Tight Housing, Immigration are Shifting Pressure Onto Seattle’s Black Neighborhoods, Stanford Sociologist Finds

A competitive housing market combined with the rapid rise of immigration is driving gentrification in Seattle’s low-cost black neighborhoods, according to a new study by Stanford sociologist Jackelyn Hwang.

While gentrification – which Hwang defines as an influx of investment and middle/upper-income residents into previously low-income neighborhoods – is more likely to occur in areas with higher populations of African Americans, areas with higher populations of Asians have not seen that same level of redevelopment in Seattle – a divergence Hwang’s data suggests is attributed to immigration. Her findings have been published in City & Community.

This research follows similar work Hwang has carried out to better understand the relationship between neighborhood change and inequality in U.S. cities. Hwang hopes this research could help policymakers to consider long-term implications of economic redevelopment and investment, especially its effect on housing for disadvantaged residents.

Here, Hwang found that arriving immigrants, who are predominantly Asian in Seattle, have concentrated in neighborhoods with more Asians, which has deterred gentrification in those areas. Combined with tight housing constraints, pressure has shifted to low-cost African American neighborhoods where an influx of investment and of middle- and upper-middle-class residents has led to demographic changes, Hwang said.

“The results suggest that increased immigration to a city with a tight housing market may have unintended consequences on black urban neighborhoods,” said Hwang, an assistant professor of sociology in the Stanford School of Humanities & Sciences. “Because black urban residents may disproportionately face displacement and subsequent disadvantages on the housing market, the findings have implications for the future prospects of housing for blacks.”

Seattle as a case study

The study grew out of an earlier study Hwang conducted on gentrification in Chicago, a historically highly segregated city. Hwang found that the higher the percentage of African Americans in a neighborhood, the less likely it was to gentrify. She found that a threshold of 40 percent black residents in a neighborhood limited gentrification.

Hwang wondered whether the same pattern she found in Chicago would occur in a city with lower levels of segregation that was also undergoing gentrification. Seattle was a compelling city to examine, Hwang said.

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