Abstract: Promoting Equity and Inclusion in Rapidly Gentrifying Cities: Implications of Mixed-Income Redevelopment Initiatives through the Lens of Racial Capitalism (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

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Promoting Equity and Inclusion in Rapidly Gentrifying Cities: Implications of Mixed-Income Redevelopment Initiatives through the Lens of Racial Capitalism

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Encanto A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Amy Khare, Research Director, National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities, Case Western Reserve University, Chicago, IL
Mark Joseph, PhD, Leona Bevis/Marguerite Haynam Professor in Community Development, Case Western Reserve University
Joni Hirsch, Research Affiliate, Case Western Reserve University
Background and Purpose: Amidst rapidly increasing housing costs, growing tastes for urban living, and shifting city demographics, the question of who belongs and can afford to live in many U.S. cities elicits increasing controversy. As gentrification pressures and government policies push many low-income residents out of urban centers, the nation’s public housing stock continues to deteriorate, leaving residents who are low-income increasingly isolated from the surrounding economic, social, and cultural vibrancy. The growing divide between affluent newcomers and the urban poor complicates decisions around how to redevelop aging public housing as well as how to ensure its tenants benefit from local economic growth. In the mid-2000s, the mayors of Washington, D.C. and San Francisco launched major multi-site public housing redevelopment initiatives. In both cities, dysfunction and a dwindling resource base at the public housing authority left a void into which enterprising city agencies stepped. Unlike previous public housing redevelopment efforts across the nation, both the New Communities Initiative in Washington D.C. and HOPE SF in San Francisco articulated and operationalized a commitment to a more equitable mode of redevelopment that explicitly prioritized existing public housing residents as the beneficiaries of the mixed-income transformations.

This paper uses an analytical framework centered on racial capitalism to help examine the tensions and tradeoffs of transforming public housing in the context of hypergentrification in these two city-led, multi-site initiatives. The most relevant analytical frames include entrepreneurial governance, devolution, privatization, dispossession, and contestation.

Methods: Taking a mixed-method approach, the paper draws from analysis of administrative documents, informal conversations with professionals, and over five years of ethnographic observations in both cities.

Results: While we found numerous examples of policy and practice in both cities that were deployed to help achieve better social outcomes for the original residents of the public housing communities being redeveloped, ultimately in both cities it has been extremely difficult to advance a fundamentally different path to opportunity for low-income residents of color. There is no question that but for the principles, policies, and strategies put in place by the urban entrepreneurs tapped to lead both efforts, the outcomes would have been far less favorable for the original residents of the developments, especially in San Francisco, given the high rates of Black people being displaced from the city. We find enough evidence of serious intent toward principle-driven development by city leaders and initiative practitioners to warrant continued persistence in determining ways to leverage mixed-income development processes for more equitable social outcomes.

Conclusions & Implications: Using an analytical lens that elevates a focus on racial capitalism can be useful for identifying the crucial decision points where greater equity and inclusion could be fostered. Implications include: (a) Elevate and sustain a focus on positive outcomes for original residents; (b) Hire and position initiative leadership to advance social as well as market goals; (c) Position HUD for ongoing responsiveness and accountability; (d) Leverage privatization for social innovation; (e) Proactively incorporate power-sharing and consensus-building; and (f) Adopt an antiracist frame on redevelopment decisions and operations.