You probably have heard about gentrification in the news recently. It’s the process of wealthy people moving into an urban neighborhood and raising the property values to the point of displacing lower income residents. Gentrification was first coined by urban geographer Ruth Glass in the 1960s to describe the phenomenon of upper-middle-class British families buying property in East End of London. The term is based on the word “gentry” which means: people of good social position: the class of people next below the nobility in position and birth.
Gentrification usually has a negative connotation because the arrival of the upper, middle class to lower income neighborhoods means that the original residents get displaced. Rent gets more expensive and imposes financial burdens for existing residents. Gentrification can cause racial and class tension between residents and their new neighbors. With the new arrivals buying and building fancy new houses, the neighborhood will start to build more coffee shops, boutiques, and clubs. The entire culture of the neighborhood shifts to cater to the wealthier residents.
Longtime residents of a community develop deep social ties and strong social support networks amongst themselves. These ties get seriously disrupted when new houses and shops start being built on their street, which creates a sense of social loss, leading to terrible stress and psychological effects. Those who are affected by displacement may experience increased stress, depression, and other health problems like weight gain, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Having all these new residents move in also reduces social and economic resources previously available to everyone.
Original residents risk losing their homes because of gentrification. They might feel like they are financially pressured to leave since they might not be able to compete in the residential market. This can result in housing insecurity, poverty, or even homelessness. Low-income women (mothers in particular) who were evicted were more likely to suffer from depression within a year’s time. They were most likely evicted because of their children, as children take up more resources, and can cause problems for landlords like noise complaints or lead poisoning. These women and their children reported that their health worsened. Symptoms of depression were found to persist at least 2 years after eviction.
The process of gentrification is still highly controversial and it directly affects all individuals and families. There will be many people who will argue that gentrification can be a good thing, and researchers are still trying to find ways to balance gentrification where it can benefit everyone. But the stark truth is that gentrification has terrible, adverse effects on a significant portion of the population, not just financially, but mentally, too, in ways that we as a culture have not yet reckoned with.