleviating the affordability crisis. If communities are not retaining valued human capital due to inaccessibility, workforces will suffer. Although, development has been expansive throughout metro areas, the demand for “qualified” workers has markedly increased. This coupled with the fact that wages have not keep pace with market rates continues to place the indigent and communities of color on the margin of society. Thus, Affordability housing policies must be subject to more than just hyperbole. Officials must be committed to action!



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