Abstract: WITHDRAWN: Right to Return: Can Preference Policies Advance Racial Justice in Gentrifying Neighborhoods? (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

WITHDRAWN: Right to Return: Can Preference Policies Advance Racial Justice in Gentrifying Neighborhoods?

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 9, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Amie Thurber, PhD, Assistant Professor, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Susan Halverson, MS, Doctoral Student, Portland State University, Portland, OR
Background and purpose: Gentrification fuels the displacement of low-income residents, disproportionately harming BIPOC communities. In response, some cities are experimenting with ‘right-to-return’ policies that link displaced residents with housing in their former neighborhood (Iglesias, 2018). If effective, such policies create affordability in gentrifying areas, increase access to opportunity-rich neighborhoods, and interrupt economic and racial segregation. However, given the limited use of these policies to date, there is little evidence regarding if and how right-to-return policies achieve these aspired goals. This study considers how one of the first community preference policies, implemented in a gentrifying neighborhood in Portland, OR, has advanced racial justice and affected community well-being (Wiseman & Brasher, 2008).

The N/NE Preference Policy funds the construction of affordable rental housing in a historically Black area that lost two-thirds of its Black population to urban renewal and subsequent gentrification. The Portland Housing Bureau had funded the construction of seven apartment buildings, with priority rental to applicants with generational ties to the neighborhood. The primary objective of this study is to explore the effects of the Preference Policy on residents’ well-being. We hypothesize that residents may experience benefits to well-being as a result of moving into affordable housing in an area where they have existing social, spatial, and civic ties. At the same time, given the rapid gentrification of the area, we anticipate residents may also experience threats to wellbeing, particularly related to economic precarity and racism.

Methods: This paper presents findings from the first phase in a longitudinal study. Using a convergent, mixed-method approach, the research team sequentially collected survey (N:98), interview (N:29), and focus group data in each of the first three Preference Policy buildings to open, engaging 69% of all residents. As a qualitatively-driven inquiry, our focus is understanding residents’ perspectives on how the policy has impacted their lives.

Results: We find that residents were dually motivated to apply for the Preference Policy by their need for affordable housing and their desire to live in the neighborhood. Overwhelmingly, residents reported improvements to well-being since moving into their homes: they report higher rates of civic and cultural involvement, improved convenience in accessing school and work, and a high level of satisfaction with their quality of life. However, analysis also reveals threats to well-being. Many residents need affordable amenities (such as grocery stores), and nearly one-third of residents surveyed had been discriminated against in the neighborhood.

Conclusions: Studying the effects of Portland, Oregon’s Preference Policy, we find that the policy benefits residents’ well-being in many ways, and that residents themselves may contribute to the well-being of their communities through above-average rates of place attachment and civic engagement. However, results underscore that simply residing in a neighborhood with abundant amenities does not produce a universal benefit, nor do right-to-return policies account for persistent racism that shapes residents’ lived experiences. This paper considers the possibilities, complications, and limitations of housing policies that seek to advance racial equity, and the potential of holistic community development to increase well-being in gentrifying neighborhoods.