# 10.16: Displacement

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City officials and their allies in the real estate industry often overlook the downsides to gentrification, and in doing so trample on the rights of the least politically powerful citizens. If done poorly, gentrification forcibly removes poor people from their homes and neighborhoods. Often the displaced are without means of securing viable, alternative housing. Generally, people living in gentrifying neighborhoods are forced out of their homes by increases in rent. This is especially true in places without rent control ordinances. Businesses with year-to-year leases on commercial spaces are also sometimes forced out if they cannot pay higher rents, or if the customer base in the neighborhood changes radically.

All too often, gentrification is cast solely in terms of race. Unobservant critics cast gentrification as simply a bunch of white people kicking brown people out of their neighborhood. Certainly, that happens, but it is rarely that simple. Gentrification can beget violence. Many suggest that the well-known Tompkin’s Square Park Riot in New York City was a product of tensions between gentrifiers and poorer, longtime residents of the area (some of whom were drug addicts, homeless, vagrants, etc.) who lived nearby or used the park frequently. During the riot, Police brutalized dozens of people, but the violence forced many to reexamine both the means and the ends of gentrification. There is some evidence emerging from new studies that gentrification done well does not result in a statistically significant increase in the displacement of local residents, and may actually improve the economic standing of those long-term residents who manage to stay in gentrifying areas.

Figures : Boyle Heights, California. The EastSide of Los Angeles is perhaps America’s most famous Mexican-American neighborhood. It is "threatened" by gentrification. Mom and Pop stores like the Santa Ceclia’s (upper right) may give way to newer places catering to wealthier customers, who may not be long-time residents. There is resistance to gentrification in Boyle Heights, but it seems mostly directed toward non-local Anglo-American gentrifiers and less so toward than Latinx gentrifiers.

## New Urbanism

Since the 1980s, many cities and private land development corporations have sought to reinvigorate urban cores and some deteriorating suburban areas through the construction of highly engineered urban spaces that feature a robust combination of business and residential amenities. Generally falling under the rubric of New Urbanism, such neighborhoods often mimic the dense intermix of spaces for work, play, and residency that characterized cities before the age of the automobile. Mall developers now frequently build retail districts, with housing, parks and night-life districts around and within what would have been a generation ago strictly retail space. Many new urbanist neighborhoods are anchored by a subway or other public transportation node, earning these locations the title, Transit-Oriented Development. In Los Angeles, the North Hollywood Arts District is an excellent example of how access to efficient mass transit, like the Red Line subway terminus, can spur the growth of upscale housing, businesses, and nightlife.

Figure : San Diego, CA. This redevelopment project in San Diego's Little Italy District is an excellent example of how efficient public transit (rail) can help stimulate New Urbanism development.

## Homelessness aka Unhoused Populations

Homelessness is another major concern for citizens of large cities. More than one half million people are believed to live on the streets or in shelters. In recent years, about one-third of the entire homeless population are families. One-fourth of homeless people were children. In 2019, in Los Angeles County, there were nearly 60,000 homeless people, most living on the street. This figure has climbed by around 20,000 in recent years as rents have skyrocketed. Another 20,000 persons are listed as near homeless or precariously housed, living with friends or acquaintances in short-term arrangements.

Figure : Santa Monica, CA. The possessions of a homeless woman accumulate on this curbside location in Santa Monica, a city known for its large population of homeless and its exceptional tolerance of the downtrodden.

There are multiple reasons why people become homeless. The Los Angeles Homeless Authority estimates that about one-third of the homeless have substance abuse problems, and another third are mentally ill. About a quarter have a physical disability. A disturbing number are veterans of the armed forces or victims of domestic abuse. Economic conditions locally and nationally also have a significant impact on the overall number of homeless, not only because during recessions people lose their jobs and homes, but because the stresses of poverty can worsen mental illness. A vibrant economy can also spur on homelessness when the price of renting a home or apartment rises beyond people’s ability to pay. This has been the case in California and New York for some time.

Figure : Map of Los Angeles California by number of homeless people and number of sheltered homeless persons. Interactive map.

