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What’s Driving Displacement? We Have Some Answers

Movement and migration exist at the roots of American culture. Finding a new place to live can mean increased choices, opportunities, and upward mobility. It’s a very different story when someone is forced from their home. Residents in historically Black and Brown neighborhoods too often face a Hobson’s choice when prices rise in their communities: stay, though it’s unaffordable, or leave, despite the lack of housing. The results are that communities dismantle, cultures dissolve, demographics change, and people suffer. Displacement is an epidemic in America. While a common part of the modern vernacular, the drivers are blurry and poorly understood.

Nonetheless, the causes and their potential remedies are at the forefront of many conversations Greenlink has with cities and organizations. The most well-known factors are household income and non-white communities. But there’s much more happening below the surface. People’s everyday lives - small stressors exacerbated through historical prejudices – have large implications on neighborhoods and why they change cultures and separate communities. These deserve to be better understood.

Greenlink recently analyzed many social determinants that may increase the threat of neighborhood turnover and displacement. These include redlining, high housing costs, energy burden, household incomes, energy use, and mental health. We focused on Atlanta, San Francisco, and Chicago based on their diverse demographics, weather conditions, and impact of historical policies.

Data was gathered at the census tract level from numerous sources and required a different level of preparation for each city to better understand the impact and trends in a local context. We used advanced machine learning to evaluate these trends and predict the key drivers of displacement, along with their significance within the city and their ranking. These key drivers were further studied with an in-depth correlational analysis to explore their relationship with health issues within their respective cities.

What we discovered may surprise you. Energy burden is prevalent across all three cities. Yup, the relative cost of electricity and gas bills directly affects whether a person can remain in their home, neighborhood, and community, or are forced to move. And, unfortunately, mental health frequently declines as energy burdens increase, according to the data. San Francisco and Atlanta specifically showed migration patterns, or people moving into the city from outside, as connected to displacement. In Chicago, its housing costs and number of single family homes, education levels, and redlining were dominant.

And each city in the U.S. has a different set of factors influencing displacement, making it critical to study the local context and not rely on a one-size-fits-all solution, or simply borrow policies from other jurisdictions. It's vital to understand and address these factors to prevent people being forced out of their communities. Each community should be addressed individually and based on their needs and assets.

For example, if the City of Atlanta channeled some of its funds into areas with highest energy burdens, as shown by our mapping tool, energy efficiency and burden would improve, which would also reduce some of the pressures on housing affordability.

But to really understand these relationships, we must go beyond data and computer models and bring the policy makers and people experiencing the pressures of displacement in real time to develop a path forward together. In this way, the data becomes a tool for further understanding and hopefully long-rooted communities.

Citation: Mantripragada, M., Sharanya Madhavan, Samantha McDonald, Diamond Spratling, Kavin Manickaraj, and Matt Cox. “Driving Displacement: Energy, Social, and Environmental Determinants’ Roles in Urban Gentrification.” 2022 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings.


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