Seattle has been called one of the most gentrified cities in the U.S., and you can see the telltale signs in many of our urban neighborhoods.
Espresso drinks are a dead giveaway, according to one research report that singled out cafes as the most reliable indicator that a neighborhood is undergoing gentrification. But there are many others, from upscale supermarkets to microbreweries. Another sure sign is a proliferation of amenity-laden, luxury apartment buildings, often replacing older and less expensive ones.
The pernicious aspect of gentrification, though, is what you can’t see by walking around a neighborhood: displacement. Original residents, typically lower-income renters, getting pushed out as their rent goes up, or their building is sold for redevelopment.
New survey data shows that for one in four Seattle-areahouseholds that have movedin the past five years, moving wasn’t a choice. They were forced out of their homes by factors such as rising rents, financial instability and redevelopment.
The data comes from the new 2019 Household Travel Survey, conducted by the Puget Sound Regional Council. More than 3,000 people in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties, representing a cross section of the region’s demographics and income levels, participated. The primary focus of the survey is transportation, and it is intended to help local communities in making planning decisions. But the scope of the survey goes beyond transportation.
“There’s no good data available to help us understand who is being displaced and from where, even though it’s a widely discussed problem,” said Brian Lee, principal planner at the PSRC. “We added this question to find out why people move and how big this problem is in our region.”
The survey shows that people who have been displaced live all across our four-county area. “The interesting thing this shows is it’s not just a Seattle problem or a King County problem,” Lee said. “It’s a problem across the region.”
As people are priced out of their apartments in Seattle, they may move to a more affordable part of the city, or somewhere outside the city. Then rents start to rise in those places, and suddenly they too have a problem with displacement — we’ve seen this in cities like Burien and Bremerton.
The survey shows that about 14% of people who moved within the past five years did so because of an increase in rent or housing costs. Another 7% left because of change in their financial status made their previous home unaffordable. And about 5% were simply forced out — either their building was to be demolished or renovated, or they were asked to leave by the landlord, or something else.
That represents around one-quarter of all movers — about 163,000 households — who moved for reasons outside their control.
A smaller number, about 2%, said they decided to move because of changes to the neighborhood — their family and friends were all leaving. This often happens in gentrifying neighborhoods. Some original residents, even though they can still afford to stay in the neighborhood, may not want to anymore because they feel a loss of community.
Among those folks who left their previous home because of an increase in rent, the data shows a striking difference along racial lines. White and Asian people — the two highest-income groups — were far less likely to be forced out by rent hikes than people who are Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander or multiracial.
The top reason for moving among people in our area is the desire for more space, selected by about 37% of respondents.
But for this reason, too, there was a gap along racial lines. Close to half (46%) of white people said that gaining more space was a factor in their last move, compared to just around 30% for people of color.
White people were also more likely to move for reasons such as to buy a home (and stop renting), for better schools, and to live in an area with less crime.
Correction: An earlier version of this column mischaracterized the number of people who have been displaced. It is 163,000 households.