The government plays a significant role in the pattern and intensity of homelessness. Ronald Reagan is the politician most associated with the homeless crisis. When Reagan became governor of California the late 1960s, the deinstitutionalization of mental patients was already a state policy. Under his administration, state-run facilities for the care of mentally ill persons were closed and replaced by private board-and care homes. The policy was advanced to protect the rights of the mentally ill who were often detained against their will in government-run facilities that did not match the quality and cost-efficiency of privately run boarding homes. Many private facilities, however, are badly run, profit-driven, located in poor neighborhoods and lack well-trained staff. Under new laws, patients could and did, leave these facilities in large numbers, frequently becoming homeless or incarcerated. Other states followed California’s example. By the late 1970s, the federal government passed some legislation to address the growing crisis, but sweeping changes in governmental policy at the federal level during the Regan presidency shelved efforts started by the Carter administration. Drastic cuts to social programs during the 1980s dramatically expanded the number of homeless people who were mentally ill. Funding has never been restored, though the Obama administration did aggressively pursue policies aimed at housing homeless veterans. Almost all of the homeless veterans in the US were housed in numerous communities across the country during the last years of the Obama administration thanks to ample funding of rent vouchers. About 3,000 homeless vets were housed in Los Angeles from 2010-2016, but a booming economy has pushed rent prices beyond what the government was willing to pay, and the rate of homelessness among veterans began to rise. Solutions -Shelters and Housing

Solutions to the crisis of homelessness have been difficult to identify, and even more difficult to fund. Addiction, mental illness, and poverty are clearly the driving forces behind homelessness, and societies have rarely been able, or willing, to adequately deal with those root problems.

Temporary shelters are a common tactic used by officials to address homelessness, but it is only a short-term solution. Shelters are just that – shelters. They generally don’t have the capacity or funding to address the causes of homelessness, so they rarely help people get into permanent housings. The other problem with shelters is that, although homeless people come from many neighborhoods, homeless shelters are typically very concentrated in only a few neighborhoods. Many cities have a region known as Skid Row, a neighborhood unofficially reserved for the destitute. The expression originated as a reference to Seattle’s lumber yard areas where workers used skids (wooden planks) to help them move logs to mills. Today, many of the shelters and services for the homeless are found in and around a city’s Skid Row.

Los Angeles’s Skid Row is one of the most famous such areas in the United States. It began simply as a place near the railroad station with a concentration of inexpensive hotels in the late 1800s, but over it, time attracted a variety of other businesses that catered to the down and-out; and to a few of the pastimes that cause or exacerbate homelessness: drugs, prostitution, and alcohol. Over the years, city officials in LA have attempted to “clean up” Skid Row, without much success. Protecting the homeless, and ultimately the public, from outbreaks of disease, such as typhus, is occasionally necessary. However, arresting people for living in abject poverty on public spaces remain illegal, but more importantly – those actions do not address the root causes of homelessness and tend to just make things worse.

## Housing First

Most experts agree that some form of transitional housing is best for those who are made homeless by simple economic misfortune, and some form of supportive housing, the kind bundled with social services is perhaps a workable long-term strategy for the addicted and mentally ill homeless. The idea behind transitional housing is to provide some structure to people as they try to get their lives back together. That might include addiction recovery, medical recovery or just economic recovery. Many earlier efforts to provide housing for the homeless often required homeless people to be “clean” – off drugs/alcohol, or undergoing treatment for mental illness before receiving help getting housing. In recent years, homeless advocates have found addicts and mentally ill people are far more likely to seek treatment if they are housed first. These findings have been put into action in many cities in the US. In 2016, voters in Los Angeles overwhelmingly approved a bond measure to raise $1.2 billion for up to 10,000 supportive housing units, but by 2020 only a few units have been built. The hold-up seems to be the amount of bureaucratic red-tape associated with getting permits to build transitional housing, the constant threat of NIMBY backlash and the ever-rising cost of building housing. Recent audits of the bond funds for housing found that it will cost over one-half million dollars on average to build one unit of housing, although the City of Los Angeles remains committed to subsidizing the cost by$140,000. This is more than the price of many new condominiums being built and sold in Los Angeles! While it appears that the ever-increasing price of land in Los Angeles is partly responsible for the incredible cost of transitional housing for the homeless, there also appears to be some measure of corruption fueling significant cost overruns.

## LANDSCAPES OF Unhoused Populations

Geographers with a developed awareness of landscapes may be able to read the landscape of homelessness, even when homeless people themselves are not present. Some elements are obvious and others not. As you make your way through cities, see if you can spot landscapes designed to address or undermine the needs/wants of a group of people.

“Bum Proof” benches

Tarps and Cardboard Shelters

A long list of “don’ts” provided at public buildings

Abundant security cameras

Cardboard pieces littering sheltered locations, especially after a rain. The odor of urine can be powerful.

“No Trespassing” signs in public spaces

#### Table 1: The Landscape of Homelessness: Photos of Bunker Hill, a district in Downtown Los Angeles, where homelessness is largely invisible during the day, but many landscape features provide clues to the vigilance of officials to keep homeless people out of sight. Photos: Heather McDaniel, Jason Larson, Mark Barker.

10.16: Displacement is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.