For many California politicians, transit-oriented development is the ultimate cure-all, supposedly saving the environment and improving the state’s affordable-housing emergency at one fell swoop. It’s a dubious stance that conveniently makes millions for developers, who return the favor by shelling out big-time campaign cash. But what those politicians and developers never mention is the disturbing connection between transit-oriented development and gentrification.
In August 2016, UCLA professors Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris and Paul Ong released a study that examined how transit-oriented development, a housing complex built near a bus or rail stop, changes neighborhoods in L.A. County. What they uncovered was alarming: transit areas were gentrifying more than non-transit areas.
Among the study’s key findings, the researchers wrote that communities “around transit stations are changing and many of the changes are in the direction of neighborhood upscaling and gentrification.”
They also noted that compared to non-transit areas, neighborhoods near light-rail or subway projects are “more associated with increases in white, college-educated, higher-income households and greater increases in the cost of rents. Conversely, neighborhoods near rail development are associated with greater losses in disadvantaged populations, including individuals with less than a high school diploma and lower-income households.”
Ong further added: “Higher rents make it difficult for low-income households to move into the neighborhood, so we see a net decline in their numbers. They are replaced by those who can afford the higher housing cost — people referred to as ‘gentrifiers.’”
So not only are lower-income families and working people pushed out of their neighborhood, a gentrified area becomes a kind of gated community for the affluent.
In L.A., according to a 2015 City Hall report, a household needs an annual income of $104,360 to afford new market-rate, or luxury, housing. But most people aren’t making that much. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, L.A.’s median household income is $51,538.
Putting maximum profits over people, developers show little desire to build for lower- and middle-income people. According to Zillow, most new apartment construction in L.A. and other major markets involves high-end units.
Ong said he hoped the UCLA study would inform the decisions of local and state lawmakers, but politicians from Sacramento to Los Angeles keep pushing for more luxury, transit-oriented development — with little, if any, protections for working people. That’s squarely the case with California State Senator Scott Wiener, who’s pushing a developer-friendly bill known as SB 827 that’s detested by housing justice and tenants rights activists.
Many Californians, as a result, continue to struggle through worsening gentrification and affordable-housing crises in cities across the state.
Photo by Nik Cubrilovic/Creative Commons