Abstract: Gentrification and African American Residents' Neighborhood Attachment (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Gentrification and African American Residents' Neighborhood Attachment

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Brittany Davis, MSW, PhD Student and Research Assistant, University of South Carolina, SC
Kirk Foster, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Todd Shaw, PhD, Associate Professor & Department Chair, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Background and Purpose: Research suggests an association exists between Black residents’ neighborhood attachment and racial identity, supportive networks, and engagement in collective action. Additionally, African American neighborhoods provide a context in which Black residents build bonding social capital (e.g., trust), which likely strengthens their neighborhood attachment. Therefore, it is possible that rapid neighborhood change (i.e., gentrification) may disrupt Black residents’ neighborhood attachment, thereby contributing to their marginalization. Evidence suggests that longtime Black residents in gentrifying neighborhoods may experience social and cultural displacement due to shifts in neighborhood demographics, the loss of social ties and networks, distrust in newcomers, and redevelopment not reflecting the historical context of communities. These experiences likely weaken neighborhood attachment among African American residents. This study contributes to the literature by testing the association between gentrification and African Americans’ neighborhood attachment. We also examined factors that may moderate the impact of gentrification on African American residents’ neighborhood attachment. This is an important consideration for informing community development policies and practices that prevent further marginalization of a historically marginalized group.

Methods: Data are from the 2015 Atlanta Neighborhood Study (ANS), a telephone survey of African American adults (n=327). A stratified random sample was drawn from roughly 20,000 landline and cellphone numbers from 15 downtown Atlanta zip codes. Census tract data and American Community Survey (ACS) data between 2000 and 2010 were used to aggregate zip codes into neighborhood type. Changes in racial composition, education level, average income, and property values were used to identify neighborhoods as gentrifying. We measured neighborhood attachment with a single item (on a 10-point scale), controlled for demographic variables (e.g., gender, income, length of residence), and included covariates such as “trust in neighbors.” We used OLS regression to estimate associations.

Findings: Although the mean neighborhood attachment for residents in non-gentrifying neighborhoods was on average 0.236 units higher than residents in gentrifying neighborhoods, this difference was not statistically significant (p=0.23). A significant positive association was found between residents’ trust in their neighbors and their neighborhood attachment (p<0001). There was also a significant positive association between neighborhood attachment and length of residence (p= 0.01).

Implications: The positive association between length of residence and neighborhood attachment supports previous research which suggests that Black residents who have extended histories in their neighborhoods have stronger neighborhood attachments. Although previous studies have identified negative impacts of gentrification on Black residents’ psychosocial well-being, to our knowledge, no study has identified factors that may moderate its impact. Our study findings contribute to this gap by suggesting that regardless of neighborhood change, Black residents may maintain strong neighborhood attachments as they maintain bonding social capital (i.e., trust in their neighbors). This finding is consistent with previous research which suggests that African Americans’ trust networks may serve as a protector factor against systematic marginalization. Thus, neighborhood change efforts should give careful attention to fostering Black residents’ trust networks.