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Anti-displacement protest, San Francisco, Feb 2016

Residential displacement occurs when a household is forced to move from its residence or is prevented from moving into a neighborhood that was previously accessible to them due to conditions which:

  1. are beyond the household’s reasonable ability to control or prevent (e.g., rent increases);
  2. occur despite the household’s having met all previously-imposed conditions of occupancy; and
  3. make continued occupancy by that household impossible, hazardous or unaffordable.

Displacement manifests itself in many forms, from physical (i.e., evictions or service disruption) to economic (i.e., rent increases). Displacement can result from gentrification when neighborhoods become out of reach for people or can occur at earlier stages through disinvestment, increasing vacancies and facilitating demographic turnover.

- from UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project, adapted from Grier and Grier (1978) and Marcuse (1986).


Definitions[edit source]

Grier and Grier (1978)[edit source]

discussion and references from Zuk et al [2015]:
"In an effort to provide a definition of displacement that encompasses various drivers analyzed, Grier and Grier [1978] proposed the following definition, which has been adopted by numerous researchers and agencies in subsequent decades:

“Displacement occurs when any household is forced to move from its residence by conditions which affect the dwelling or immediate surroundings, and which:
1) are beyond the household’s reasonable ability to control or prevent;
2) occur despite the household’s having met all previously-imposed conditions of occupancy; and
3) make continued occupancy by that household impossible, hazardous or unaffordable.”  (Grier and Grier, 1978, p. 8)

Although they use the term “forced” in their definition of displacement, Grier and Grier do not equate “forced” with involuntary. In fact, they describe the fact that many who are displaced are subject to a variety of actions or inactions that can be frank or subtle, therefore concluding:

“For most residents to move under such conditions is about as ‘voluntary’ as is
swerving one’s car to avoid an accident. By the time the landlord issues notices of
eviction, or the code inspector posts the structure as uninhabitable, few occupants
may be left. Therefore we cannot define displacement simply in terms of legal or
administrative actions – or even draw a clear-cut line between ‘voluntary’ and
‘involuntary’ movement.” (p.3)

Newman and Owen (1982) extend the false distinction between voluntary and involuntary
moves to moves driven by economic reasons when stating that “low-income households
who experience extremely large rent increases may technically ‘choose’ to move, but the
likelihood that they had any real alternative is very small” (p.137).

In an effort to categorize the causes of displacement, Grier and Grier distinguish between

  • disinvestment displacement
  • reinvestment displacement, and
  • displacement caused by enhanced housing market competition,

despite their obvious inter-connections.

Disinvestment-related displacement described the conditions under which the value of a property does not justify investing in its maintenance, thereby resulting in decay and abandonment. Reinvestment related displacement refers to the case where investments in a neighborhood results in increased rent to a point where it’s profitable to sell or raise the rent and tenants are forced to leave. The authors are careful to note that “unrelated as they seem, these two conditions of displacement may be successive stages in the cycle of neighborhood change” (p.3).

Finally, enhanced housing market competition referred to broad shifts in the national and regional housing market, which they argue have an even larger impact than disinvestment or reinvestment forces, although again acknowledging the relationship between the three. As an example they discuss the needs of the then young baby boom generation that were not being met by housing production of mostly single family suburban homes, thus resulting in pressures on the pre-existing urban housing stock.

Exclusionary displacement (Marcuse, 1985)[edit source]

The distinctions in these three types of displacement pressures resurfaced 8 years later when Peter Marcuse analyzed displacement in New York City (Marcuse 1986).  [I think Marcuse [1985], see References, is meant. -ed].  Marcuse argued that when looking at the relationship between gentrification and displacement one must first consider the disinvestment of urban neighborhoods and subsequent displacement, which makes land ripe for investment with gentrification of “vacant” land.

From this perspective gentrification can happen long after abandonment-induced displacement. Therefore, he argues, most gentrification induced displacement studies significantly underestimated the magnitude of the problem and therefore “chains” of displacement must be considered. He further distinguishes between displacement caused
by physical reasons (e.g., water is turned off, evictions, rehab, etc.) and economic causes (e.g., rising rent). In addition, Marcuse introduces the concept of exclusionary displacement, modifying Grier and Grier’s definition of displacement to define exclusionary displacement as:

“Exclusionary displacement from gentrification occurs when any household is not permitted to move into a dwelling, by a change in conditions, which affect that dwelling or its immediate surroundings, which:
a) is beyond the household’s reasonable ability to control or prevent;
b) occur despite the household’s being able to meet all previously-imposed conditions of occupancy;
c) differs significantly and in a spatially concentrated fashion from changes in the housing
market as a whole; and
d) makes occupancy by that household impossible, hazardous or unaffordable.” (p. 156)

Marcuse’s four categories of displacement[edit source]

  1. direct/physical
  2. direct/economic
  3. chains of displacement
  4. exclusionary

provide the most comprehensive definition available, but he warns that to sum across the categories would lead to an over-estimate of displacement as there is considerable overlap between them; yet to exclude any source could produce an underestimate." 


"Displacement by renovation"[edit source]

from: "Vetting a proposition": note on Facebook from Michael Andersen in PDX YIMBY (Yes, In My BackYard) public group, 24 May 2017. https://www.facebook.com/groups/236403716698010/permalink/455898888081824/. 

"Portlanders who are, like most of us here, focused on preventing displacement should be much more worried about renovation than about construction. "Site-specific displacement from construction of new homes is real. But site-specific displacement from renovation is just as real, likely more common (?) ... and unlike new construction it doesn't simultaneously increase the speed at which every other home in the metro area is able to get cheaper. "Renovations are the direct cause of a large share of no-cause evictions. When a renovation raises the price of a home, as it typically does (that's usually the landowner's motivation, after all) the main effect on the population is to replace one or more poorer households with a richer household. "Renovation is sometimes necessary; it's usually more efficient to repair a structure a few times than to rebuild on a site from scratch every 40 years. And of course I'm in favor of keeping all homes to a basic standard of health and comfort. But in general, when renovations are common, it's sign of our failure as a city. Every renovated old home inhabited by a well-off household represents a new home that could have been built but wasn't.



References[edit source]

See also[edit source]