May 8, 2020

New Enterprise Report on Gentrification and Racial Change

Enterprise’s Policy Development and Research team has released a new report, Gentrification Definitions and Racial Change: Considering the Evidence, which builds on its previous work looking at different definitions of gentrification. This new analysis considers how different definitions identify changes in the racial composition of gentrified versus non-gentrified neighborhoods. Specifically, it calculates the percentage point change in the share of residents of color by neighborhood gentrification status in 93 cities and compares these changes across three definitions and three decades of analysis. A set of interactive dashboards visually reveal the results, customized by geography and time.

How Racial Change Varies by Neighborhood

With definitions identifying three different sets of neighborhoods as gentrified, we would expect that the amount of change in racial composition relative to non-gentrified neighborhoods to vary. The report, however, finds remarkable consistency in the patterns of changing racial composition across the three definitions. In each decade analyzed, the percentage point increase in the share of residents of color was lower – and sometimes negative – in gentrified neighborhoods relative to the city overall.

The chart below demonstrates this, with red bars showing the change in the share residents of color in gentrified neighborhoods under the three definitions for the 2000s.

Under two of the definitions, the share of residents of color in gentrified neighborhoods actually declined in the 93 cities over the decade, while the third definition reported only minimal growth. In contrast, the changes in shares of residents of color in non-gentrified neighborhoods – including both those considered too prosperous to gentrify (dark blue bars) and those with low starting incomes but not meeting the criteria for gentrification (orange bars) – are greater.

These results suggest increases in the number of non-Hispanic White residents and/or decreases in the number of residents of color residing in those neighborhoods relative to non-gentrified neighborhoods, despite growth in the share of residents of color in the cities overall (teal bar). Indeed, the largest increases in residents of color were observed in neighborhoods that were not considered eligible to gentrify at the beginning of the decade, generally due to higher resident incomes relative to the metro area.

Not only is this result consistent over time, but also within individual cities. When analyzed individually for the ten cities that have at least five gentrified neighborhoods under each definition and decade, the change in the share of residents of color was lower in gentrified neighborhoods than for the city over all in 82 of the 90 possible combinations of cities (10), decades (3) and definitions (3).  

Changes in Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Black Residents

Measuring the change in the share of residents of color in gentrified versus non-gentrified neighborhoods offers one view on how racial composition can vary across cities. It does not, however, reveal anything about individual racial/ethnic groups and how their communities change within the context of gentrification. The report thus includes analyses and interactive dashboards for changes in shares of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic black residents to show how the pattern holds across these groups.

In the case of non-Hispanic black residents, the 93 cities experienced no change in their share of the population in the 1980s and 1990s and a small overall decline in the 2000s. Yet in gentrified neighborhoods these cities saw greater net losses of their share of non-Hispanic black residents under two definitions during the 1980s and all three definitions during the 1990s and 2000s. Within individual cities, the pattern held in 75 out of 90 combinations of decade, definition, and city.

Hispanic residents, meanwhile, grew as a share of the population across the 93 cities in each decade of the analysis. Within gentrified neighborhoods, however, that growth was smaller under all three definitions in the 1980s and 2000s and two of three in the 1990s. Their experiences thus reflect those of non-Hispanic Blacks, suggesting larger growth of non-Hispanic White residents in gentrified versus non-gentrified neighborhoods. One third of the individual city combinations, however, had higher percentage point increases in their share of Hispanic residents in gentrified neighborhoods relative to the city overall.


The finding that residents of color – both collectively and within specific racial/ethnic subsets – had smaller increases or larger decreases in their share of the population in gentrified vs. non-gentrified neighborhoods alone may not be that surprising. All three definitions of gentrification examined use either increases in resident incomes or educational attainment as a proxy for identifying gentrification. Given that non-Hispanic whites as a group have higher median incomes and levels of education relative to people of color, we would expect these variables to correlate with higher numbers of non-Hispanic white residents living in gentrified neighborhoods.

What is novel about this analysis, however, is the level of agreement in this finding across the three definitions examined. Since each identifies a unique set of gentrified and non-gentrified neighborhoods, we would not necessarily expect the pattern of racial composition change to be similar under all three. Note that this analysis does not reveal whether changes in racial composition of gentrified neighborhoods are exacerbated by the involuntary displacement of low-income residents of color. 

Visit the Enterprise Community Partners’ blog for more data and insights on gentrification and changing neighborhood conditions, and subscribe to our Today In Housing and Capitol Express newsletters for more news on affordable housing and housing policy.

This research was made possible through the generous support of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Unless otherwise specifically stated, the views and opinions expressed in the report are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of JPMorgan Chase & Co. or its affiliates.
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