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Gentrification in America Report

Read our report on how gentrification has reshaped a growing number of urban neighborhoods.

Dramatic changes are playing out across parts of urban America, making many neighborhoods hardly recognizable from a relatively short time ago. A new class of more affluent residents is moving into once underinvested and predominately-poor communities. Development has followed, typically accompanied by sharp increases in housing prices that may displace a neighborhood’s longtime residents. It’s a scenario known as gentrification, and one that presents a growing dilemma for policymakers who seek revitalization without some of its negative consequences.

To assess the extent to which gentrification has reshaped urban communities, Governing analyzed Census tract data for the nation’s 50 largest cities. Main findings from the neighborhoods examined include:

Gentrification greatly accelerated in several cities. Nearly 20 percent of neighborhoods with lower incomes and home values have experienced gentrification since 2000, compared to only 9 percent during the 1990s.

Gentrification sill remains rare nationally, with only 8 percent of all neighborhoods reviewed experiencing gentrification since the 2000 Census.

Compared to lower-income areas that failed to gentrify, gentrifying Census tracts recorded increases in the non-Hispanic white population and declines in the poverty rate. 

Researchers define gentrification differently. For this report, an initial test determined that a tract was eligible to gentrify if its median household income and median home value were both in the bottom 40th percentile of all tracts within a metro area at the beginning of the decade. To assess gentrification, growth rates were computed for eligible tracts’ inflation-adjusted median home values and percentage of adults with bachelors’ degrees. Gentrified tracts recorded increases in the top third percentile for both measures when compared to all others in a metro area.  (Read complete methodology)

Where Gentrification is Occurring

A select group of cities experienced extensive gentrification in recent years. Perhaps nowhere were changes more visible than in Portland, where 58 percent of eligible tracts gentrified – more than any other city reviewed. Comparing 2000 data to the most recent Census estimates suggests at least half of lower-income neighborhoods also gentrified in Minneapolis, Seattle and Washington, D.C. In terms of raw totals, the highest number of tracts (128) gentrified in New York.

The following table shows cities’ gentrification rates and tract counts for the period since the 2000 Census:

CityShare of Eligible Tracts GentrifyingGentrified TractsDid Not GentrifyNot Eligible to GentrifyTotal Tracts
Portland, OR58.1%362680142
Washington, DC51.9%545075179
Minneapolis, MN50.6%393839116
Seattle, WA50%77118132
Atlanta, GA46.2%303562127
Virginia Beach, VA46.2%678699
Denver, CO42.1%243387144
Austin, TX39.7%2538119182
Sacramento, CA30%153554104
New York, NY29.8%12830117232152
Oakland, CA29.3%245831113
Philadelphia, PA28.7%8420990383
Albuquerque, NM28.1%92395127
San Diego, CA27.5%2258202282
Baltimore, MD23.2%3912932200
Long Beach, CA22.4%113862111
Fort Worth, TX21.5%176271150
Omaha, NE21.4%124475131
Nashville, TN21.1%124596153
Boston, MA21.1%1245122179
San Francisco, CA18.8%313180196
Houston, TX18.4%35155271461
Colorado Springs, CO17.6%6286195
Chicago, IL16.8%54268473795
Jacksonville, FL16.2%115795163
Charlotte, NC15.8%948137194
Los Angeles, CA15.1%51287661999
Phoenix, AZ14.2%20121214355
Oklahoma City, OK13.2%959128196
Raleigh, NC13%3205982
Kansas City, MO12.8%106870148
Miami, FL12.8%5345897
Indianapolis, IN12.2%1286109207
Columbus, OH12.2%1179117207
Milwaukee, WI12.1%1611677209
Mesa, AZ12.1%42977110
San Antonio, TX11.7%14106165285
Fresno, CA11.4%53969113
Wichita, KS11.4%53957101
Louisville, KY10.6%75997163
Dallas, TX10.2%13114167294
San Jose, CA10%763125195
Memphis, TN8.8%77391171
Tucson, AZ8.3%44474122
Tulsa, OK7%34080123
Cleveland, OH6.7%1013928177
Detroit, MI2.8%724346296
Las Vegas, NV2%148100149
El Paso, TX0%027104131
Arlington, TX0%0195271

Source: Governing analysis of 2009-2013 American Community Survey, US2010 Longitudinal Tract Data Base
While it has become much more prevalent, gentrification remains a phenomenon largely confined to select regions, not yet making its way into most urban areas. In the majority of cities reviewed, less than a one-fifth of poorer, lower priced neighborhoods experienced gentrification. If all city neighborhoods are considered -- including wealthier areas not eligible to gentrify -- less than one of every ten tracts gentrified. Cities like Detroit, El Paso and Las Vegas experienced practically no gentrification at all. 

