Housing supply is low, causing more competition and driving prices up on what little housing exists, which means that the underprivileged are challenged to keep up with the costs. This piece from City Lab proposes the need to separate the issues of supply and gentrification in order to solve for them.

To a great extent, America’s urban housing troubles can be summed up by one fact. In 1980, homes more than 10 miles from city centers were more expensive than those closer than 10 miles; today, that situation has reversed. “The ascendancy of housing prices in the city center forms the set piece of what is loosely referred to as gentrification,” noted the economists who wrote the study from which this data point is drawn.

But casting an arbitrary 10-mile radius around American downtowns means we’re going to miss a lot. Take, for example, the San Francisco Bay Area. West Oakland (median home value: $647,400) is expensive and eight miles from San Francisco ($1.35 million). It’s gentrifying: It was home to 15,864 black residents in 2000, and the ensuing decade saw this figure decline by one-fifth. Sausalito ($1.33 million) is seven miles from downtown. While it’s as expensive as ever, Sausalito is not gentrifying.

West Oakland and Sausalito demonstrate twin, overlapping crises facing high-priced American cities: gentrification, which mutates particular neighborhoods, and a housing shortage that squeezes entire regions. Both crises raise prices, strain families, and reallocate wealth to the already privileged. But the problems are distinct. Solving both crises at once requires us to get the details right.

Gentrification is the territorial expansion of a wealthy community into a disinvested neighborhood, the installation of the social and legal regimes of the newcomers, and the deployment of new physical capital, both on a small scale—by homeowners undertaking renovations—and on a larger scale, by landed capitalists and public-sector officials keen to raise revenue. It is the disruption and displacement of the original residents and their spatially realized social networks.

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