How Gentrification Accelerated

The initial seeds of gentrification date back several decades in some communities. In fact, a British sociologist first coined the term “gentrification” in 1963.

Gentrification particularly accelerated, though, in recent years as growing numbers of Americans opted for urban lifestyles. The gentrification rate, or share of eligible lower-income tracts experiencing gentrification, was 20 percent for the period following the 2000 Census, more than double the rate of the 1990s. Rates increased in 39 of the 50 cities reviewed.

Some cities experienced rapid gentrification after decades of little or no economic growth. In the District of Columbia, for example, 54 neighborhoods were found to have gentrified since 2000. Back in the 1990s, just five neighborhoods had gentrified in a decade when the city was dubbed the nation’s “murder capital.” 
Other neighborhoods began their transition decades ago. In San Francisco, for instance, few tracts were eligible to gentrify in 2000 as much of the city’s housing stock had already increased in price by then.  

It’s important to note that Census Bureau estimates provide only snapshots of different times. So, depending on when a neighborhood gentrified, it may or may not be reflected in data over a 10-year period.

Characteristics of Gentrifying Neighborhoods

Distinct differences emerge between neighborhoods that gentrified and those that haven’t. Neighborhoods gentrifying since recorded population increases and became whiter, with the share of non-Hispanic white residents increasing an average of 4.3 percentage points. Meanwhile, lower-income neighborhoods that failed to gentrify experienced slight population losses and saw the concentration of minorities increase. They have also experienced different economic fates: Poverty rates climbed nearly 7 percent in already lower-income tracts that didn’t gentrify, while poverty rates dropped slightly in gentrifying neighborhoods.

Neighborhood TypeTract CountTotal Population ChangeWhite Non-Hispanic Share of Pop. Percentage-Point ChangePoverty Rate Percentage-Point Change
Gentrifying Tracts9486.5%+4.3-0.7
Gentrification-Eligible Tracts Not Gentrifying3,802-2.4%-5.0+6.7
All Tracts (includes ineligible tracts)11,829+9.7%-4.5+3.6
NOTE: Figures represent average changes for each group. Results shown for all tracts in the 50 largest cities with at least 500 residents.


Gentrification Maps and Data for Other Cities

AlbuquerqueColumbusKansas CityNashvilleSan Antonio
ArlingtonDallasLas VegasNew YorkSan Diego
AtlantaDenverLong BeachOaklandSan Francisco
AustinDetroitLos AngelesOklahoma CitySan Jose
BaltimoreEl PasoLouisvilleOmahaSeattle
BostonFort WorthMemphisPhiladelphiaTucson
ChicagoHoustonMiamiPortlandVirginia Beach
ClevelandIndianapolisMilwaukeeRaleighWashington, DC
Colorado SpringsJacksonvilleMinneapolisSacramentoWichita

Profiles of Select Cities

Minneapolis: After experiencing little change during the 1990s, 39 Minneapolis neighborhoods gentrified over the past decade. 

Key drivers of the city’s transformation are fairly typical of other gentrifying cities. Kjersti Monson, the city’s director of long-range planning, citied the role of infrastructure investments, particularly light rail, a parks system and two new stadiums downtown. The timing of these investments, she said, coupled with recent national trends in valuing urbanity, set the table for the city’s demographic shift. 

“There has been a huge renaissance downtown,” Monson said, “and it has brought a lot of wealth, empty nesters and investors.” Young professionals seeking urban amenities also are attracted to the area’s affordability.

Portland: Northeast Portland is home to some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. Once characterized by an abundance of affordable housing and several predominantly African-American neighborhoods, it is today one of the hottest parts of one of the hottest cities for young professionals. 

Other parts of the city experienced similar revitalization. In all, 58 percent of Portland’s lower-priced neighborhoods gentrified since 2000, the highest rate of any city reviewed. An initial wave started back the early 1990s, and young processionals continue to flock to the city today. “Portland, in some ways, was at the forefront of the return to urban living,” said Linda Bates, director of the Center for Urban Studies at Portland State University.

The city now faces significant pressures in maintaining housing affordability and neighborhood diversity. Bates said many former residents of Northeast Portland were displaced over the years, eventually moving to outlying communities on the city’s east side. “There is a lot of conversation here looking at other cities and saying that we don’t just want to be a playground for wealthy people,” she said.

Map Key

Tract gentrified
Tract did not gentrify
Tract not eligible to gentrify
NOTE: Data shown correspond to current tract boundaries, which may have changed from prior Census years. Figures are calculations from 2009-2013 American Community Survey estimates.


Washington, D.C., is home to some of the county’s fastest-gentrifying communities. Neighborhoods gentrifying in recent years include Columbia Heights, NoMa, Navy Yard, Petworth, Shaw and Southwest. For, see our story in the February issue of Governing.
Mike Maciag is Data Editor for GOVERNING.
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